Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chip Keys--Another DIY Item

I started to write full blog post the programmable, "chip keys" that are used to start modern cars, but then I found that someone had already written most of it for me. So I will limit myself first to saying I don't like them. I don't know that they cut down all that much on car theft, and anyway, I am willing to take that chance. They are so bulky, you can't keep a spare in your wallet. I am now realizing that you could have a wallet-key cut for this purpose, which isn't 100% as good, but takes care of the 90% problem, which is locking your keys in the car.

As for the fully-functional spare, the dealer will typically want $40 for the key, and often, another $40 for a programming charge. I find that completely outrageous, especially as we approach having 4 drivers in the family. General consumer irritation on this topic has been stewing in the back of my mind for 5 years, since I first bought cars of recent enough vintage to have chip keys.

So when I noticed a sign at the local Ace Hardware saying "we cut chip keys", I got excited. I figured it would be quite a bit more than the $3 for a generic metal key, but a lot less than the dealer price. I was thinking $25. Imagine my shock when they quoted me $65! I said thanks but no thanks.

That got me thinking more, though, and I started poking around online. I quickly learned that this is a potential Do-It-Yourself item. So I bought a key for $15 online ($20 with shipping). While I was at it, I also ordered a key fob for our Dodge Grand Caravan.

Getting the key working was going to be a little more tedious than the fob, because first I had to go to Menard's to have the blank cut (which they nicely did for free), then I had to go through the programming instructions for the key.

So I went ahead and did the fob first, not feeling like making a special trip to Menard's. That seemed to go well, the special chimes occurred just as the instructions indicated. So I got the first fob done, tried it immediately, and it worked fine. But then I noticed that the original fob didn't work any longer! So I repeated the programming instructions, to re-program it. That worked, but then the new fob no longer worked. So then I read the instructions more carefully, and realized you have to re-program the new fob as well. I guess that sort of makes sense, though it is not entirely obvious. I think what it comes down to is that the transponder in the car only has 1 code--not a separate code for each fob.

So a few days later, I got around to programming my new key. And therein lay a painful glitch. The instructions were sensible enough, as with the fob, and I followed them carefully. However, the promised sequence of single chime, and security indicator light never occurred as promised. And no suprise, the new key would not start the car. I repeated the process 4 times, even resorting to closely timing myself (as opposed to estimating "wait at least 5 seconds but no more than 15 secs"). Still no luck.

So back online. I found the same and very similar instructions online. The very similar ones were interesting--the time intervals were slightly different. I figured, though, that the company I bought the key from and who sent the accompanying instructions had just tweaked them to be sure that people waited long enough. But the thing that stood out was the last, almost off-hand comment:

As a precautionary measure for all of the above procedures, you should wait at least one minute after you have performed this until you start your vehicle.

I had tried the new key immediately every time I had gone through the sequence. I went back out, and put the new, previously inoperative key in the ignition, and turned it. Voila, the car started! So my instructions seems doubly faulty--the confirmation chimes never occurred, and they never hinted to me that I should wait.

So at the end of the day, this was a typical DIY adventure. Success was achieved, but with unexpected difficulty and frustration. And while I am not an electronics and car geek, I am a bit more savvy than average, so I have a mental model of what can go wrong, and I am a particularly aggressive web researcher, so I was able to leverage the idea that I was close, but not quite there, with the ability and motivation to search out better instructions, to correct the problem. But that persist until you get it barrier is high enough to weed out at least 75% of potential DIYers, resulting in the dealers continuing to get their excessive profits on key copies!

Hmmm, I think I will recommend this topic to Consumer Reports magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Chip keys have made the manual locking system almost obsolete because of the safety the cars get from the latest technology. They have kept the number of stolen cars less over the years. These keys work by a unique set of codes. Thanks a lot.