Replacing An Automatic Car Door Key – For Cheap #moneysavinghack

I have a confession – I’ve been living with my spare car key for years, since it was just outrageously expensive to replace my automatic car door opener key. When it first broke and fell apart years ago, my husband called the dealer and they wanted over two hundred dollars to replace it. There are a lot of things I’d rather do with $200 than be able to open my car, so I used the spare key while I gave my husband the broken old automatic key as backup. We kept it together with duct tape for years, until my husband decided to surprise me by replacing the whole key on the cheap. All in all, he was able to have a new automatic key created for less than fifty bucks – saving over a hundred and fifty dollars.

Old is on the right, new on the left

So just how do you do that? How did he figure it out? And what financial lessons can you learn?

Repair Shop Breaks the Broken Key

Remember that duct taped together spare key I was talking about above? Well, recently my car had to have some rather extensive brake work done, so my car was at the local shop where I always have my car repaired. Pro-tip: finding an excellent, honest local car repair shop will save you more times than you can count over the years. They’ve never ripped me off, always can squeeze me in to check out a car issue, and have even picked us up and towed our cars when we’ve had a breakdown. I’ve been using this repair shop for almost two decades now, and having that long-term relationship has been invaluable more times than I can count.

It’s really easy to break an already broken key. Steve, the guy at our local repair shop, accidentally re-broke the spare key when making my brake repair. My husband is the one that coordinates all things car repair, since I’m at work during the day, and their conversation went something like this:

Steve: You know, you can get a replacement for your key online.

Husband: Why, did you break the key?

Steve: Yes.

Apparently when Steve went to turn the car on, the duct tape failed and the key broke. It wasn’t beyond repair or anything – it still worked if you squeezed it together – but my husband was inspired to figure this out and try to replace the key. It would be a great surprise for me, since I’ve been using that non-automatic spare key for many years, and it would be a fun project.

Off To Google

So my husband went off to the place that knows all, Google, with my cars year, make and model. This led him to Amazon, where he was able to pick up a key fob that came with a key blank. Here’s the one that he bought.

Cost for key fob = $10.

You’ll notice this key is uncut, without the transponder. Luckily, we had the electronics all working in that duct taped together spare key. My husband was able to swap them out from the old key to this new one – he says it was very easy. He also picked up a new battery for the key.

Battery cost = $4.

Now, it was time to take that uncut key and make it work. He called around to different places in town – no dice. None of them would cut a car key. But one of them recommended calling up Phil’s Lockshop in Meriden, CT – only a short drive from where we live. He did, and Phil told him to come on down.

Phil’s Lockshop – Cuts Car Keys, While Being Cool As Heck

Phil's Lockshop in Meriden
I mean look, they have a keyhole shaped door and everything.

Sure enough, Phil’s lockshop was able to not only cut a new car key, but can also actually program the car transponder. They can apparently do all sorts of things with automatic keys, including disabling prior versions of the key if needed. They’ve been in business since 1974, so they’re not a disreputable fly by night style operation.

Getting the new key would have been about five bucks if it was an ordinary car key, but apparently mine has to be laser cut. Lucky me! Even with that, though, it was only about $30-$35 to have the new key cut.

Not only were they able to quickly, easily, and inexpensively get my new key, but they also have some really cool stuff in their shop. Both my husband and the little guy had a blast checking out all the old keys, locks, and other nifty equipment. He took some pictures later so you could all check out some of the awesome stuff they had there.

I love stuff like this – check out all the different kinds of keys and locks! The heart-shaped one is my personal favorite.

No More Spare Key

And just like that, my years of living with using the spare key were at an end. My husband didn’t tell me any of this, just taking his little helper out and about to create this surprise for me.

DSCN4664 (1)
I’m helping Daddy to surprise Mommy!

After I went to bed one night, he took my spare key for his own keyring, and replaced it with this new automatic key. So of course the next morning, when I went to take out my keys to go to work, I was confused. Where on earth was my grey spare key? And why were there two automatic keys on the keyring?

So I asked him what was up, and of course, he then told me the whole story. I took it out to the car, and sure enough it worked like a dream. So now, for less than fifty bucks, I have a $200 automatic car key replaced. Plus it was a fun surprise.

Financial Lessons

It’s obvious we could have done this years ago, when the key first broke, but neither of us thought of it at the time.  Instead, after finding out the dealer was going to charge over two hundred bucks, we just duct taped the old key and limped along. We likely would have kept doing that if my car repair guy hadn’t mentioned this was an option.

Don’t assume the expensive option is your only option. Do some research online, and ask some trusted experts, to see what your options are.

This obviously took another resource – time.  Ordering the key fob from Amazon and doing the swap only took minutes, but the trip to the locksmith took longer. They’re also open weekdays from 8-5, when most people are working. I’m fortunate to have a stay-at-home spouse, so he was able to do this during the day while the older boys were at school. But I know most people don’t have this option.

I would say it’s going to give you a pretty high hourly wage to take off early from work one day and get something like this done. Getting the key cut took only five minutes of in-shop time, and it would have taken just as long (if not longer) to take the car and key to the dealer to have it done there. If it was going to take hours and save only a small amount of money, though, it might not be worth it.

Take a look at what kind of hourly wage you’ll “earn” by spending a bit of extra time to save money. If you can save $150 for a total of maybe 20 minutes work, that’s like earning an “hourly wage” of $450.  Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Note also the way this whole thing went down. My husband knew better than to “surprise” me by spending two hundred bucks on a new key. Even though it would have been nice to be able to automatically unlock my car, instead of manually, he knew it wasn’t worth that much to me. So he only did this once he found a way to do it inexpensively.

