Our Review of the “Keyline 884 Mini” and “The Diagnostic Box”

Well I know this post isn’t going to make sense to most of my customers, but I’ve gotten to try out a few new automotive tools and thought I’d post my thoughts on them in case any locksmiths are considering buying these.

First the bad; I bought an 884 decryptor mini by keyline. It was on sale. This is what’s known as a cloner tool which basically copies your existing chip’s signal. I wish I could say I liked this tool as it could offer the potential to duplicate keys I couldn’t otherwise program. Unfortunately I scrap binned this tool after trying it with no success on multiple cars. I started trying it on my ’09 Chevy Express this is a pretty basic transponder key. This was a marginal success, the process was easy and the keyline key worked, but I had to hold it up to the antenna while turning the ignition with a service key. That was as close to success as this tool came. By the time I got to the fourth or fifth vehicle, the micro usb port broke and that was it. I should add that their tech support was helpful but couldn’t really resolve my issues.

To recap; the keyline 884 mini promises compatibility with a lot of vehicles. Its compact nature and simplistic interface would make this a no brainer. Unfortunately, the functionality I experienced using their tool and their keys left a lot to be desired. Its possible I got a bad unit, but it’s important to note that the micro usb port breaking was not due to abuse. I kept this tool unplugged in the same bag as my t code pro, and other sensitive programming equipment. This is the first issue I’ve had. If you do buy one of these, desk mounting may be better.

Now onto the good! I just got in a tool called The Diagnostic Box. This tool is capable of processing the 20 digit Nissan pin conversion on newer Nissan vehicles. This tool also does the old pin conversion and all you have to do is plug it in! I have the tcode with the Nissan super dongle (not to be confused with the smart dongle) and it can be a slight hassle swapping dongles to convert pins. Worse yet, converting the 20 digit PIN requires NASTF clearance and paying Nissan $10-$15 per key as well as going through the motions of using their site, this takes me about 15 minutes on average. The diagnostic box saves me time on both; I simply plug it into the OBD port and plug my T-code into the Diagnostic box. As soon as I pull the BCM, or 20 digit code, like magic the programming PIN is on my Diagnostic box screen. Even better, it holds it in case there’s an issue, so no need to write the pin down! While advanced diagnostics offers a pin code converter on the super dongle the Diagnostic box is dirt cheap at $140.

How to Become Certified

Often I’m asked where do you go to learn the trade? What is the certification process? The Belsaw Foley Institute is the only national school I know of, though I’m sure there are plenty of vocational schools that offer courses on this. Being a third generation locksmith I grew up in the trade, as did a lot of locksmiths I know. In my opinion, this is the best way, as you are immersed in the trade from a young age and grow up with a network of family and friends to reach out to for help if needed. At this time in Colorado, there is no certification needed unless you’re installing certain electronic locks, at which point a permit may be required. On one hand the lack of a licensing requirements make it easier for the little guy to get into the trade, but on the other this is probably part of the reason the industry is rife with fraud. This is why when choosing a locksmith you always want to be sure that they are reputable and insured. This is also why if you’re starting out you should get insured and join up with an organization like the NASTF, ALOA or the Rocky Mountain Locksmith Associaton, this will help show your legitimacy.


Auto Theft and Recovery Repair

One thing nobody wants to go through is having a vehicle stolen. It’s a violating feeling and can leave you feeling uneasy, as well as frustrated. Unfortunately, I’ve been running into a lot of vehicle theft recovery jobs lately. In most cases, whether the vehicle was actually stolen or just damaged, the damage is significant enough to warrant a few hundred dollars in parts and labor; in some cases this can easily exceed $1000 if the steering column needs replaced.

I know used parts can often cause debate with people because yes they are cost effective but some folks would rather use new parts with no possible wear. When discussing steering column locks and parts putting on used parts is not as cringeworthy as it sounds. In fact most of the parts in a steering column are designed for repetitive use and pretty much last forever so re-using them poses little risk for further issues. In fact we pull our own parts so they are inspected before and after installation to ensure full functionality. And will offer a limited warranty on parts we provide.

In cases with extensive damage to help keep costs down, we provide the option of putting in used parts. This can greatly reduce the cost. For example, I recently had a job with Jeep Cherokee; the guy was at work during broad daylight where the thieves got in removed the ignition and attempted to drive off. Had he not had a chip key, his car would have been gone. But thankfully the anti theft system stopped this. Upon arrival I was able to tell that this was going to be challenging. The skim module (chip reader) was damaged; this part is required for the car to start and is expensive as it’s dealer only. The ignition was also destroyed, and the column needed replaced. This is where I gave the guy the options and pricing. In the end we went with a used steering column that I sourced with new trim, we re used his airbag, I put in a brand new ignition lock that matched the existing key and repaired the skim module. When he initially called a shop their quote was $1500+ for all new parts by using quality used parts we got the job done for roughly $400 this consisted mostly of labor charges as the parts costs were now minimal. On top of the huge savings we did this in the course of two days! This was something I was able to provide a limited warranty on, and there was no wait time on ordering parts, so the turnaround was much quicker.

