A key fob is convenient since you can lock and unlock your car with the touch of a button. But if you’ve bought a new one, you’ll need to program the key fob first otherwise it’s as about as useful as a paperweight. A pretty expensive paperweight at that. Here’s our guide to programming a new key fob:
How Key Fob Works
The car key has evolved quite a bit to make your car more secure and make it harder for morally-compromised individuals to steal your car. Here’s how it works, so you know why you need to program a new key before you can start using it:
The main technology of the system is Radio Frequency Identification, better known as RFID to most people. Yes, the same technology we use on our ID cards when accessing our office. There are four main components: the transponder and transmitter in the key, and the receiver and immobilizer in your car.
If you don’t know how the system works, it essentially uses radio waves to communicate with the car. When you push a button on the fob, it will send data through that radio wave via the transmitter inside the key fob.
Then a receiver in the car, well, receives it. And if it matches the database – kind of like matching a barcode – the car will activate the door lock mechanism. Either locking or unlocking it depends on the command prompt on the key fob.
What’s The Transponder And Immobilizer For Then?
Good question, where do the transponder and immobilizer come in then? It plays a role when you want to start your car’s engine. The transponder (which lies in your key), will communicate with the immobilizer in your car.
The transponder sends a tag to the immobilizer and does this as soon as you insert the key. If the tag matches, the immobilizer will enable the ignition system. So, when you turn the key to turn on the engine, it will start.
If the tag doesn’t match, then the immobilizer won’t deactivate and disables the ignition system, preventing your car from turning on. The engine will crank but won’t start, since there’s no spark from the ignition system to start the combustion process.
So, even if someone can get in, they’re going to have a hard time turning on the car. Provided of course that your car has an immobilizer, which has only become commonly factory-fitted since 1992.
This is why you need to program a key fob since you’ll need to program that data and tag it into the keys. Otherwise, the car won’t recognize it and it’s about as useful as a pebble.
Types Of Key Fobs
So, now you know how a key fob works. But of course, you came here to learn how to program a new key fob for your car. Alright, alright, hold your horses, we’re getting there. The thing is, there are several types of key fobs, and the method to programming it will be different depending on the type and your car.
There are plenty of car key types, but the most modern cars will have either one of these four, and the programming methods will vary:
- Separate key fob, where the key fob is separate from the key itself. Usually, you can program it yourself but may require a special tool sometimes.
- Integrated or transponder key fob, where the lock/unlock buttons are integrated with the key’s housing so you don’t need to carry a separate fob. A popular variation is the switchblade key, where the physical key can fold into the main housing.
- Remote keyless entry fob, there’s a physical key inside the fob, but you don’t require it to start the car and use an ignition button instead to start the car.
- Proximity keys are similar to remote keyless entry, but they sometimes don’t require you to push a button to unlock the car, nor do you need to insert it into a slot to start the car.
How To Program Key Fob
So, those are the key fob types. Now, keep in mind that there are key fobs that will require a specialized tool or a professional service altogether to program it. So, some keys, usually smart or keyless fobs, won’t be able to be programmed at home.
Additionally, the method to program key fobs will vary depending on the car’s make and model. We’re going to give you several examples for different make and models, as well as examples for different types of keys:
1. Programming Separate Key Fobs (For GM)
This particular method will work for GM vehicles. And for this method, we’re assuming you still have the original transponder key:
- Insert the key into the ignition.
- Press and hold the central unlock button on the driver’s door.
- While holding the button, turn your key into the ‘ACC’ position or ignition on, then back to ‘OFF’. Repeat this twice.
- The car will honk and cycle the door lock mechanism, signifying it’s ready for programming.
- Press the lock and unlock button on the new key fob you want to program simultaneously, and hold it down for 30 seconds.
- Once programmed, the car will honk and cycle the door lock mechanism once again. This signifies the key fob is ready to use.
- Try using the key fob, the car’s door lock mechanism will respond if it’s successful.
Again, this method will work for GM vehicles that use this type of key, particularly ones from the 2000s and early 2010s. And it will only work if you still have the transponder key with you. But this gives you an idea of how to program a key fob.
2. Programming Separate Key Fobs (For Toyota)
Just to give you an example of how the process can differ from one manufacturer to another, here’s how to program a key fob for the current Toyota Tacoma:
- Open the door and get on to the driver’s seat. Leave the door open.
- Insert the working key and then take it out immediately. Do it twice in quick succession.
- Close the door and open it, do this twice as well.
- Insert the key once again and then pull it out immediately.
- Close and open the door twice again.
- Insert the key, then close the door.
