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.