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Vanity - Don't lose your car keys! It could be financially devastating!
Center for Auto Safety ^ | 06/30/2007 | Swordmaker

Posted on 06/30/2007 3:18:18 PM PDT by Swordmaker

Last night while out on the town with some friends our church's office manager's keys were stolen. Replacing the locks for her apartment or re-keying them will cost her under a $100.

The real problem is her car keys . . . she had only one key for her 2001 Lexus . . . the one that was stolen!

Today she has learned that to get a new key for her car from the Lexus dealer will cost her $265 . . . but that is just for the ONE key and it will still not work until the car's computer is reprogramed to accept the new key. The dealership told her it will cost another $1000 labor to remove her car's computer, send it to Lexus' computer repair center to have it programed for the new key, and then re-install it. It may take two months for the entire process to be completed... which will require her to rent a car at additional cost.

The cost to replace a stolen key for her car may be over $2000!

This is not an isolated problem. While researching lesser cost key replacement sources for her on the internet, I discovered that it really is a problem. While I found a company on eBay that sells blank Lexus keys for only $65 that you can have a locksmith cut for about $20, you MUST have an original factory key as a template to cut the new key . . . and more importantly, you absolutely have to have an original factory key to program the replacement key. She doesn't have one anymore.

Her car insurance company has just informed her that they will cover the replacement . . . but she still has a $500 deductible.

I strongly recommend that all Freepers get a spare key made while it is inexpensive (see the web site in the following letter) . . . and use the spare for day-to-day driving while keeping the original in a safe place . . . such as a safe deposit box at your bank!


The following is a letter that was sent to the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection by the Center for Auto Safety on this issue that describes the problem quite well.

1825 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 330 Washington. DC 20009-1 160 I2021 328-7700

March 13,2006

Lydia B. Pames, Director
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20580

Dear Ms. Pames:

Today auto companies have consumers by the keys. And none do so more than Mercedes Benz and Toyota which require some consumers to get a new computer to get a new key. With the advent of smart keys with embedded computer chips, the days of a consumer going to the local hardware store to get a replacement have all but vanished. Based on a survey of 50 makes and models, the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) found the average dealer price of a smart key to be over $150, more than 12 times the average dealer price of a mechanical key at $12. (Attachment A,) If one has to replace a computer to get a new smart key, the costs soars to $2,200 for a Toyota and $3,600 for a Mercedes.

Beginning in the late 199O’s, auto companies took advantage of electronic control modules (ECMs) in vehicles to install readable computer chips in keys which the ECM would recognize. In the simplest case, the key chip would have a unique identifier number which would be read by an electronic control unit in the ignition. Others have both a unique key identifier number plus a rolling code that changes every time the key is used. Some systems utilize the primary ECM or computer in the vehicle to recognize the key. If the electronic codes in the key are not recognized, the ECM will not allow the vehicle to start even though the mechanical key will function. Some vehicles such as the Acura RL and Toyota Prius utilize an electronic key fob which has no mechanical key whatsoever, relying instead on an electronic communication between the fob and vehicle ECU.

Auto companies say they went to smart keys to reduce auto theft. Any advantage gained over thieves is only temporary. Already thieves have learned how to hack into the vehicle’s electronic control system using laptop computers plugged into the OBD (On-Board Diagnostic) system and reprogram the vehicle. Another technique used by thieves is to simply pop the hood and replace the factory ECM with another one modified to start the vehicle. (See “Thieves Outwit High-Tech Advances,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 8, 2006.) Less sophisticated thieves can simply put the vehicle on a flatbed truck and haul it Off.

Although the auto companies have not outwitted the thieves, they have created a monopoly on replacement keys by not releasing the electronic key codes to locksmiths and aftermarket key suppliers. Although eBay has a limited market in replacement smart keys at Auto Key eBay Store, it works only if the consumer can find the right key and then get the key programmed. Some keys cannot be found on eBay - see e.g., Acura and Volvo. For those smart keys that can be found, there’s a big problem. An independent locksmith or shop does not have the electronic codes and cannot program the keys. Most dealers cannot or will not program replacement keys bought in the aftermarket. Those that do charge an exorbitant price. Although some keys can be cloned from an existing master key, this cannot be done if the manufacturer has also programmed a rolling code into the electronic key system as exemplified by BMW, Mercedes and Acura.

A 1998-01 Mercedes ML 320 key can be bought on eBay for $12.95 but it's practically useless as it cannot be reprogrammed for another vehicle other than the vehicle it originally came with because the key contains both a fixed identification number and a rolling code. The consumer has no choice but to pay $260 to get a replacement key from Mercedes. A VW Jetta smart key retails for $153 from a dealer but goes for $54.95 on eBay. But then that key must be programmed. If the consumer can find a dealer to do it, the cost is $85 to $90.

