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The only thing worse than losing your keys is picking them up only to realize they aren’t working. With over 25 million cars on the road, chances are you’ve found yourself in this scenario before. 

Gone are the days when you would open your car with a simple metal key. The car key game has gotten much more advanced in the past two decades. 

One of the most popular key types for cars on the road today is a transponder key. Although they can last for a long time without failing, they aren’t impervious to wear and tear. 

Keep reading to learn what to do when your transponder key stops working. 

History of Car Keys

The first car keys made their appearance in 1910 to stop car theft. These keys locked the electrical circuit used to start the ignition.

By the 1920s, cars had a door lock in addition to the ignition lock. When a person removed a car key, the steering wheel locked as well. This two-key system lasted for the next 40 years.

A change to keys happened in the 1960s. It was then that you no longer needed two keys to lock your car. One key could do the trick, although you would still need to walk to every door to unlock them. 

The 1980s brought about a central locking system for cars. This meant that you could unlock the whole car from the front driver’s door.  

Another change to key systems came about in the late 1990s. It was then that remote wireless keys started coming onto the scene. The earliest version of these keys used an electronic signature that needed to match the car for it to open.

Transponder keys became the norm by the early 2000s. This refined version offered more protection for cars. It also offered a more convenient way to get into your vehicle. 

Types of Car Keys

Now that we know a little about the history of car keys let’s look at the specific types of car keys used in cars.

Mechanical Keys

This key is the key that you find in older models of cars. A mechanical key is cut from metal. This is a bare-bones key with no special encoding.

Laser Cut Car Keys

Made popular in the 90s, these car keys were thicker and more complex than standard metal keys. A laser would groove the key on both the back and the front. This technique made it harder for someone to copy the key. 

Smart Keys 

Smart car keys are one of the newest types of car keys on the market today. Also known as a keyless car key, your vehicle detects a smart key fob only when you are close enough to your car. 

This type of key allows a person to start their car by pressing a button. You do not need to insert these car keys into the ignition when driving.

Remote Car Keys 

Remote car keys are like laser-cut car keys but with more sophisticated features. This battery-operated key can do things like unlock your car and deactivate the alarm with the push of a button. You need to be close to your car to get these features to work.

Unlike a smart key, you still have to insert a remote key into the ignition to get the car to run.

What Is a Transponder Key? 

If you have a car that is twenty years old or newer, you most likely are starting it using a transponder key. As cars became more advanced, so did the keys used to unlock and drive them.

A transponder key has a small microchip in the head of the key. The car manufacturer assigns a unique serial number to the microchip. This microchip broadcasts a low-level signal, which a remote receiver in the car reads.

To unlock the car, the serial number in the transponder must match the one programmed in the car. This mechanism works in tandem with the metal key part that makes up the bottom of a transponder key.

You can tell if you have a transponder key by the way the key looks. If your key has a thicker, plastic-covered head and a metal key body, it is most likely a transponder key.

All About RF Signals

RFID technology is the basis for how a transponder key works. These keys use an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag. The chip communicates with the car’s onboard computer via RFID.

The computer chip in the key responds to signals given by the car’s computer when you turn the key in the ignition. The car will start only if the transponder code matches the key and the car.

Benefits of a Transponder Key

Cars using transponder keys are more secure than traditional keys for a few reasons.

Transponder keys make breaking into a car much more difficult. A transponder key’s digital ID is unique, whereas a regular metal key has only a few cut combinations. The usage of this digital ID makes it far more complicated to break into a car.

If the car doesn’t recognize the code from the microchip, the car won’t start. This makes it very difficult to hot-wire a car that uses a transponder key.

How Do You Know if Your Transponder Key is Failing?

It is usually pretty obvious if your transponder is failing or needing repair. There are several clues that your car and the key can give you if there is something wrong with the transponder.

Dashboard Symbol

The dashboard in your car can give you a lot of information about your car’s health. If there is something wrong with your transponder key, you may see a key symbol on your dashboard. If the key symbol stays on, it means your key needs attention.

