How to Replace Your Car's Key Fob
“If you have a car that was built within the last five years, a new-car dealer will usually be your best bet when you need a replacement key fob, due to the expensive programming equipment that is required,” says John Ibbotson, CR’s chief mechanic. Although it might be tempting to search for a cheaper key fob online, we learned from Audi and Subaru dealers that some won't work with aftermarket key fobs.
“If you want a new key fob for your Audi, it has to come from us,” said a service adviser at Hoffman Audi of East Hartford, Conn. There's a built-in security chip in the fob that cannot be reprogrammed for another Audi. The need for this chip is also why you can't buy a new aftermarket Audi key fob online. “The fob has become a critical part of the security of the car,” he said. The average price for an Audi key fob replacement, including programming, is $500, we were told.
This isn’t just the case for Audi, but European cars in general. They almost always force the customer to go to a dealer because the digital key encryption is only programmable by the manufacturer in a few select outlets in North America, says CR’s Yu.
Other retailers we called, including a Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge dealership and a Lexus dealership, said they don’t mind trying to program aftermarket fobs if that’s what the customer wants them to do, as long as the customer understands the risks involved.
“We shy away from working with aftermarket key fobs,” a service adviser at a Lexus dealer told us. “We can’t warranty parts or labor, and if we try to program it and it doesn’t work, we still have to charge them for our labor.”
Luckily, even if you have to go to a dealer, it’s not a lengthy process. Most dealers we contacted said key-fob programming typically takes just 15-30 minutes, and the whole process, including cutting the mechanical spare key, rarely takes longer than an hour.
Going to the dealer doesn’t have to break the bank either, even if they handle everything for you. This proved true even with European brands. A local Volkswagen dealer we spoke with told us a new fob with a laser-cut key and programming for CR’s 2015 VW Jetta would cost about $225. Some brands, such as Chevrolet, make it possible for customers to save money on programming. For example, not only are General Motors key fobs on the less expensive side (we were quoted $147.98 for a 2019 Chevrolet Malibu with keyless entry, push-button start, and remote start), but a Chevrolet spokesman told us that the key-fob programming does not have to be done at the dealership.
“The programming procedure is described in the vehicle owner’s manual, but the vehicle does need to be present,” he said.
Be aware that regardless of the brand, most customer-programmable key fobs require two current, operational keys in order to program a third new key without going to the dealer, Yu says.