Most dealers will only program a key bought from them and typically charge an hour of labor to do the programming, no matter how little time it takes. CAS did find an exemplary dealer in its survey - Passport BMW would program the key for free saying it's no big deal.' Several dealers passed the $100 mark for greed in programming with Fairfax Volvo topping the charts at $140. Including both the cost of a blank key and programming, the company with the most expensive keys in our survey was Toyota/Lexus at $264 for the Lexus RX 330, $290 for the Toyota Landcruiser and $278 for the Toyota Prius. The VW Beetle tied the Landcruiser for most expensive at $290.

The Cars With the Golden Keys - Mercedes and Toyota

CAS uncovered two manufactures whose models made all others pale in comparison because the price of getting a replacement key included a new computer - Mercedes and Toyota. What consumer buying a car would ever consider that replacing a key in the future would cost $2,000 to $4,000. And what consumer would ever consider that they would be deprived of their car for up to two months while waiting on a new computer to get a new key? The Owner's Manual which is used to convey operating information and warnings of all sort to the vehicle owner and operator contains no disclosure of the pitfall of the last key going bad or getting lost. If anything ever deserved a bold faced warning in the owner's manual, it's the hazard of the golden key. But given such a warning, the consumer may not buy the car.

For at least the 1998 and 1999 M-class, Mercedes programmed an absolute 8-key limit into each vehicle at the factory before going to a 24 key limit in 2000 or 2001. (Dialogue on, a website for Mercedes owners, indicates the problem is more widespread. Attachment B.) Roger Stephens of Park City UT found out the hard way when he bought a used 1998 Mercedes ML 320 SUV from Ken Garff Mercedes in Salt Lake City UT where the vehicle had lived its entire life. The keys on Mr. Stephens 1998 ML 320 simply wore out and stopped working. According to Mr. Stephens:

"Car won't start, computer won't recognize key. 8 keys have been issued to car so Mercedes can't make another. ( computer pre set for only 8) Must replace all locks and computer system to get car to run. On 1998-2000 ML320 SUV system has only 8 keys that can be issued, then must replace system completely. (system designed changed later on, but not defect just improvement) I am told MB could reprogram/clear computer or maybe make duplicate keys but company policy forbids this. On owner web site it shows others have had the same problem and same result. Parts department gave me copy of rejected key order from MB with circled words "all keys used order lock set" I was forced to order Lock set package of parts at $2,508.08 from MB. Labor will be over $1,000.00. "

Because the computer had to be special ordered from Germany, Mr. Stephens' ML 320 set at the dealer for 8 weeks before the replacement computer arrived and his SUV was reprogrammed for new keys.

Janna Smith ran into a similar problem with her 2002 Toyota Highlander when she had to flee the New Orleans area in the face of Hurricane Katrina. She used her valet key to start the Highlander and escape the flood when she did not have time to find her regular master keys. (The valet key has limited authority to open the driver door and start the engine. It cannot open other doors nor can it be cloned to create a duplicate. Realizing that she only had the valet key, Ms. Smith stopped at the first Toyota dealer in her evacuation path in San Antonio to get another master key. The dealer told her it would cost $2,200 for a new key because he would have to order a new computer to go with it. A replacement key for a Toyota could only be cloned from an original master key which in Ms. Smith’s case had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Carefully guarding her valet key, Katrina refugee Jana Smith drove to her new temporary evacuation home in Washington DC where she found Jim Coleman Toyota in her new journey to get a master key at a reasonable price for her Highlander. Jim Coleman contacted Toyota and found that the company had just changed its policy to “the first computer is on us” and would provide a reprogrammed used computer for free but the consumer still had to pay for the new keys which would be $650 for the set. Given that she no longer had a home or a job, Jana Smith could not afford the $650 for new keys so Jim Coleman Toyota stepped up to the plate and said we will be pay for the new keys even though Toyota will not.


Whether it is a new smart key costing over $150 or a new computerkey system costing $2,000 to $4,000, auto companies have used smart keys to wring money from unsuspecting consumers who are not told that they face replacement key costs up to $300 or at least 10 to 15 times what they have paid for replacement keys in the past. In the worst case scenarios, consumers may have to buy a new computer to get a new key at a cost of 100 to 200 times what they have paid for replacement keys in the past. While they wait up to 8 weeks for a replacement computer, they have no use of their vehicle adding to the unforeseen cost imposed on the owner.

Mechanisms exist to allow auto companies to share smart key technology codes while maintaining whatever, if any, value smart keys have in preventing auto theft. Auto companies could release smart key technology to organizations such as the National Insurance Crime Bureau which was formed to prevent auto theft. Smart key information could then be made available only to consumer who prove proof of ownership such as vehicle registrations.

