Used car: Jaguar XF (2008 to ‘11)
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
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.
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.