Simple surprises can be the best ones. I personally consider doing something like this more “romantic”, and preferable, to buying  few dozen roses that will just die in a week. My husband knows this, and so arranges things like this instead.

On top of all this, we were able to support a local business. They’re not paying me to write about them or giving me a discount or anything – but I wanted to share their story in hopes that it might help them get some more business. My husband said they were helpful, nice, fast and knowledgeable – all great things in a local business. So instead of supporting a dealer, or huge car company, we were able to support a local business that’s been serving the community for decades.

Local businesses sometimes get a bad rap for being more expensive – but they can often be less expensive in the long run. It was my local car repair shop that told us about this hack, and a local locksmith that was able to cut the key.

I Want To Hear From You!

I’d love to know if you’ve ever done something like this – taken on a DIY project that saved you a ton of money, or replaced your own car key. Or has your dealer ever tried to get you to buy something that was just outrageously expensive? Let me know in the comments!

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chiefmomofficer

IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

12 thoughts on “Replacing An Automatic Car Door Key – For Cheap #moneysavinghack

  • June 4, 2018 at 10:36 am
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    Or has your dealer ever tried to get you to buy something that was just outrageously expensive?

    Isn’t that everything at the dealer!!? Ha, seriously though, great hack. I’ve never lost or broken one of those, but a friend told me how expensive they were. I think it’s just a gouge and a profit-making scheme. Kind of like how HP charges exorbitant amounts for printer cartridges. That’s where they make big money.

    Reply
    • June 4, 2018 at 10:40 am
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      It’s so true! The dealers make more profit on financing and on stuff like this than they do on the car. Gotta be on the lookout for less expensive ways to get stuff done-and make do in the meantime

      Reply
  • June 4, 2018 at 11:05 am
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    The only do it yourself thing I can think of that I have done myself and saved a bunch of money (outside of doing my own finances) is wood work. I’ve built a picnic table and two adirondack chairs for our outdoor area. Saved a couple hundred dollars doing it myself.

    Oh, and when I replaced my thermocouple on my water heater instead of hiring it out professionally. Cost me $15 instead of $150 or more.

    And I agree that it is often worth spending a little more with a local place if they are going to do it right! That will save money in the end, too.

    TPP

    Reply
    • June 4, 2018 at 11:07 am
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      I’d love to one day be able to build more things with wood. Right now I can only do Christmas decorations.

      Reply
  • June 4, 2018 at 11:45 am
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    Now that is what I call romantic and shows deep true love.

    [insert “still a better love story than twilight” meme here]

    I am bad with this type of problem. If something breaks my coder brain steps in an starts evaluating. If the problem is not that urgent to get professional help immediately and expensive then sure I will have a look later. The problem is if the problem is not “painful” enough I am wandering away into the wonderful land of procrastination until I get into the mood (sometimes months later) or my wife reminds me enough times(~25+) to fix it. Then usually I spend 10 minutes having a second look(literally or Google) and do the job in 5 mins or decide that we will pay for a professional. Have to get better at this :)

    Reply
    • June 4, 2018 at 12:07 pm
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      Sounds just like me! Taping the key together worked just fine for a long time, so we had no reason to get it fixed

      Reply
  • June 4, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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    Totally agree with supporting local business and thinking before spending! In my case, I once found a local guy to replace the charging port on an older cell phone, since it had worked itself loose from the charging board over the years that we had it. Cost me like $20, and it only took him an hour to do it. And the guy was great – he seemed like the kind of person who lives for this stuff, and I wasn’t about to take the risk of disassembling the phone (all those teeny tiny parts!) and damaging it. All in all, it was cheap as heck and it let me put off buying a new cell phone for even longer.

    I find that DIY’ing is actually a great way to save tons of money, provided that you are smart about it and pick things that have a high probability of success and with reasonable parts / time costs. For example, I had a guy quote me $900+ once to replace the motherboard for my furnace at home after one of the relays on it failed and kept the circ fan from working. I held off and did my research, and found the part on line for less than $100 and was able to easily do it myself in less than 30 mins. Also have had good luck with basic car maintenance and “simple” repairs (oil changes, brakes, belts, filters, misc interior electronics like door lock and window motors, etc).

    However, for some things it often just makes better sense to have someone else do it – ie like car failures outside of typical maintenance, where you’re not sure if whatever you decide to replace will fix the problem. Also doesn’t make sense when the replacement part is a sizable fraction of the replacement cost of the device. For example, I had a motherboard fail on my washer at home – obvious failure, unit would not turn on and the capacitor on the motherboard ruptured and leaked all the fluid all over the board (common problem with my washer according to YouTube). But the part alone would have cost me $300+ no matter where I sourced it from, so for that we elected to just buy another washer. So yeah, whether or not you DIY really depends on the specifics. Also like you said, having a trusted resource to lean on in those cases really helps.

    Reply
    • June 4, 2018 at 10:47 pm
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      Makes sense Mr MSW! I really rely on having some trusted local folks-car repair shop, electrician, plumber, well guy-to help guide us in these situations. I’m comfortable DIYing some things, although cars always get me nervous. Great tip on the port-I didn’t know you could do that!

      Reply
  • June 5, 2018 at 11:49 am
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    Good for you. Never get spare keys from the dealer. The markup is crazy.

    Reply
    • June 5, 2018 at 11:53 am
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      It is crazy!

      Reply
  • June 5, 2018 at 9:47 pm
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    I hadn’t read this post yet but I’m so glad I did. My key is broken (duct taped together too) and as soon as we move I’m going to fix it! (I think it’ll be easier to find a locksmith who’ll cut the key in Charlotte than in my small town). Great post! THANKS FOR THIS INFO!

    Reply
    • June 5, 2018 at 10:18 pm
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      Nice! Glad it was helpful

      Reply

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