You won’t believe the cost of a spare car key…

by , Cars Online Writer Transport & Travel 10 August 2011
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How much does it cost to replace your car key? Let’s just say that for a modern car, you’re not looking in the tens of pounds. Have you ever had to buy a replacement car key, and did you feel ripped off?

Car and car keys

A few weeks ago, I went to get some spare house keys cut. It cost me £14.50 for two cylinder keys and a mortice key.

Although I was expecting to pay a little less, on reflection, I felt that was a pretty fair deal – after all, security is worth paying for, right?

However, I’m glad I didn’t need to buy a spare key for my car.

The expense of car keys

Of the hundreds of Which? members who contact us every month, one query caught my eye. The member described the cost of getting a new car key as ‘exorbitant’ – and suggested we investigate.

I quickly got on the phone to some of the car dealers in my area. I asked them to quote the cost of a year-old version of their most popular medium or large car.

The average price of a key from Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Ford, Vauxhall and Hyundai? £174!

Every single manufacturer I’ve spoken to so far charges well over £100 for a replacement key. Ford was the cheapest at £130 (admittedly this isn’t for the latest Focus), while Audi and Mercedes both asked for a whacking £228.

Are car keys a rip-off?

I have to say, I certainly like the convenience of remote central locking. But the latest must-have feature (one which is being promoted by Ford in the current Fiesta adverts) is “keyless entry”. This requires even more sophisticated chips and transponders inside the key – ultimately pushing the price up.

I rang another Ford dealer and found that a keyless fob for a new Fiesta (the UK’s biggest-selling car) costs £193, while a normal key is ‘just’ £135.

Car keys perform what is, in essence, a very simple job. They let you into your car and start it. Do they really need to be quite so complicated – and expensive? Or do you think the convenience of a remote locking or keyless system is worth the extra cost?

138 comments

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Alan

You say how much outlay for cost of business etc and how long lo recoup the outlay, I had a business and I never ripped off the customers like this.
Now imagine you brought a a large fast food franchise ,the outlay is in the 100s of thousand, do they charge you £10 for fries-£15for a coke and £30 for a burger?

They have staff and overheads and running costs
The con starts at the top and runs down like a pyramid sales scam, although locksmiths are not that bad as main dealers.
In this country we just talk but no action- lets look to France if we want our voices heard.

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stu

You will find most auto locksmiths do not rip anyone off! If you don’t know what a locksmith get there items at at trade price then you shouldn’t comment really!
Has said before example Renault key car for auto locksmith at trade between £60-80
programming it into the vehcle around £15 reason being autolocksmiths programming machine costs betwwen £2000-8000 and some use tokens around £15 a vehicle.
cutting of the emergency blade £10 . auto locksmith key cutting machine to code3 cost anything from £2500-£6000.
Picks to enter vehicle and decode £80
Van fuel cost average £10 per job
van insurance ££
wear and tear of vehicle£££
liability insurance £150-400
auto locksmith wage
Now tell me how a auto locksmith rips customers off with that outlay?

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stu

And for costs of fries ect you would normally get 50 plus customers a day, an auto locksmith may only get 1 job a day, its not a 9-5 job!

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Mike

As the previous reply stated to compare a burger bar to a locksmith isn’t a fair one, obviously the higher the volume of customers the cheaper the service or products becomes, as a manager of an establised locksmith i am all to much aware of the very high outlay on diagnostic equipment, high tech key cutting equipment, well trained qualified staff and good quality stock, we also have to invest
on regular software updates and purchase various licences to enable us to reproduce vehicle transponder keys and remote keys, our last investment was around £17,000.00 on diagnostic
software alone, so don’t be to quick to judge as i can assure anyone that reproducing modern vehicle keys involves time, effort, and can be money pit, we forecast we will not actually draw a profit for three years based on our initial investment, then there is the on going cost of software updates and training but as this is part of the general service we supply we continue to provide this service to our customers, not whinging just trying to give another perspective,

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Alan

Very quick to defend charges and costs which every business face what makes your such business different?
Forget it my post will not make a difference so you carry on…. Happy 2014 matey

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Mike

As a follow on to my previous post it may be worth mentioning that the entire concept of purchasing a burger and a remote key is completely different, when you purchase a burger ( or any fast food for that matter ) the reasons for that purchase are generally because it tastes good, its quite cheap, but more to the point you WANT IT, therefore you don’t mind paying however in my 28 years experience in the lock trade i can say without doubt we are classed as a ‘grudge purchase’, you do not WANT our service however you may NEED it so people mostly resent parting with there cash for our services and products.

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wavechange

I believe that rather than complaining about the cost of a spare key we should be asking why manufacturers don’t provide enough keys in the first place.

My new VW Golf came with only two keys (the previous one had come with two and an emergency key with the transponder but no remote control function. I suppose I should feel luckier than a couple whose new car was supplied with two keys but only one with a remote control function.

A couple will need two keys, or three if a son or daughter uses the car, and it is commonsense to keep a spare key. Therefore manufacturers should provide four keys with a new car. Unlike cutting and programming a new key, which is expensive, providing an extra couple of keys would add very little to the cost of a new vehicle and could save a great deal of hassle.