CAS respectfully petitions the FTC to investigate the practices of auto companies in not releasing programming information for smart keys and in charging exorbitant fees for nominal programming costs. These practices are unfair under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Mercedes failure to disclose consumers have to buy costly computers when keys fail is an even more egregious failure to disclose a known defect to consumers than the line of cases holding auto companies accountable for manufacturing defects because this is a intentional design defect engineered into the vehic1e.l CAS requests the FTC to move immediately against any manufacturer such as Mercedes found to require consumers to purchase a new computer or ECM to get a replacement key. The specter of auto theft does not justify auto companies picking the pockets of consumers by charging hundreds of dollars more for replacement keys than they could in a competitive market.



Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director

TOPICS: Business/Economy
KEYWORDS: automotive; keys; locks; technology
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1 posted on 06/30/2007 3:18:20 PM PDT by Swordmaker
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To: All
It looks as if the real inexpensive solution to her problem is to buy some keys off eBay, have them cut and then find some sophisticated car thieves to reprogram her computer in situ . . . something the car dealers cannot do.
2 posted on 06/30/2007 3:22:40 PM PDT by Swordmaker (Remember, the proper pronunciation of IE is "AAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE)
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To: Swordmaker
I personally am willing to make the tradeoff here: I think that security is better with the key practices questioned here than the old systems where it is completely trivial for a thief armed with no more than a screwdriver and no special knowledge can steal a car in seconds.

No security system is perfect; what you are trying to do in each case is make more expensive in time and effort for a thief so that he will go and do something else that takes less effort. As long as cars with much lower security are out there, he will often go for those.

3 posted on 06/30/2007 3:31:24 PM PDT by snowsislander
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To: Swordmaker
This is where one learns the true stripes of their dealer, and why it is really critical to choose a good dealer, not the best price. I’ve seen a lot of dealers go out of their way for their customers, especially when they know that someone’s going to be coming back to them in the future.

As for the key prices, anyone care to bet how long it is before auto insurance decides to skip covering them?

4 posted on 06/30/2007 3:39:05 PM PDT by kingu (No, I don't use sarcasm tags - it confuses people.)
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To: Swordmaker

This has all the makings of an urban myth. But then I did a little research and found out that some cars can cost sveral thousand dollars to reprogram.

5 posted on 06/30/2007 3:46:00 PM PDT by AlaskaErik (Run, Fred run! I will send my donation as soon as you announce.)
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To: Swordmaker

The real solution is to start hanging car thieves from lamp posts.

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To: Swordmaker

I guess there are advantages to my newest vehicle being a 1994 Dodge Colt;

It’s got a dumb key;

no one wants to steal it.

Win - win.

7 posted on 06/30/2007 3:47:46 PM PDT by dynoman (Objectivity is the essence of intelligence. - Marylin vos Savant)
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To: Swordmaker

We’ve run into a problem with missing car keys. Someone, and we have a damn good idea who, ripped off some tools from our garage. Our garage is not attached to the house, but a little way down the hill. Besides the tools, keys were left in the ignition of a ‘72 LeMans w/ GTO package that my bf is slowly restoring. The keys are gone. A friend of ours has a metal detector, and if we ever remember, we’re going to ask to borrow it, just in case Mr. Tweaker simply tossed the keys into the brush.

My bf estimates a cost of around 100.00 bucks to fix this little problem. In the meantime, we have added padlocks to the front and back garage doors. We also seem to be missing an ice chest, but the boys probably were too lazy to do a thorough search.

Good on that Toyota dealership, btw.

8 posted on 06/30/2007 3:52:19 PM PDT by TheSpottedOwl (Head Caterer for the FIRM)
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To: Swordmaker

A high-tech keyless entry and engine start system
is standard on Infiniti's M sedans. The Infiniti key fob,
shown here, doesn't include the usual mechanical key.

Street Keys.. also an option?

9 posted on 06/30/2007 4:14:55 PM PDT by deport ( Cue Spooky Music...)
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To: Swordmaker
Modern cars are designed with keys that match the car's computer code. That means if you forget your keys inside the car, a locksmith can't easily gain entry to the car. Ditto if you lose 'em. They've cut down on car theft but they can inconvenience motorists.

10 posted on 06/30/2007 4:18:50 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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If you spend that much money for a car and then complain about the $1,000 or so to replace a key, all I can scratch up for you is a Boo; seems like neither one of us can afford the Hoo.

11 posted on 06/30/2007 4:19:23 PM PDT by NonValueAdded (Brian J. Marotta, 68-69TonkinGulfYachtClub, (1948-2007) Rest In Peace, our FRiend)
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To: dynoman
no one wants to steal it.

