Learn the Difference Between Automotive Key Types

Did you know that not all automotive keys are made the same? It may seem surprising since every car you’ve owned seems to have had a similar key, but there are actually different types with a variety of features and all at different price points.

Aside from your traditional key, you’ll find anything from master keys to smart keys and everything in between. Take a look at the ways cars were open years ago through a traditional key and how technology has brought about modern options like the smart key.

Basic car key

The basic car key or traditional option is what you’ll find if you have an older vehicle or one that you may remember from back in the day. These are the ones that you can easily make a copy of at the hardware store and they can hook easily on your keychain. The reason that car keys have evolved from this option are many, but one reason is that they lack really any security features.

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If you still have a car with a traditional key, you may have had a security alarm installed or purchased an electronic key fob to help prevent theft of your car. These inexpensive keys don’t provide any encoding, can be made with any machine that cuts metal, and are outdated since better options have come out.

Master keys

In addition to your traditional car key, you may have been given a master key as well. These were meant to have copies made from them and to not be used for daily use since they were much more expensive than the basic key. Not only are they expensive to replace, but some old owners had to replace their engine management system if they were to lose them. Your used car purchase may come with a master key today.

Transponder keys

A key that’s been around since the mid-90s would be the transponder key, which offers a more secure option than your traditional key. These actually have microchips in the key handle so that when you start your engine, the sensor can respond to activate the transponder.

These can be replaced by your locksmith if lost. If you have a rolling code key version of the transponder where the key has to send a new code each time your car is used, it would be more expensive to replace when lost. These keys were the answer to car theft in the 90s.

Switchblade keys

Another popular car key is the switchblade key where the base retracts from the head of the key fob. These are great for keeping your car keys smaller in your pocket since they fold back up when not in use. It folds up like a switchblade knife and can be replaced if lost.

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Remote control car key

Your favorite way to open the car, the remote control car key is the device that allows you to lock and unlock your car. Hit the button you need to lock or unlock, and many come with an alarm system too. The infrared signal or radio transmitter sends a coded message to signal to the car what to do.

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Smart keys

Today, you have the newest version of locking and unlocking your car: the smart key. These were developed by Mercedes-Benz in the late 90s to offer a new, modern version to the old car key dilemma. They wanted to bring technology into the solution and give a new sense of protection to car security. It works as an electronic access and authorization for your system, meaning that it doesn’t actually require you to have a key to use.

You’ll simply hold on to your smart key, keep it in your pocket, and the car will work when it can sense that the smart key is within the presence of the car. Just touch a button to unlock the car and your settings will be applied, like your favorite radio station and seating position. You don’t have to ignite the engine with a key but just with a push of a button as long as the key is within distance of the car. When you walk away, your car will likely lock itself. These are great for security since they use rolling security codes that randomize the immobilizer.

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If you’ve ever wondered why everyone has a different car key or what the differences are, this guide explains what the different keys do for different purposes. That’s a look at the difference between your automotive key types.