Come on manufacturers. Provide four keys with each new car.

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localsmith

You are really good and fast but the best thing is quality and prices, thank you for keep doing that great job. GOD Bless.

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Nymie

The modern key does so much more than open the car and start it.
Well worth the price, most need to be computer matched to your car, the price usually includes that work and takes an odd 15 mins or so depending on make.

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wavechange

You are right about what the key does, but the cost of spares could be avoided if car manufacturers provide at least four keys with a new car. The cost will be small if they are all programmed at the same time.

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MIKE

Unfortunately that’s a marketing ploy from all main dealerships, profit margins on the sale of vehicle’s has eroded, in most case’s it can be as low as 8% therefore all dealership’s will use whichever strategy they have control over
to draw a profit from the servicing aspect, morally it’s questionable but as far as generating income
goes it’s fairly simple, why supply additional keys for nothing when they can charge £££££ for spares ?

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bib1

I’m uniquely unqualified for this thread, but that’s not gonna slow me down!
I’ve never bought a new car and my current is 17 (get yer mind out of the gutter, I’m still talking about my car).
Now I’ve got your attention, can I ask three questions?

Can you buy extra keys with a new car?

Can the dealer work on your car without having your key?

Is there still such a thing as a “master key”. I believe Renault used to supply one.

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MIKE

If you buy a used car from a reputable dealer they will almost certainly be in a position to provide a spare key, usually via a local auto -lock specialist or locksmith who can supply and programme transponder keys, however there are a couple of issue’s that come into play, the dealer is not legally bound to supply a second key, the cost of supplying a second remote key can still cost the dealer over £200,00 trade therefore does the profit on the sale of the car justify the outlay?, again if the dealer is a reputable one they will usually compromise and pay for a non-remote key as these can be supplied trade from as little as £25, a non-remote key will still be programmed to start the vehicle.
Master keys were available on older Ford, Fiat and Toyota models ( circa 1997-2003 ), the master key allowed the owner to programme a new key ( with transponder chip ) themselves, that facility has not existed in the UK for around ten years. There is sometimes a misconception from the public regarding the term ‘ master key ‘ whether for a vehicle lock or front door lock but that is a separate discussion,however as a trading locksmith i retain in excess of 100 master keys all individually produced to operate under a unique system, the is no such item as a ‘ generic master key ‘. And no there is no Renault master key.

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MIKE

Any garage will require a working key as the key ‘ opens’ the ECU which permits access to the vehicles computers, almost all modern vehicles require diagnostic servicing access via the on board diagnostic port, OBD. within the ECU software will usually exists pin codes which are required to access particular levels of the on board diagnostics, without these pin codes you will not be allowed to complete many servicing procedures.

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bib1

Mike, many thanks for your answers to my questions.

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wavechange

Obviously we need to avoid losing car keys to avoid a big bill but I wonder if there is any significant difference in durability between manufacturers.

I often discuss topics we discuss with others and have repeatedly been told that Renault keys are fragile, both the remote control variety and keyless entry devices.

I have been fortunate with VW keys. One of mine survived a hot machine wash. Hopefully all car keys can withstand this sort of abuse.

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MIKE

You were indeed fortunate that your key survived however that’s testament to Volkswagen build quality ( and can i say huge slice of luck ), in general the build quality of remote keys correlates directly with the build quality and reliability of the manufacturer main products, i agree the various key card’s issued by Renault and many of the Citroen and Renault remote ‘ flip keys ‘ do not stand up to scrutiny, they are very poor quality, however most vehicle keys have been designed and produced to last an expected component life of three years,
specifically designed to cover the standard warranty they issue with the vehicle thus enabling them
to charge for replacements when they fail.

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wavechange

I hope it’s not as bad as that, Mike, though obviously you have more experience than me. In discussing car keys with people since the start of this Conversation I have found many people who have never had any problem with their keys, apart from when they need a new battery.

I kept my last car for ten years and the key I used daily (the one I washed) was still going strong on its original battery. My current car has a key of the same design and I’m expecting it to perform as well.

I don’t know why durability of car keys fascinates me, but it seems more interesting than sport. :-)

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MIKE

I recently had a conversation with a company director issued a tender from a car manufacturer supplier to provide a capacitor
for use in a dashboard, during the various meeting’s they eventually produced two capacitor’s, one was high spec with excellent temperature tolerance with an expected life use of 8 – 10 years, the other had a low temperature tolerance and expected usage of 3- 5 years,( variations in temperature have a huge effect on electronic components ) they chose the latter as it was 23% cheaper, the dashboard began to fail on some vehicle’s after two years but not on others, Therefore my earlier point about the components used by different manufacturer is confirmed by the fact that good quality products last longer than poor quality products, however of course how the product is used, where it is used, maintenance etc.. are all
contributing factors to how long any product will last.