I've got an 85 suburban. I could leave the keys on the hood with a 20$ bill and would come back to find all still there except the 20$ bill replaced with a note saying "nice try".

12 posted on 06/30/2007 4:20:07 PM PDT by bad company (the sky is falling because it was built with cheap mexican labor.)
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To: Swordmaker
S.O.P. for years here has been, after purchase and oooing and ahhhhing, to hide a spare key in a magnetic case somewhere in a chassis crevice.

Has saved me some real headaches and expense....

13 posted on 06/30/2007 5:34:16 PM PDT by GoldCountryRedneck ("Flying is like Life: Know where you are, where you're going, and how to get there." - 'Ol Dad)
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To: Swordmaker

“Less sophisticated thieves can simply put the vehicle on a flatbed truck and haul it Off.”

If you ask me, a thief with a flatbed and the means to get a locked car up onto it is pretty damned sohphisticated.

14 posted on 06/30/2007 6:01:34 PM PDT by gcruse
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To: NonValueAdded
If you spend that much money for a car and then complain about the $1,000 or so to replace a key, all I can scratch up for you is a Boo; seems like neither one of us can afford the Hoo.

She bought the car used. She got one key. She is making $200 a month payments on the car, pays $900 a month rent on her apartment, about $200 more for utilities, another $100 a month for gasoline, and has to feed and clothe herself and her son... and earns about $1600 a month. This is a disaster for her.

Why don't you send her the $1000?

15 posted on 06/30/2007 6:08:49 PM PDT by Swordmaker (Remember, the proper pronunciation of IE is "AAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE)
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To: GoldCountryRedneck
S.O.P. for years here has been, after purchase and oooing and ahhhhing, to hide a spare key in a magnetic case somewhere in a chassis crevice.

My dad used to do that... he stopped when a neighbor's car was stolen. The police who came to take the report said that car thieves KNOW every hiding place and every crevice that owners hide their keys.

16 posted on 06/30/2007 6:11:25 PM PDT by Swordmaker (Remember, the proper pronunciation of IE is "AAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE)
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To: Swordmaker

This is why I like LOW TECH keys.

17 posted on 06/30/2007 6:11:54 PM PDT by Little Ray (Rudy Guiliani: If his wives can't trust him, why should we?)
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To: Swordmaker; All
In most cases spare keys are not that expensive and yes it is a very smart idea to get at spare (3rd) smart key cut and programmed at your dealer as soon as you can.

My husband and I both own Ford trucks (2000 and 2002)

We had spare smart keys made for both our trucks because we learned early on about the dealer needing a original factory key to cut and program a spare from. (put one original factory smart key in a safe place and never let yourself get down to just “one” original factory key.)

Also never close the deal on a used auto until you find out if the key or keys that come with it are original factory smart keys. If there is only one smart key that comes with the “used” car make sure it is a factory original and have the auto dealer make another one at their cost before signing the papers. Then take the original factory key and put in a safe place and drive on the newly cut spare smart key only. (I would never buy a used auto that did not come with at least 1 original factory smart key because you cannot get spares made from a non factory original key). In most cases the dealer will want both original factory keys to program the 3rd spare key from. Call your dealer ahead of time to find out if you need to bring in both original factory smart keys to get a spare smart key cut and programmed.

I think each spare Ford smart key we bought cost about $28.00 at the dealers, but each dealer charges different depending on the make and year of the auto.

The original factory Ford keys we have have a semi soft rubber key head.
The spares we had made (Ford Dealer) have a boxy hard plastic key head on them. So it is easy to tell which is an original and which is a after market spare.

18 posted on 06/30/2007 7:52:55 PM PDT by stlnative
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To: Swordmaker
I do not know where your friend lives, but there are businesses that will come out to your place and make a new key for you, even if you do not have any keys, and do it all in one day, without removing the computer. Have your friend call around. See this link I found by searching on the internet, and see what they say about Lexus replacement keys:


Lexus & Toyota When you bought your vehicle, did it only come with 1 key and was it a valet key? Did you loose your keys or was it stolen? If you answered yes to the above questions. Don't worry! We can help. We can Replace lost keys, Re-flash ECU's and Immobilizer Boxes on-site at the vehicle to accept new keys without replacing the ECU (Engine Control Unit). We don't pull out your ECU or immobilizer box and make you wait days to drive again. Everything will be done on the same day.

19 posted on 06/30/2007 9:13:16 PM PDT by rawhide
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To: rawhide

Thanks Rawhide... I’ll look...

20 posted on 06/30/2007 9:32:09 PM PDT by Swordmaker (Remember, the proper pronunciation of IE is "AAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE)
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