Another one I performed was for a mechanics shop.
In this instance, the column was salvageable but once again the skim module was destroyed. By using electrical parts from both the old module and a used one, and providing a new ignition, I was able to save the shop about $160 in materials. Furthermore, the vehicle was running and secured in the same day, whereas getting OEM new parts had a 5 day wait. This helped them not only on cost, but it helped them get the car back to its owner in one piece faster.

If you find yourself in a similar position, you can rest assured that Danny Joe’s will go above and beyond to get your vehicle back to where it was previously at the best price possible!

How to Preserve Antique Iron Hardware

As a third generation locksmith most of my life has been spent working with vehicles, keys, and various types of hardware. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love my job! To be honest I’m a total hardware nerd; I collect antique locks when they catch my eye, worse yet I repair it and keep it functional for no reason other than I’m enchanted with the craftsmanship and designs of old hardware, and it makes a fun small project. Recently I bought an old latch from a pair of French doors that was probably made around 1920. When I first saw it it was covered in rust to the point where I felt I had to clean it to preserve it, but I didn’t want to ruin it by cleaning and painting it. I wanted it to look old but without being rusty and decrepit. So I hit the internet and learned this amazing trick! This is the same process you would use to season a cast iron pan. This trick will put a patina like finish on your iron, giving it a nice untouched antique look. To best describe this, it will have about the same look as an iron skillet. And the best part is it’s cheap and easy! All you need is apple cider vinegar, crisco, aluminum foil and a stove.

Be sure to only use this with iron, other metals may get damaged using this process. You can view the finished product on my Facebook here: https://m.facebook.com/Danny-Joes-Lock-and-Key-1599123200305513/?ref=bookmarks

Step 1: Disassemble the hardware

Step 2: Soak the parts you want finished in apple cider vinegar for 30 minutes or more, depending on how much rust/dirt needs removed.

Step 3: Crumple the aluminum foil into a ball and use it to scrub the iron; this will remove the debris (the thicker the foil the more aggressive it will scrub), use the vinegar to rinse as you go.

Step 4: Set the oven to 350 degrees

Step 5: Generously coat the cleaned hardware in either Pam or Crisco. (I used Pam but crisco may leave a thicker coat with more sheen)

Step 6: Bake the iron for about an hour be sure to check on it periodically.

Five Common Problems With Your Ignition and How To Solve Them

If your ignition switch isn’t working there are quite a few possible causes. If you have a newer Honda, it’s likely broken pins. If you have a Dodge, the whole lock may be worn, and if it’s a Chevy there may be an issue with a loose cap. Below are some signs and symptoms and the solutions to them.

1.) Key will not slide in all the way or won’t come out, you may have bent or broken pins. This can happen on any car, but is most common on Toyotas and Hondas with split pins.

2.) Key pulls out in the on or run position- a likely cause is a worn key. Cutting an original to factory specs will often resolve this. If it doesn’t, replacing the ignition and key will resolve this. We can even make a replacement ignition match your existing key!

3.) Ignition turns on and starts the car, but won’t turn off- There are two possible causes. Either the car doesn’t know it’s in park, this may require linkage adjustments which your mechanic can perform, or most commonly on GMs, the cap that holds the pins and springs in place is coming loose and needs to be re-staked in.

4.) Key will not turn at all. If this is a first time or even rare occurrence, likely the steering wheel is bound. Twisting the steering wheel to the free direction while turning the key will free it up. If this is not the case or the issue is progressively getting worse, then you likely either have bent pins or a worn key.

5.) Key turns really loosely or car will not turn on at all- In this case something is broken. This could be the tailpiece on the back of the lock, or something in the lock mechanism or housing. On some Dodge vehicles, this is commonly caused by a broken plastic piece. If you have this issue we can identify the specific cause and make repairs.

Most ignitions are highly serviceable and we do theft repairs, as well as all of the above repairs and many more!

Antique Hardware: To Repair or Replace?

When you buy an older house, you may find yourself making renovations or simply updating hardware and fixtures. One of my favorite things about Denver is that we have a rich history. All over Denver there are houses that were built during the gold and silver rushes of the late 1800’s. Boy if these houses could talk!

What I’ll often see is people wanting to replace their old hardware with newer, nicer hardware. In some instances this may be the best option, for instance this week I had a couple with surface mounted deadbolts, or jimmy proof locks, on every door. Unfortunately, they had multiple brands of hardware all over the house and none of them were compatible, so they had a ton of different keys! On top of that they were worn out. Unfortunately, the companies that made them were out of business and there were no compatible replacements available that would match the keys they had. In this case modernizing was the only option.