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wavechange

I know about this Mike, but the considerable variation in the life of electronic components can be used to our advantage where manufacturers offer cars with a decent warranty. If a manufacturer offers a three or five year warranty they need to be sure that the failure rate of electronic components is so low that they don’t have to pay for repairs to many cars during the warranty period. This means that most owners are unlikely to have a problem in twice the period. This only works with a decent warranty period and does not work as well with non-electronic problems such as remote controls losing their buttons or plastics cracking after a few years.

I’m hoping that car manufacturers do not exclude keys from their warranties, other than for battery replacement or abuse.

We need manufacturers to include ten year warranties on kitchen appliances, boilers and other consumer durables. It’s gradually happening and might put an end to manufacturers using third rate components to save a few pennies.

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MIKE

Ten year warranty !!!! i can hear the boardrooms shrieking with laughter from here, joking aside
there are companies that have such belief in there products, Kia offer a 7 year warranty which clearly reflects the confidence in there products however i do not believe that could ever apply to vehicle remote keys in there current form as there would be to many contributing factors that would invalidate any proposed warranty, however in the not to distant future keys as we know them will no longer exist, there is a high probability your car ‘key’ will be directly linked with your mobile phone,
your retina, fingerprint etc….all those things are possible and could be produced now……..
but one way or another the manufacturers will design a system that either requires a monthly payment or something similar.

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wavechange

Over not too many years, we have seen a gradual increase in warranties offered by car manufacturers. Vauxhall offers a lifetime/100,000 mile warranty for the original owner. I’m sure there must be a catch but the only unexpected exclusion I could find is that it does not cover wiring harnesses. Some washing machines and other kitchen appliances are available with five or ten year warranties, either as standard or as special offers. John Lewis offers a two year warranty on all electrical goods and five years on all TVs. We are not there yet, but I’m optimistic that ten year warranties will come but we, the consumers, have to push for them.

I don’t doubt that car manufacturers will find ways of extracting money for us in the future. None of us want unexpected bills, hence the attraction of long warranties, but some drivers seem content to pay out substantial amounts to update satnavs etc.

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MIKE

I fully support the idea but am of the opinion that any goods offered with a warranty anything above 7 years would reflect on the product being way above the budget of most consumers, yes there are products advertised with ten year warranties, i recently purchased a fridge freezer and the samsung version offered the very same ten year warranty, however on closer inspection the warranty applied to the motor and nothing else,most warrantoies contain many exclusions that many ppeople only find out when the repair is required, regarding Vauxhall’s ‘ lifetime warranty ‘ would be at best a six year warranty based on average household yearly mileage, the realistic solutions is lease for all products,
long term lease agreements for your car,. washing machine, home computer etc…..that cover repairs, replacements etc…perhaps one leasing company could provide goods for anm entire home at a reasonable cost.

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wavechange

Car manufacturers have introduced year/mileage warranties to protect themselves from unfair claims from heavy users. A fridge or freezer is in continuous use, so a simple warranty is appropriate, though the manufacturer would not get away with advertising a long appliance warranty and covering only the compressor. With a washing machine it would be appropriate to give a warranty for a number of years or washing cycles, whichever comes first. The Vauxhall warranty is helpful to people like my neighbours who are retired and cover about 4000 miles a year. With smartphones, tablets and laptops there’s no point in having a long warranty because the technology soon becomes outdated.

Leasing may be the way forward but it needs to be fair to light users.

Meanwhile back at car keys, you might be interested in the tale of one of our contributors who parked their Land Rover in their garage and the car battery ran down, so they could not open the door with the remote control. The only mechanical lock was on the offside, which was close to the garage wall meaning that the door could not be opened.

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bib1

Mike & wavechange,
Excuse me butting in on your exchanges (very interesting).

Am I reading that a new key is needed for a battery change?

Is this due to power loss in the ECU?

Same thing for any battery disconnect?

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MIKE

No you would not need a new key, the example of the Land Rover is very unusual however there would have been options available to the car owner particularly if they were members of a motoring organisation to open the vehicle without damage, alternatively they could purchase a simple device which puts a temporary charge on the remote key, not an instant solution of course, and this would not apply to those vehicles that use a re -chargable battery.

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wavechange

Bib1 – Sorry if I’m confusing you. :-( I have changed a few batteries in car remote controls. Some are easier than others. If the operating range of the remote control is less than that of your spare key it’s probably time to change the battery.

If the vehicle battery is flat then there is no power to operate the door locks. A few days ago a friend left her lights on all day and could not get into her Toyota Yaris, which has a keyless remote control. Inspection of the remote control revealed a door key that has remained hidden for five years. After a jump-start, all was well. There should not be a problem if you can open the door with the lock. My car has only one lock, though it is hidden under a plastic cover. At least it is on the driver’s side.

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MIKE

Actually the apology should be from me, sorry for the confusion, end of a long day, yes most ‘ keyless ‘ vehicle remotes incorporate an emergency key which can operate a mechanically operated door lock, and yes in some case’s these emergency barrels are behind a cover, although if you look closely there are usually marked with an key symbol. Yes it should always be on the drivers side
but that is not always the case.

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wavechange

I’ll leave you to give advice Mike. You know a lot more than me. But I will be carrying on the fight for longer warranties because I’m fed-up with manufacturers selling us products containing low specification components.

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