Should I Buy a key online?
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
Most everyone likes to find creative ways to save money. When it comes to car keys, one route people sometimes take in trying to save money is buying parts from online retailers. We have gotten more than a few calls with people asking, “will you please cut and/or program this key I bought for a good deal online?”
We totally understand and can relate, and we do want to try and accommodate folks, so we do offer this service in most cases. However, we say up front that can make no guarantees that it will work or that the part will last. Programming customer supplied parts has a failure rate of above 30%. Roughly one in three will not work correctly, if at all. Oftentimes the online sellers are not locksmiths themselves and lack the product knowledge to know for sure that they are supplying the correct part. Many parts look identical on the outside and some parts even look identical on the inside but if one detail is incorrect it will prevent the part from working. For example, if you end up with a Highlander key instead of a RAV4 key, they will look identical on the outside, and the numbers will even match but they will not program. This is true for many parts we carry. We had to learn this lesson the hard way many times over the years to come to this understanding.
Another factor to consider is the oftentimes low quality of aftermarket keys. We stand behind the keys we provide with a 2 year warranty. All of the aftermarket products we sell are from suppliers we trust. Many aftermarket products do not pass our tests; indeed, most aftermarket smart keys will not. When the aftermarket key is $20 and the original reconditioned key is $120, there is a reason. When you buy a part online, we do not warranty it, meaning if it breaks the online retailer may send you another part but you would have to pay to have it cut and programmed all over again. This can make the whole process more expensive than purchasing a key from us in the first place.
Counterfeit keys are also a big problem. Sellers will claim they are original keys, and they even have the logos of the car brand. Often these ones are incredibly troublesome; after all, if the seller doesn't care about trademark infringement, why would they care about quality? To the great frustration of their customers (and to that of locksmiths attempting to program these fraudulent fobs), these sellers will claim the parts are genuine factory parts even if the logo is upside down or in the wrong font. They will then blame the failure to program on us or your car.
Even buying reconditioned genuine factory keys online carries its own risks. For example, a Jeep Renegade and a Jeep Compass take the exact same key; however the software flashed to them in the unlocking process determines which one it will program to and if you get it wrong it will program but not function. This is the case with many other keys as well. Many keys lock to the car to which they were originally programmed, which requires special equipment to unlock them. We do not have the ability to unlock most keys, so if you end up with one that is still locked or unlocked incorrectly there's not much that can be done. Genuine reconditioned keys are generally better than the aftermarket ones but even our own suppliers can accidentally send us a Renegade when we order a Compass.
Some cars have programming processes that are very involved. Some of the equipment we have will only work with the special blanks the manufacturer provides. Take, for example, older Mercedes models. The keys for late 90’s and early 2000’s models Mercedes are not even available for purchase at the dealership anymore. We have a very special system to program them but it only works with keys from the company who built the machine so we can't even attempt to program a key you purchased online.
Finally, it must be considered whether, in light of the risks outlined above, it is worth purchasing your keys independently, especially when you end up saving very little or even nothing at all. Again, we totally understand the desire to be frugal and we do want to help you save money. However, if you are considering this option, please call us before you purchase the key. We will be able to quote you a price for either buying a key which we cut, program, and warrantee or cutting and programming a key you have purchased. Sometimes the prices of the two may be closer than you think.
- Troy Albee & Paul Troy