Trouble Getting Your Car Started

If your car doesn’t have a smooth start-up, your key may be to blame. When a car doesn’t turn over or runs for a few seconds and turns off, your key could need repair.

Locking and Unlocking Trouble

Your car may be telling you the key needs replacing if it has trouble locking or unlocking. The transponder key needs to communicate with the car to do this task. If there is a problem with this communication, the car won’t perform this function.

Key Won’t Turn In The Ignition

As you start your car, you will put the key in the ignition and turn it to get the engine running. If the key doesn’t go anywhere, the transponder may need replacing. If the transponder can’t talk to the car, it will prevent the key from turning the car on.

Causes for Transponder Key Failures

Although these keys have lots of benefits, there are some ways that a transponder key can fail. If you find that your key isn’t working, a few different parts of the mechanism could be the culprit. 

Door Lock Problems

When a transponder key is not starting a car, most people check the car lock first. It’s a good idea to make sure the lock is in working order before troubleshooting the key. There are several reasons your lock could be giving you trouble.

Locks, like regular keys, are prone to wear and tear. Even though your key appears to be in good shape, the insides of your lock may not be.

If one of the pins becomes worn, the lock may become jammed. A worn lock doesn’t mean the lock is beyond repair, but it could give you trouble down the road.

It’s important to be vigilant that the environment isn’t causing harm to your lock. The lock on your car can become clogged with dirt or other material. Frigid temperatures can also cause locks to freeze.

Has your car been in an accident recently? If so, the damage from the impact could cause your lock to fail. Always inspect your lock for any signs of impact damage after an accident.

Key Damage

If you have checked that the lock is working correctly, the next step is checking to see if there is damage to the key. If you have a broken transponder key, it won’t work properly in your car. 

When you put the metal part of the key into the lock, a series of events occur to get the key to work. Little pins within a lock keep the lock from working unless they are positioned in a specific way. The grooves on a key move these pins to this position and allow the key to open or start your car.

Start by looking at the bottom metal part of the transponder key. If the grooves on your key are dull or old, it may have a hard time working in the lock.

Many RF Signals

If your car transponder stops working, the first step is to look around you. Several things can interfere with the RF signal the transponder uses.

Do you have many transponder keys for your car? Several keys can interfere with the signal and cause the key not to work.

Locked Out!

You can’t use a key that you have locked in your car! Because of the added security of a transponder key, it can make getting into your locked car a bit of a challenge.

If you have locked your keys in the car, you can try to access the car from the trunk. If you have kept your trunk unlocked, you may be able to access your keys by crawling in through the back seats.

If this doesn’t work, check to see if there is a cracked window. If you can see your keys, you may be able to capture them through the crack.

When all else fails, it is best to bring in the professionals. They can help you unlock your car in a snap without doing unnecessary damage.

What to Do if Your Transponder Stops Working

If your transponder isn’t working, don’t worry! There are a few tricks you can try to get it working again.

Check the RF Signals Around You

If the transponder isn’t working, check to make sure another key isn’t nearby. If there is one, move it farther away and see if the key works.

Replace the Key Battery

Inside of your transponder key is a tiny battery. This battery helps send messages to your car’s computer system.

Although these batteries last for a long time, they can sometimes die. This could happen more often if you bought a used car or have had your car for a long time. 

You can buy these batteries from a variety of retailers. You can easily replace the battery by removing the key casing with a screwdriver. You can consult your car’s handbook for the most up-to-date battery replacement instructions.

Call a Professional

If nothing else works, it may be time to take your key to a professional. You’ll most likely need to bring your key to a locksmith so they can program your transponder key. 

If this doesn’t do the trick, they can help get you a transponder key replacement. This should solve the problem and get your car working again!

Auto Locksmiths Can Help Today!

Car keys have come a long way from the basic metal ones used many years ago. With this new technology come new challenges.

Although a transponder key offers more security, it can be frustrating to fix when they fail. If you are in the Austin area and are in need of a transponder key replacement, 512 Locksmiths is just a call away!

Contact us for a service quote, emergency help, or to schedule an appointment today!