Hammer Time: Keys

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time keys

$2, $20, $200. $2000. Which one of the four would you like to pay? I always liked to opt for that simple $2 key. A crafted piece of metal cut to fit another crafted piece of metal. Turn the key for 20 years and enjoy a simple solution. But not everyone thinks that way.

Certain manufacturers like to put little chips in their keys to prevent theft. GM has been a long time practitioner of this art. Ford began in earnest around 1998. How do I know about Fords? It’s an absolute pain to get chip keys for a Taurus these days. You have to bring the vehicle to the dealer and have them program it. If it’s older than a 2000 you’re doubly screwed. Ford’s key database is kaput for vehicles before Y2K, which means you better have a first name relationship with a local locksmith.

Toyota used to be the kings of simple… before they created Lexus. Then a lot of the cost DNA started to go into regular Toyota products. The $2 key that I used for my 1994 Toyota Camry is peanuts compared with the $100+ key/fob for my mom’s 2003 Toyota Camry. Yet that’s child’s play compared with the $700 key/fob combination for a 2005 Lexus LS430.

What’s the difference? Nothing except a couple of vague piece of anti-theft technology and a few clickers. I have yet to see any cost benefit study that justifies the dealer prices for a chip key and fob. Between losing a loyal customer and replacing cheap metal, silicon and plastic for a 60,000% profit, which one’s worth more?

The key is of course! Then there are the uber-keys. You lose a key to a Saab and you better be praying to St. Anthony, Patron Saint of Lost Things. Check out the discount prices for a pair of Saab keys. Most Saabs on the road now aren’t worth that much.

Bad Swedes have bad keys. Volvo keys of recent vintage also tend to be a bit on the pricier side. Most Volvo dealers will charge about $300 for two ounces worth of dealer serviced metal and plastic. Not bad at all for late model vehicles. Especially compared to the Saab. But keep in mind you can also buy about 3000 pounds worth of a scrapped Volvo 240 or 850at an impound sale for the same price… with a key.

One of my family members, more than likely the dog, misplaced the keys to a Mercedes S500 a year ago. I ended up in hock to Mercedes for $200 thanks to that cosmic screw up. Every six months or so I have to deal with this headache called lost keys. The $10 for an old Toyota or Chrysler doesn’t bother me at all. $100 for a Ford or Buick chip key bothers me a bit. Anything more and I’m ready to pray, and surprisingly it works most of the time. Just not for a Mercedes.

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