Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

Keys not so simple anymore

“As with everything else automotive, computers and electronics have invaded your key.”

Losing your car keys has always been a traumatic experience but losing them on your latest vehicle might be a real eye/wallet opening experience. A key is no longer simply a mechanical device. As with everything else automotive computers and electronics have invaded your key.

In the ’90s keys started to look slightly different. The head or bow of the key grew in size and the mechanical blade or bit portion took different kinds of machines to create their secret shapes. The bow of the key now concealed electronic devices. The goal of these new keys; stop vehicle theft. As time marches on and we near the end of the second decade of the twenty first century almost every vehicle comes standard with a similar type on anti theft or immobilizer system.

Many more recent vehicles seemingly require no mechanical key at all. You just carry some funky looking fob/remote/card thing on your person, walk up to your car, get in and go. All quite amazing until your battery goes dead.

Luckily that funky fob/remote/card still has a key hiding in it. If you are resourceful you may know how to find and remove the key from the fob and if you are really resourceful you may know how to remove the cover over the keyhole to open the door. Once you get in it is all about getting power to the battery.

If the battery is not visible in the usual places under the hood I would suggest the owner’s manual as the way to find the connection points for jump starting your vehicle. When the power comes back on so to speak the magic key will work again. Hopefully.

A new car comes with at least two keys/fobs/remotes/cards. The temptation might be to buy an extra one. Maybe put it in a magnetic box and attach it to the underside of the car. Yeah, I am joking. You would not want the acid to get it. Sorry, bad joke. Under the vehicle is no place for an electronic key.

The temptation to buy an extra key will likely subside when you ask the inevitable question. How much? First there is the price of the key and then there might be an additional cost of programming the key to work in your vehicle. Don’t bother checking at the hardware store. You will have to seek a professional. After not liking the price you might be tempted to ask google.

Trust me when I say a lot of keys bought on the internet just won’t work. There seems to be plenty of people selling stuff that just won’t do what they say it will do. Yes, the locksmith can copy the shape of your existing key onto your new key but failure will come when the attempt is made to program it to electronically work with your car. In the end you may only have a key that can turn your door lock to get in the car but nothing else. You will have paid for the key, paid to cut the key and then paid for a failed programming attempt.

So, now you are thinking two keys is enough. It probably is, but when you lose one I would recommend buying another one before the inevitable. When you have lost all your keys the only way to get going may involve towing and waiting for keys shipped to you or your locksmith from the people who made your car in the beginning.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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