- Turn the key to ‘ACC’ or ignition on, then turn it back to off and take it out. The door lock will cycle to signify the car’s ready for pairing.
- Press the Lock and Unlock button on the new blank fob simultaneously, and then press the Lock button once.
- If the door lock cycles once, then the pairing is successful. If it cycles twice, then it didn’t work and you’re going to have to try again.
- Test out the new key fob.
The first five steps may look like a weird ritual before you start a long road trip, but we’re not kidding, that’s how you manually program a new key fob on the 2015 (current-gen) Toyota Tacoma.
Other Toyotas, such as the 4Runner and other Toyotas that share a similar key will likely work with this method. But the key thing here is that it gives you an idea of how programming a key fob will differ from one car make to another.
3. Programming Key Fobs (For Honda)
Honda’s method is somewhat more straightforward. In the 2000s and early 2010s, their cars mostly came with an integrated key fob, meaning the lock/unlock buttons are on the plastic housing of the transponder key. Here’s how you program them:
- Insert the key.
- Turn it to the ‘ACC’ or ignition on position, press the Lock button while it’s there.
- Turn it back to the off position.
- Repeat the steps four times in quick succession.
- If successful, the door lock mechanism will cycle once.
- After it cycles, immediately press the Lock button one more time while the key is still in the ignition and the on position.
- Press the Lock button on the original key.
- Test out the new keys and see if they work.
Unlike Toyota’s method, Honda is more straightforward and doesn’t require you to do a good luck ritual just to get the car to its key programming mode.
4. Programming With SimpleKey Tool
Tom’s Key is a company that makes SimpleKey which are fobs that come with a programming tool, making it easier for you to program key fobs. They make keys for multiple make and models. Mostly for cars by the Stellantis (formerly Fiat-Chrysler) and VW.
Again, this method will also require you to have the original keys with you. Here’s how to do it:
- Activate the new key fob from SimpleKey by pressing the ‘Lock’ and ‘Panic’ buttons simultaneously until a blue light comes on.
- Enter the three-digit activation code, you’ll find this in the SimpleKey instructions. The code will depend on your vehicle’s make and model year.
- Press the Lock and Panic button simultaneously once again to confirm the code.
- Take the programmer and turn to the appropriate dial. You’ll find this in the instruction manual.
- Turn on the car’s hazard light. Then insert your working key and turn on the engine.
- Plugin the programmer to the OBD port. It will beep three times to signify it’s working with the car.
- Turn the engine off and pull the working key out.
- Insert the new blank key into the ignition, then press the button on top of the programmer. It will beep three times.
- Pull out the key, then press the button on the programmer once again. It will chime to signify that the pairing process is successful.
- Test out your new keys.
This method will work with almost any Stellantis- or VW-made vehicle. They have a complete list of the models and model years their keys will work with, so you can find out whether it will for you or not before purchasing.
They cost about $109 each. It’s quite pricey, but as you’ll find out later on, still cheaper than taking your car to the dealership.
5. Programming Keyless Entry Fobs (Nissan)
The video about Stellantis cars above shows that it uses a keyless entry fob. How about other makes then? Again, the method will vary depending on the make and model, as well as the key that you purchase.
As an example, here’s how to program an aftermarket keyless entry fob for Nissan and Infiniti:
- Get in your car, close all the doors, and insert the original key fob into the ignition slot.
- Press the Start/Stop Engine button twice to turn on the car’s ignition. Do not press on the brake pedal as that will start the engine.
- Plug the programming device (which comes with the key) into the car’s OBD port underneath the driver’s side dashboard. It will beep two times.
- Wait for 10 seconds, then press the engine button to turn the ignition back off. The programming device will then beep once.
- Wait another 10 seconds, then turn the ignition back on. The programming device will beep twice during this.
- Again, wait another 10 seconds and turn off the ignition once again. The programming device will beep three times.
- You guessed it, wait for another 10 seconds then turn on the ignition.
- Pay attention to the instrument panel, if a red car-shaped indicator flashes five times, then that means the car is ready to program the new key.
- Turn the ignition back off, take out the working key, and then insert the new blank key.
- Wait for 10 seconds, then turn the ignition on. If the red car light flashes again five times, then the pairing is successful. Repeat steps 8 – 10 to program additional keys.
This method will work with various Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. Mostly ones from the late 2000s and early 2010s. Aftermarket keys for other car make and model may also be available.
Programming A Transponder Key With Autel Maxicom
So, those are the different ways to program a key fob. But what if you need to program the transponder key as well? This one’s a bit more tricky, and realistically, you won’t be able to do this without using an OBD tool.
