As automotive design has become more sophisticated, the technology has made it more difficult for thieves to break into and steal cars. The old style metal key is rapidly being replaced by "smart keys" that cannot easily be duplicated. The downside of this is that replacement car keys are becoming much more costly. For the consumer, it's helpful to know the different types of car keys in use and how to replace them with as little expense and inconvenience as possible.
There are three types of car keys in use as of 2008. Many cars are still equipped with old-style mechanical locks that require only the traditional metal key. The majority of new cars now come with a smart key that contains a computer chip. When the key is inserted into the ignition, it sends a code to the car's computer. Without this code, the car will not start. Some cars, like the Toyota Prius, have an entirely electronic key (called a fob) that controls both doors and ignition.
A locksmith can make a replacement key for an older car for a few dollars. If you've lost the original key, it will be a little more expensive because the lock may have to be dissembled to match a replacement key. When you have a smart key, it starts getting complicated. Some locksmiths have the equipment to program a replacement key, but may not be able to get the code for some makes of cars. In that case, you have to go to a dealer for a replacement key (you'll need to bring your title and vehicle identification number for this). For an electronic fob, it's likely a dealer will be your only option.
It's prudent to have a backup key made in case you lose a key or accidentally lock your keys in your car. This applies to either old-style or smart keys. You can have a simple metal copy of a smart key made and it will work in the door lock, just not in the ignition. However, consider investing in a backup smart key. It will save you time rather than not having the use of your car for several days while you wait for a replacement..