How Do You Replace A Lost Car Key?

Perhaps most people have lost a car key and been unable to unlock or start their vehicle. With advances in motor vehicle technology, replacing a lost car key is more complicated than before.  Nowadays, most car keys contain electronic components and require programming to function.

If you can’t find your car key, the first step is to assess the car’s security system and determine the kind of key. Next, one must contact a locksmith or other qualified specialist and collate relevant information about the vehicle. Finally, if the key has a remote fob, it must be installed and programmed.

What To Do When Your Car Key Is Lost

Losing a car key is inconvenient and frustrating. Knowing what to do when your car key gets lost helps minimize the time, energy, and expense of this common problem.

Check Your Security System

Security System lost car keyThe first step is to check the security system of your car. This will enable you to ascertain the technical complexity involved in replacing the key, so you will know who to call for assistance.

Older models have manual door and steering locking systems, which are relatively simple. Any auto locksmith will be able to replace the keys for these cars.

Newer motor vehicles have increasingly complex electronic security systems, so the brand dealership might be the only place where one can replace keys for these cars.

Determine The Type Of Car Key You Need

Type Of Car Key You NeedConfirming the security system for your car will help you determine the type of key you have lost and need to replace. Let’s briefly examine the four general types of car keys.

Mechanical keys are the simplest and are primarily for vehicles older than ten years. This simple car key must be manually inserted into keyways and turned with physical force when unlocking and starting the car.

An ignition key with remote control is slightly more complicated. The key is for starting the car and operates the same way as manual keys, while the remote control unlocks the vehicle’s doors.

Keyless remote fobs are electronic devices (encased in black plastic) with no physical key blade or bow. This car key starts the engine and unlocks the car when drivers push the remote-control buttons.

The most advanced car key is a remote fob with automatic keyless entry. As with the previous type, there are no traditional key parts. Drivers use this key’s remote to start the car but do not need to push buttons to unlock the vehicle. The key automatically locks and unlocks the car when the owner opens and closes the doors.

Due to their technological sophistication, remote fob keys must be programmed to operate properly.

Contact A Professional Locksmith

After identifying the key type for the car, the next step is to contact a professional auto locksmith with the expertise and equipment to replace the lost key.

Locksmiths are the people to call if the motor vehicle is old-school and has a conventional mechanical key. These professionals are also capable of replacing and programming most remote fob keys.

The advantages of calling a locksmith are convenience (they travel to the car owner) and cost savings.

There are some car models with keys that the locksmith might be unable to replace. Newer European motor vehicles with keyless remote fobs usually have security encryption that locksmiths cannot program. To replace these keys, one must contact the brand dealership.

Gather Necessary Information

Gather Necessary InformationThe locksmith or brand dealership requires specific information about the vehicle to enable them to replace a lost key.

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

Check the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). Every motor vehicle has a specific VIN, a 17-character code that indicates vital information about the car and its technical specifications.

One can find the VIN in multiple locations inside and outside of a car.

In most cars, the VIN is easily visible on the dashboard (usually on the driver’s side). The VIN is also on the interior door pillar (next to the driver’s seat) and the engine block. One can also find the VIN on the exterior of the vehicle frame, just behind the front wheel

Make, Model, And Year Of Vehicle

The car brand, model, and year of production are crucial pieces of information when getting the vehicle’s key replaced.

This information is represented in the VIN, but one can also consult the car manual to confirm the vehicle’s make, model, and year.

Proof Of Ownership

For obvious security reasons, it is necessary to provide formal proof that one has legal ownership of the vehicle

To prove legal ownership, one must present the title certificate for the vehicle. The title certificate is an official document that confirms who owns the car.

Choosing A Replacement Key

The costs of replacing a lost car key and the suitable types of keys vary according to the kind of car and the professionals who do the replacement.

Key Options

There is not much freedom to choose a replacement key. The vehicle brand, model, and security system will determine the kind of key needed to replace the lost one.

Depending on the car, one option is an ‘after-market’ key. This is a generic key that one orders online. The second option is to get a branded replacement key from a dealership.

Cost Of Replacement Keys

The cost of replacement keys varies considerably depending on the car brand and model.

The average replacement cost for remote fob car keys ranges from $50 to $400. This price excludes the cost of programming the fob.

It is advisable to check the terms of one’s car insurance and the vehicle warranty, as these might cover or offset the cost of replacing the vehicle key.

Installation Of Replacement Key

Car owners can use mechanical replacement keys immediately. In contrast, remote fob keys require additional steps before the keys are operational.

Have A Professional Install The Key

Owners can install or set up some kinds of remote fob car keys. However, the increasing technological complexity of these devices means that it is often necessary to procure the services of a professional.

Automobile locksmiths can install remote fob key replacements for some vehicle makes and models.

When getting replacement remote fobs for higher-end European cars, it is usually necessary to approach a registered brand dealership. These vehicles require proprietary equipment and knowledge to replace their lost remote fobs.

Note that having the replacement key set up by the dealer is usually more expensive than calling an auto locksmith. Due to their low overhead expenses, locksmiths typically charge 30% to 50% less than dealers to replace and install a lost car key.

Programming The Key

Programming is the most crucial aspect of installing a replacement remote fob. The fob must be programmed or encoded to function correctly with the car’s electrical security system.

Fob programming generally requires sophisticated technology, but some cars made ten years ago (or more) work with ‘customer-programmable’ replacement fobs. Vehicle owners or locksmiths can successfully program these keys, providing they have two functioning spare keys to enable the programming of a third replacement key.

Locksmiths might have the technical capacity to replace fobs for vehicles made in the US and other non-European countries.

Programming remote key fobs for new (less than ten years) European motor vehicles requires equipment and software that is unique to specific car brands. Brand dealerships are usually the only places where one can get the replacement fob programmed.

Depending on who performs the service, the cost of having a replacement remote fob programmed is roughly between $50 to $100, though it is often slightly higher for European cars.


Car owners have several options for replacing a lost car key. Depending on the car and key type, one can purchase the item online and install it themselves, or with the assistance of an auto locksmith.

Alternatively, one may need to call a dealership that sells and works with the particular vehicle brand. Going to a dealer is the only option when replacing remote fobs for European motor vehicles, as proprietary is necessary for programming the electronic key.

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