So, you’ve lost a car key and don’t have immediate access to another one. It’s easy to panic. In case you are reading this before it happens, let’s start with some things you can do ahead of time to avoid the panic even if it does happen.
Write down your Vehicle Identification number. Put it in your files, your purse/wallet and store it on your phone. The VIN is usually on the driver’s side dashboard and visible through the window. If you lose your only car key, your VIN might be harder to access than you think. If the car is very old or an unusual make/model, the VIN may be in an odd location like a rear wheel well, the front of the engine block, inside the door or trunk, or on the frame of the car. If the Vehicle Identification Number is obscured due to weather or other conditions, you will be glad you had it written down.
Already Stuck Without a VIN
If you didn’t write the VIN down and can’t find it, look on your insurance card or call your vehicle insurance company or lien-holder. If you can prove your identity, they can give you your VIN. Once you have the VIN, your next action depends on whether your problem is that you have no way to access your own car, are concerned about someone else having access to your car, or both. Bonus tip: Many insurance companies now have apps to allow you to keep electronic proof of insurance on your phone. Some include the VIN number, so consider installing an app.
What to Know
Metal keys were slowly replaced with smart keys (aka chip keys) in the 1990s. These actually have an embedded computer chip. The vehicle will only accept inputs only from a matching chip. If your vehicle uses a key with a an accompanying fob or if you just need to have your fob near the car to access and start your vehicle, key replacement gets more difficult and more expensive. If you’ve recently acquired a newer vehicle with one of these “smart” fobs, put aside some cash or have a spare key made. Replacement keys can be purchased from the manufacturer, dealership, an auto locksmith or sometimes 3rd party company. Take care when buying an off-market or used key as it may fail. It can run up to $600 to replace an average smart key depending on the model and key features. If you are on a tight budget or caught away somewhere without access to funds, that can be an unwelcome surprise. There are some options to re-program your own key if you have or buy a spare, but these don’t work on all models and can still be expensive. If you are really interested in this, you’ll have to do some research to find out if your car and key make/model can be programmed at home and what sort of equipment is needed.
Lost Key and Security
You may you dropped the key near your home and someone may know it matches your car, you could be at risk of having your car vandalized, burglarized or stolen entirely. A car with a standard metal key is not at much risk if the person who has it doesn’t know what car it matched. You can have your auto locks changed by an auto locksmith if you are worried. A key with a transponder or remote entry/start is different. Assuming the person who has the key knows how to find the matching vehicle and you feel at risk, the locksmith can still help you or direct you to the manufacturer or dealership. The right person can either re-program the locks and software on your car or remove the old keys from the vehicle database so only your new key(s) can be used.
Losing your Only Key
If you have a standard metal key up to some of the models with a functional fob but a metal key extension, an auto locksmith can get you a key based on VIN and proof that you own the vehicle. If your key is new enough to have software installed on it an auto locksmith can give you information and may be able to program a key for you. If they can’t, at least they can direct you to the best resource. In the narrowest case, you may have to go to the dealership to purchase and a key and have it programmed, but the essentials to get it are the same: a VIN number, ID for yourself, and proof of ownership. An auto locksmith is almost always the first person to talk to to find the least expensive and most efficient options.