The introduction of automotive transponder keys was a major blow in the struggle against car theft. Unfortunately, it has one downside: replacing a lost car key is no longer as simple as it used to be. Older mechanical keys were easy to replace by simply copying a spare. Newer remotes are a little harder to work with because of the sophisticated technology they contain. 

How your car remote key works

All new cars in Australia must be fitted with an immobiliser, a simple electronic device that disables the vehicle's ignition. When the ignition is activated, the immobiliser emits an electromagnetic field that activates the transponder located in the car remote. The transponder sends out a brief signal, which the immobiliser receives. If the signal -- usually a string of numbers and letters -- is correct, the immobiliser releases the ignition, allowing the car to start. The whole process takes a fraction of a second, but without it the immobiliser would prevent the car from going anywhere. 

Replacing a transponder key

A traditional mechanical key is relatively simple to replace, but creating a new transponder key requires more specialised equipment and expertise. Expect expense and delay if you have to replace a car remote. If being off the road for a day or so could be a serious problem, you'll want to get a spare made up in advance. The waiting time increases if you've lost all the keys to the car. If that happens, the car's immobiliser will have to be reset, an extra procedure that will increase the expense and time required. 

Where to get your key replaced

The challenge of getting a new key or reprogramming an immobiliser should encourage you to keep a spare key safe, but accidents can happen. If you do need to get your keys replaced, you will probably start by contacting your car dealership. Dealerships can certainly replace your remotes, but they're not the only places who can do so. Depending on the model and age of your car, an automotive locksmith may be able to replace the transponder keys, either with an official key from the manufacturer or with a less expensive, but equally effective, aftermarket key. With immobilisers now the norm, automotive locksmiths are able to replace a wide range of different transponders, so it's worth shopping around to compare prices and find out if you can save money on the process. 

Automotive transponder keys have gone a long way to reducing vehicle theft, but the improvement at a price. Fortunately, if you plan ahead and consider your options, that price doesn't have to be as high as you might think.