What you have to consider when modernizing is that the doors and jambs have been pre-drilled and mortised for the old hardware. Installing new hardware may leave unsightly holes that need filled, or marks where the old locks have been in place for 50 years. This may be a small job or it could make a mess of things. If you have an old skeleton key lock or an old mortise lock, you probably have a door that’s close to 100 years old. In those days the doors were made better, as were the locks. As surprising as it may be, most of these locks are still working or can be repaired fairly easily! In fact, most of the time it’s a matter of cleaning paint or varnish off and lubricating the lock.

As mentioned above the really old stuff, door and all, was made better. It was also made much differently. If you want to replace one of these you should talk with a locksmith. They make modernization kits to help cover holes and mount the hardware. If this isn’t done properly, the door may be simply ruined and finding a replacement that maintains any of the architectural integrity, will be pricey.

The best way to make the decision, is to assess the situation. For instance; If the knob is loose or missing, it’ll be easier to repair or replace it. If the lock works with the door open but not closed, you may need a simple adjustment. If the lock is broken beyond repair, it may be better to replace it or simply install a replacement above or below it. If the issue is with a deadbolt feature mounting a new lock above or below it may be better, as it leaves no additional holes and leaves the original hardware and woodwork intact. You’ll see this on a lot of older houses; the front door will have a new deadbolt on top and all the old stuff on bottom. It’s more cost effective and avoids the mess of matching replacement trim or filling holes. You can always rest assured if you call Danny Joe! We will give you all of the options for your specific situation and help you make the most informed decision based on your needs!

Additonal Security for Your Home or Business

If you have ever experienced a break in, you have probably seen that more often then not, thieves look for vulnerability in the lock so they can damage it quickly and get in and out. Growing up in the trade, I’ve seen a lot of different break-ins and thefts; since I started with my dad at age 5. There was one location we went to where thieves used stolen cars and backed into the doors of the store to get entry. Thankfully, most thieves will not resort to this level of brute force. Like anything else, you can spend money beefing up security and still be vulnerable. What you need to consider is how a person can work around your locks. For instance, contrary to what most people believe, a double key deadbolt is only more secure if you have a window in or next to door. In fact the outside half of a single sided and double sided deadbolt are the same. The guts are identical, the only difference is the tail pieces are different to accommodate the additional space taken by the inside cylinder. Here are some things that will help.

1. Most commonly the damage I see is to the latch. If the gap between the door and jamb is wide or you have excessive play in the door when it’s closed, you give thieves more access to pry on or slip the latch. You want to make sure the door is able to close tight but not too tight. You can accomplish this by adjusting the strike plates on the jamb, moving them into the center will tighten the doors play. If you have an out swinging door, you can put on a latch guard; these are fairly inexpensive and block access to the latch from the outside. We install latch guards and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

2. If you have a door with a window on or near it, the main concern is somebody can break the glass and reach in to unlock the door. This is where a double key deadbolt will add security, as you need a key to unlock it from the inside. You can also use tamper proof screws to keep anyone from removing them.

3. In situations where you have a commercial building, fire code will often require levers on doors that remain locked from the outside. An example would be the back door going to the alley. Unfortunately this gives thieves cover to attack the lock itself; they will often break the handle which allows them access to unlock the door. Luckily with commercial settings they make all kinds of awesome hardware to keep your business safe. In fact for the above situation, there’s a lever made in America by MARKS that addresses this. The handle has a “clutch” built in. This allows the lever to rotate without opening the door this makes it difficult to snap the handle off, as you have less leverage. Additionally they have a breakaway point which further reduces the leverage available.

4. With any door with a lever, you want to make sure the gap at the bottom isn’t too big, as a home made under the door tool can be used to unlock the door from inside. Installing a door sweep can prevent this.

5. It’s important to keep in mind that residential doors are often inswinging. This makes them more vulnerable to being kicked in as there is no molding to brace them. Adding a slide bolt that goes into the floor on the inside will add an additional brace for this. If possible one going into the header as well may help. However you would need to exit through another door such as a garage door for this to be effective while you are away.

6. There’s been a rise in break ins using what’s called a bump key. In my opinion there are more effective ways to gain access. However, if you are concerned with this you can have your locks upgraded with “mushroom” pins, making them harder to pick or bump due to the shape of the pins. While rarely ever does anybody pick locks to break in, almost no residential locks are pick proof. In fact, most commercial locks are lockable as well. However, if you are truly worried about this, we can always install heavier grade commercial locks on your door; just remember if you get locked out, you may pay a higher cost to get in.

