How Locksmiths Program Car Key FOBs

Last Updated on October 2, 2023

Car Key FOB

Modern car key FOBs operate primarily over passive radio frequency identification (RFID), allowing the exchange of data from the FOB to the car through electromagnetic waves. For a vehicle to start using a FOB, the vehicle needs to recognize the key FOB as one that is authorized to start the car.

A locksmith can program a key FOB for most cars. Programming involves linking specialized software to the car’s computer via the OBD port. The software teaches the car to recognize a FOB’s electromagnetic waves in a ‘handshake’ process between the FOB and car, allowing the FOB to start the car.

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What is a Key FOB?

A car FOB, short for “key FOB” or “keyless entry remote,” is a small electronic device to control various functions of a car, such as locking doors, starting the engine, and activating the alarm system. Car FOBs are a convenient car accessory so owners don’t have to use physical keys and can simply push a button to start the car, leaving the FOB in their pocket.

It’s important to keep the key FOB’s battery charged and replace it as needed to ensure its proper operation, and they should be handled with care to avoid damage that could affect their functionality.

The Key FOB Programming Process in Detail

Automotive locksmiths purchase software specifically designed so that a locksmith can program a key FOB to a number of vehicles. The software accesses the car’s computer system and programs car keys, remotes and car FOBs. Car programming software can cost several thousand dollars and is a significant investment by a locksmith company.

The software is installed onto a laptop or tablet, and uses the USB or other port to run a cable from the computer to the car’s OBD port for communication between the car and the software.

The car’s battery must be fully charged for the key FOB programming procedure to work.

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Most of the hard work has been done by the manufacturer of the software. The locksmith starts the key FOB programming process by selecting the vehicle’s make, model, and year. The software will then walk the locksmith through a series of steps to add the FOB into the car’s computer system.

Key FOBs use RFID to transmit electromagnetic waves. Once programming is completed the car and the key FOB go through a “handshaking” process that allows the FOB to start the car.

  • The car will send a signal out to the FOB telling the it to wake up.
  • The key FOB responds by transmitting a electromagnetic signal back to the car that is specific to the key FOB
  • The car compares the signal it is receiving to the ‘allowed’ signals stored in it’s memory.
  • If the car recognizes the signal it is receiving, the car’s security system will allow the key FOB to start the car.

How Much Does It Cost for a Locksmith to Program a Car FOB?

You can expect to pay between $70 and $200 for car key FOB programming by a locksmith. Factors impacting price are: the equipment being used, the charges the locksmith has to pay when connecting to the car, and the car’s location. Taking you car to a locksmith shop, will be the least expensive solution.

Car’s Location: If you are bringing the car to the locksmith shop, you will pay less since you won’t need to pay for the locksmith to go to your location (i.e. a service call).

Programming Fees: Most programming tool manufacturers charge the locksmith every time they connect to a vehicle and attempt to program the car to accept a new FOB. They charge the locksmith this fee whether or not the programming works.

This is why most locksmiths will not program a FOB they do not sell you, because if it does not work, the locksmith customer won’t pay the locksmith, but the locksmith is out this cost from the manufacturer.

Equipment: There are a wide variety of programming tools available. Less expensive tools handle fewer cars. More expensive tools handle more a wider variety of, and more complex, vehicles. Which tool the locksmith purchased will impact what they charge.

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Can I Program My Own Car Key FOB?

While some vehicles offer DIY programming options, called “on board programming” they are usually the older vehicles. Most newer vehicles will require programming.

Here is an article that will help you determine if you can program your own key FOB.

Where to Buy a New Car Key FOB

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When purchasing a new car key FOB, it’s essential to obtain it from reputable sources. You can explore options at authorized car dealerships, automotive locksmiths, and even online marketplaces.

We sell Car Keys on Our Key Buying Website.

Ensure that the key FOB is compatible with your vehicle’s make and model, and consider consulting a locksmith for advice on selecting the right key FOB before making a purchase.

While sites like eBay and Amazon offer key FOBs at great prices, we’ve found many of them do not work. We’ve used those sites to buy them as well when our other resources are out, but we find it’s best to buy them in pairs of two, in case one does not program to the car.