The Autel Maxicom is a diagnostic scanner for OBD2 systems. Keep in mind that it’s quite expensive at $479. Still, this is an almost universal method, except for T5 and ILCO keys (this is usually stamped on the key’s housing). Here’s how to do it:
- Plug the Autel Maxicom into the car’s OBD port and turn the device on.
- Insert the original key and turn the ignition on.
- Once the device is on, choose ‘Service’, click ‘Immobilizer Keys’, pick your car’s make, click on ‘Automatic Selection’ and then click ‘Read’. The device will communicate with the car, then click ‘Hot Function’.
- Click ‘Add and Delete Keys’, then ‘Add 1 Key’.
- Turn the ignition switch off and take it out.
- Insert the new blank key, and then turn the ignition on.
- Turn the key to the off position, then back on again. The device will ask you to do this twice and do it timely with the device’s command.
- If the immobilizer indicator (usually a key-shaped light) is off, then the pairing is successful.
- Take out the new key, then insert the original key and turn on the ignition. Once finished, the device will tell you on the screen.
- Test out the new key and see if it works.
The process may vary a little depending on your car’s make and model. The video above uses an Acura as an example. But as the video above shows, the device will give you a guide and command prompts to help you through the process.
Program Key Fob: What If I Don’t Have The Original keys?
There are ways to do this, usually by using some sort of bypass tool. Some methods say you can do this by putting in the new key, turning it on, leaving it for 10 minutes, and doing a few more steps.
However, these steps are unproven and unlikely to work. Not to mention will vary depending on the car’s make and model. So, we’re not going to bother. If you lost your original keys, your only real options are either going to a locksmith or the dealer.
They will have the necessary tools to program your new keys without messing with the system and potentially damaging it in the process. These tools can be quite expensive, such as the Autel one which costs around $400. In some cases, you need a factory OBD tool that the manufacturers themselves use, and that can cost thousands of dollars.
Whether you want to program the key fobs or the transponder key, realistically, you’re going to have to pay for a professional to do it for you. This segues us nicely to our next section…
Program Key Fob: Costs
Reprogramming a key fob will cost anywhere between $50 – $250 at the dealer. The cost will vary depending on your car’s make and model, and the type of key that your car has.
Now, that’s just the reprogramming cost. Here is the cost of the keys themselves if you need to buy a new one from the dealer:
- Transponder keys are around $170.
- Key fobs or remote keyless entry costs between $150 – $200.
- Switchblade keys are similar to transponder keys, but they cost a bit more at around $200 – $300 due to the added complexity of the switchblade mechanism.
- Proximity keys or smart keys are anywhere between $200 – $600. They’re very high-tech and allow the driver to start the car without taking the key out of their pocket, hence the expensive cost. In some cases, this may already include the programming cost.
So, if you have an older car, it will probably cost you somewhere around $150 – $300 to purchase program a key fob at the dealer. While newer cars, especially ones with proximity keys, can cost up to $600.
How About At A Locksmith?
A quick internet search and you’ll find plenty of car locksmiths near where you live. Many of them will be able to program your new keys at a cheaper price than the dealer, even if you don’t have the original keys.
The exact cost will vary depending on who you ask and labor rates, but you can expect them to be up to 60% cheaper than going to the dealer. Additionally, they often offer home services at no extra charge, which is good if none of your keys work and you can’t drive the car to their location.
Keep in mind that you will need to prep a few things, just to make sure that you’re programming keys for a car you rightfully own. So, best to make a phone call and ask them what they will need, but here are the things you will typically need to do:
- Inform them of your car’s make, model, and year. They may also need the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
- Provide proof of ownership, either registration or title.
- If you’re working on someone else’s car, say, your parents or spouse, they should be there with a valid ID when the technician comes. Some may be more lenient and will accept just a valid ID so long as it matches the car’s registration or title.
- Key identification number, you can find it in the owner’s manual. This isn’t necessary, but it will be helpful for the technician.
Also note that if you drive European cars such as Mercedes or BMW, some locksmiths may not be able to program your key fob. In which case, you have no choice but to go to the dealership. Meanwhile, Japanese and American cars are usually easier to work on.
Program Key Fob: Wrap Up
Bottom line, the steps to programming a key fob varies greatly depending on your car’s make and model. We can only provide so many examples in one article. So if we didn’t list how to program a key fob for your car, you’re going to have to do a bit more research.
The easiest solution would be to go to a locksmith that’s capable of programming a key fob. They will cost quite a bit of money, but will still be considerably cheaper than going to the dealership. Hopefully, this has been helpful and good luck!
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