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7 Different Types of Car Keys (with Pictures)

car keys in hand with blue shirt

You have likely noticed that car keys have changed quite a bit over the last several years, and there are now several different kinds. Security requirements and new technology have led to the new versions, and the age of your vehicle can determine what type of key you have. If you would like to learn more, keep reading as we take a closer look at the different types of keys and discuss their construction and unique traits.

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The 7 Different Types of Car Keys

1. Basic Mechanical

Mechanical Key
Image Credit: lotusdigitals6, Pixabay
Features: Simple design, easy to replicate

The basic mechanical car key was the type of key used in cars before 1995. This key was similar to the standard house key, and it had no built-in technology at all. Most vehicles had one key for the ignition and doors and another for the trunk. These keys were also inexpensive to replace.

The downside to basic mechanical keys and why we no longer use them is that they are easy to duplicate.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to duplicate
Cons
  • No security
  • Easy for criminals to obtain a copy

2. Transponder Key

Transponder Key

Features:  Multiple functions

After 1995, auto manufacturers started to provide owners with a transponder key. These were the first keys containing technology to help improve security. Each key has an electronic chip inside that sends a message to your car’s computer. An incorrect message will trigger an alarm and prevent the car from starting. These keys do not have any buttons, but the part that you hold is usually much thicker than basic mechanical keys and is often black in color. Some newer models will have additional functions included in the key, like unlocking the doors or opening the trunk.

The downside to these keys is that you cannot replicate them at your local hardware store. If you lose or break one of your keys, you will need to order a replacement directly from the manufacturer, and it can be quite expensive.

Pros
  • Additional security
Cons
  • Cannot duplicate
  • Expensive

3. Laser Cut Key

Car Key on pink table
Image Credit: Engin_Akyurt, Pixabay
Features: Intricately cut key

The laser-cut key does not feature any antitheft security. Instead, as the name suggests, it uses lasers to create an intricate key that is extremely difficult to duplicate without the same machinery. It also enables the lock cylinders to be more complex and harder to pick.

The downside of these keys is that they are expensive to purchase and replace.

Pros
  • An intricate design that’s difficult to duplicate
  • Enables the locking mechanism to be more complex
Cons
  • Expensive

4. Flip Key

Flip Key
Image Credit: webandi, Pixabay
Features: Easy and safe storage

The flip key is a relatively modern design, but it doesn’t do much for added security or technology. Instead, it enables the key to have a more compact design because you can fold it, so it takes up less space. The foldaway design also helps protect the shaft from damage. Manufacturers often combine the flip key with other modern designs for additional security.

There is no real downside to these keys other than they don’t add any security.

Pros
  • More compact for better storage
  • The key shaft is better protected
Cons
  • No extra security

5. Smart Key

Smart Key
Image Credit: happylism, Pixabay
Features: No need to use the key

The smart key is the new standard for most automobiles. With this key, you only need to carry it with you. The ignition works by pushing a button. You lock and unlock the door and can set the alarm using buttons on the key, but you never need to insert it into a lock. It uses an encrypted infrared beam to communicate with the car’s computer, and some vehicles will even lock themselves if you forget and move too far away.

The downside is that replacing these keys can be quite expensive, and you may need to wait for them to arrive from the factory.

Pros
  • No need to physically use the key
  • Advanced security features, like self-locking
Cons
  • Expensive

6. Vats Key

Vats Key
Image Credit: eunseong0331, Pixabay
Features: Additional security

The VATS key is a key that uses a resistor embedded within the key blade for additional security. The resistor has one of 15 values and can be difficult to replicate. The downsides to these keys are that they are expensive and that it can be hard to get a replacement if something happens to them.

Pros
  • Additional security
  • Hard to duplicate
Cons
  • Expensive
  • It might be hard to get a replacement

7. Valet Key

Valet Key
Image Credit: Jan2575, Pixabay
Features: Protects private property

The valet key is a special type of key included with some cars that enables access to the doors and engine but prevents entry into the vehicle’s private areas, like the trunk and glove compartment. Unfortunately, this type of key does not come with many vehicles, but you may be able to order one from your manufacturer for an additional cost. Some valet keys can even limit the engine speed or how far it can travel.

The only downside to these keys is that they don’t come with all cars, and you may need to order them separately.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to duplicate
Cons
  • No security
  • Easy for criminals to obtain a copy

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What If I Lose My Key?

If you lose your key or have difficulty using it, the best option is to call your local automotive locksmith. A quick Google search should give you a list of local businesses that can help you. This option is usually faster and less expensive than returning to the dealer, but if the local automotive locksmith can’t help, that is what you will need to do. A local dealer can replace your key by contacting the manufacturer.divider 1

Summary

If your car is more than 25 years old, there is a good chance that you have a basic mechanical key, but most cars newer than that will have a transponder key that provides additional security. These keys may have the flip key design, and they may also have extra buttons for locking doors and opening trunks. The newest cars will have smart keys, and you won’t insert them into any lock. You only need to carry them with you to operate the vehicle. The other types of keys are primarily specialty keys that you may or may not require with your vehicle, but they are not common.


Featured Image Credit: kaboompics, Pixabay

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