Look in your pocket, purse, bag, or junk drawer, and chances are you’ll find a key fob. The basic ones lock and unlock your car’s doors. The fanciest do much more. But no matter which kind you have, replacing it costs a lot more than cutting an old-fashioned set of keys. Consumer Reports reveals a few simple tips to save money if you need a new fob.
Depending on your age—or the age of your car—you might not even remember life before key fobs. These now common devices offer many conveniences.
But maybe you’ve experienced the downside: The cost to replace the latest key fobs can be as much as $400 depending on the brand. Then add another $20 to $130 to program it to work with your car. It could add up to $500 in some cases!
Before shelling out any money for a replacement, check your warranty, auto insurance, or roadside assistance coverage to see if they cover the cost of replacing lost or damaged keys.
The latest news from Consumer Reports magazine.
If your car is less than five years old, chances are you’ll have to go directly to a dealership that has the expensive equipment required to program a new key fob.
However, if you have a car that’s a little older, Consumer Reports says you can probably save money by purchasing an aftermarket key fob. Search online for fobs based on the make and model of your car. Consumer Reports found a number of options on Amazon, Walmart, and online auto-parts stores for $200 less than dealerships.
Many of the less-advanced fobs can be laser-cut and programmed by your local mechanic or locksmith, but if you’re up for the challenge, programming it yourself can be a fun project.
You’ll find all the instructions in the owner’s manual. Just know that most customer-programmable key fobs will require two current working keys in order to program the new one.
If you do end up needing to get a new fob at a dealership, the good news is that the process is pretty quick, typically taking just 15 to 30 minutes. For added convenience, a mobile locksmith can replace many fobs, programming and cutting the keys right in your driveway.
And did you know your fob is hiding a secret? There’s usually a mechanical key hiding inside the key fob for cars with push-button start systems, so you can still unlock your door if the car battery or your fob battery runs out of juice. Some cars have an obvious key slot on or behind the door handle. On others, a plastic cap hides the key slot underneath.