What’s in a Key?

CarLocate Team, February 25, 2010, 09:31AM

A key seems simple and uncomplicated enough. But today’s car key is anything but.

key bowl

Though the concept of keys has been part of our lives for at least 4000 years – when keys first were used in Egypt at Khorsabad Palace – car keys are still in their infancy, bursting on the scene with the electric starter in 1910. 

To the average driver, car keys didn’t change much through the 1980’s. They all looked basically the same, with only slight shape variations and the different makers’ logos. Many of us may remember accidentally unlocking and, in some cases, even driving away from a parking lot in someone else’s car. (A CarLocate.com team member once inadvertently “stole” a car from the rental car lot without realizing it for days – silver rental cars all look the same.)

The dark ages of the car key finally ended with the fob in the late 80’s. Fobs were to cars like the remote control for a modern TV, virtually eliminating the need to stick a key in the car door. They also armed alarms and made the car come to life with a flash of the lights and a honk of the horn, thwarting would-be attackers and even more often thwarting the panic that arose when you forgot where your car was parked – a benefit we still enjoy today. 

Modern car keys come in all shapes and sizes and most aren’t really keys at all. You don’t need to insert them to enter or start the car. Just get close to it and a sensor in the key tells the car to unlock. Once inside, a simple push of the start button and you’re on your way. The key never leaves your pocket. Some of today’s keys know more about you than your spouse does and can trigger the car to customize your seats, mirrors, heaters, and radio stations to return to your preset, favorite position.  car keys and fobs

Today’s key fob goes also far beyond the basics. Many can lower windows, open rear hatch doors, or even put down the top of your convertible all able to be triggered up to 300 feet away from the car. Don’t be surprised when you see an unoccupied vehicle performing a metal origami of folding the convertible hard top into the trunk. 

Keys now even have the ability to store vehicle operating and performance history. A service department can often diagnose issues with the car right from the key itself. 

Combination key and fob


Like most advances, all this comes with a cost. Gone are the days of replacing a key at the local hardware store for 99 cents. Modern keys will cost you as much as $300 to replace. Some manufacturers actually get a pre-built key out of a vault when you need a spare. So in addition to coughing up hundreds for the new key unit, you may have to add additional fees for shipping. And, did you know these manufacturers keep only 2 spare keys in the vault? If you need a third, be prepared for extensive reprogramming or replacement of the vehicle central control modules, all the keys, and more, costing you thousands.  

So, while a key may be small in size, it should be a larger part of your decision-making process when buying a car. Don’t underestimate the cost of keys in used vehicle prices. If the car you are buying or trading does not have all the original keys, the value you will receive or pay for the vehicle is lower. 

Car keys – not as simple and uncomplicated as once thought.

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Author: CarLocate Team



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