Door Closers

Have you ever gone into a building where the door operated smoothly, but felt really heavy to open; or even walked into a place only to have the door slam behind you? Most, if not all, commercial buildings have door closers. Door closers serve two important functions; one is to make sure the door latches behind every person entering, this makes sure the door will be locked when needed, the other is that they keep the door closed which keeps the building at the desired temperature. Door closers are usually hydraulic, if it is leaking it needs replaced.

Door closers are fairly simple, they only have two to three settings. These settings can be adjusted by turning the adjustment screws on either the top, bottom, or most commonly on the side. Adjustments are as follows:

1.) Swing- the swing speed is how fast the door swings closed. If the door is slamming this may need to be slowed down. This screw is marked with an “S”

2.) Latch speed- when you swing a door wide open and let it close if you watch, the speed it will slow down right before it closes. This is the most crucial screw to adjust if the door is slamming or not latching due to speed.

3.) Back check- The back check is often a large screw on the end of the closer marked with a B.C. The Back Check controls the amount of tension the closer puts on the door to pull it shut. If you have a door that opens smoothly but takes effort to open it, then lightening up on the back check or adjusting the arm will help. If the closer just doesn’t have enough pull to latch the door adjusting this may also help.

TIPS: Adjustment screws should only be adjusted a quarter to a half turn at a time. A little is a lot! Turning the screws counter clockwise increases speed/tension turning them clockwise will lessen the speed/tension. Ideally, you want the closer to take little effort to open while being effective to test them I will get the speed and strength mostly where I want them, then I will try to leave the door open by closing the door really slowly as to not let it close all the way. When the latch comes in contact with the jam and it stays open I will slightly up the back check increasing tension. The door should close all the way, no matter how gently it’s closed.

Programming Car Keys: Which Cars Can Be Costly

Believe it or not, most chip keys are really simple to program. Most can be made and programmed for a fairly low rate. Even proximity keys (fob design with concealed emergency key) are mostly simple and can be done with a lower than dealer cost. Surprisingly, the cars that can incur the highest cost are the older ones, where the technology was so new that it’s almost as if it wasn’t designed with a lost key situation in mind.
For instance when Honda first started using the transponder chip system, they designed it so that you need to have 2 keys to program it. You need a red learning key which triggers programming mode and you need at least 1 original key. While I can easily cut a key for these cars in a lost key situation, the owner almost never has the red learning key or they have lost all original keys. This system was used on the Prelude and Acura RL models starting in 1997. Once the red learning key or both original keys have been lost the easiest way to get a key programmed is to replace the computer and module. This can easily cost $600 or more from a dealer. We can replace these as well and handle pricing on a case by case basis.

In addition to Hondas, some older Toyotas can have a surprisingly high cost as well. On the older Toyotas there was no OBD access to program keys. (The OBD port is a plug outlet for diagnostic equipment that is universal and connects to programming equipment as well as a mechanic’s diagnostics tool). On these,
there are two ways to program in a key. The first is to use onboard programming. If you have a master key, if you have lost all keys, or have only a valet key. Then additional keys will require the car’s computer to be removed and either replaced or flashed. The flashing process in short involves disassembling the computer and resetting the memory on the chip that handles the key programming. While this can be performed by your local dealer or locksmith, it’s a lot more labor intensive and can cause you to pay more. After ’05 most Toyota models went to a new, better system for this. Affected models include the 1998-2000 4Runner, 1998-2004 Avalon, 1998-2001 Camry, 2001-2003 Highlander’s, 1998-2000 land cruiser models.

Methods of Making Keys from Scratch

When you lose your keys it’s frustrating and can be a very upsetting experience on the whole. We can take the pressure off and make this a smooth process for you. For the most part, vehicle keys take a half hour to 45 minutes to make. There are a few common methods for this. One of these is to remove a lock from the vehicle; usually your locksmith will remove the easiest lock to access, which is most often the trunk lock or tailgate lock. Sometimes removing the door lock, ignition, or glovebox lock is preferrable. With the lock out, there may be a code on it. This can be looked up to retrieve the specific cuts needed for your key. Other times the lock may be disassembled to get the cuts.

Another method is to use a reader. These tools measure the pins with the lock in the door. Readers can be a great asset for a locksmith, as when they work properly they save time and reduce any risk of damage from disassembly.

The last method is to impression the key. To do this, a locksmith makes a razor thin key and uses the lock to mark the key where it needs cut. Impressioning, when done correctly can save time and prevent damage, but it’s definitely an acquired skill that takes practice.

At least one or all of the above methods will work for pretty much any vehicle. Always be sure to tell your locksmith if the ignition key is different from the other locks as this may complicate things. Don’t forget to call Danny Joe’s for any locksmith needs!