Used car: Jaguar XF (2008 to ‘11)

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY: Ni­col Louw Ni­col­l_­car­mag

If you don’t have your ve­hi­cle’s key, your car is sim­ply an ex­pen­sive land­mark. We find OUT IF THERE IS AN AF­FORD­ABLE so­lu­tion to the

PROB­LEM

HERE did I put my ve­hi­cle’s key?” That dreaded ques­tion re­sults in searches that would make a CSI agent proud. You’ll prob­a­bly find your key even­tu­ally, but what if you don’t? Surely you have a spare key at your home? Even if you do, it will be lit­tle help if you are a 1 000 km away on hol­i­day.

This ar­ti­cle was inspired by my pur­chase of a sec­ond-hand Honda Jazz (which I’ve used as an ex­am­ple here). The car was supplied with­out a spare key and a quick call to a Honda deal­er­ship re­vealed that a re­place­ment would cost in ex­cess of R4 000. That re­place­ment cost is not un­usual for most man­u­fac­tur­ers, but a bit steep for some­one who lives on a tight bud­get.

There­fore, I paid Road­run­ner in Cape Town a visit to learn all about car key cloning and the avail­able op­tions.

WTHE KEY

An older-gen­er­a­tion key was sim­ply a me­tal blank cut into the cor­rect shape to op­er­ate the unique lock mech­a­nism of a ve­hi­cle’s door and suit its match­ing ig­ni­tion slot. How­ever, whereas many con­tem­po­rary ve­hi­cles still utilise an ig­ni­tion slot, most keys in­cor­po­rate a transpon­der that com­mu­ni­cates with a ve­hi­cle’s im­mo­biliser unit and en­gine con­trol unit (ECU) to al­low the en­gine to start. This se­cu­rity mea­sure can also man­i­fest in key­less en­try and start func­tions. Ad­di­tional key func­tion­al­ity may in­clude re­mote open­ing of the doors and boot/tailgate, open­ing of the win­dows and flash­ing of the ve­hi­cle lights, to name just a few. No won­der keys are so ex­pen­sive to re­place.

CLONING OF KEYS

By read­ing the sig­nal/code sent out by a ve­hi­cle key, automotive locksmiths can clone a key by writ­ing this code onto the chip of a blank transpon­der key us­ing an elec­tronic key-cloning ma­chine. This key still needs to be cut to fit the doors, boot and ig­ni­tion slot (if re­quired). The ve­hi­cle’s ECU then sees the du­pli­cate transpon­der key as the orig­i­nal key and al­lows the en­gine to start. This is not al­ways pos­si­ble with higher se­cu­rity ve­hi­cles (such as the Jazz), in which case the code needs to be ex­tracted from the ve­hi­cle’s elec­tronic mod­ules through the OBD port us­ing a spe­cialised pro­gram­ming ma­chine. To du­pli­cate the sig­nal for op­er­at­ing the re­mote but­tons on the key fob can be a com­pli­cated process and will lead to an in­crease in cost (see side­bar to the right).

CUT­TING KEYS FROM THE IG­NI­TION

We’ve all heard the hor­ror sto­ries of hav­ing to re­place all the locks, in­clud­ing the ig­ni­tion bar­rel of a ve­hi­cle, if all keys are lost (the cost can be up to R30 000 depend­ing on the man­u­fac­turer). This does not have to be the case. Automotive lock­smith pro­fes­sion­als can cut a key from the ig­ni­tion bar­rel of a ve­hi­cle. It is a much greater task than key cloning, as ac­cess nor­mally needs to be gained to a locked ve­hi­cle first be­fore the ig­ni­tion bar­rel has to be re­moved. The bar­rel is then me­chan­i­cally de­coded to get the cor­rect key shape, the lat­ter of which is cut by a com­put­erised milling ma­chine. There­after, the nor­mal cloning process (ex­tract­ing the code from the ECU) can com­mence.

The du­pli­ca­tion process of the Jazz key took only 30 min­utes and then the mo­ment of truth ar­rived: will the key open the doors and start the en­gine? I need not have wor­ried, as the Honda un­locked with­out a hitch and the en­gine started im­me­di­ately. Suf­fice to say, the spare key is now safely at home…

Spe­cial thanks to Road­run­ner for sup­ply­ing the in­for­ma­tion and pho­tog­ra­phy op­por­tu­ni­ties. Con­tact them on 0861 511 511 or 083 229 0331. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.road­run­ner­lockco.co.za

CLOCK­WISE FROM BE­LOW: older keys are easy to du­pli­cate; mod­ern transpon­der keys re­quire a spe­cialised milling ma­chine to cut the right shape and size; com­puter equip­ment is used to ex­tract the transpon­der code from the ECU; the fi­nal re­sult.

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