Today’s cars come with key fobs that allow drivers to access the car without having to insert a key into the lock. One can even control the car’s ignition. What happens if the fob is lost or damaged?

It can be costly to replace the device so many drivers may choose to search online for a cheaper option than going to an automotive locksmith or dealer. Experts advise against this route. It might not work and it could also expose drivers to scammers. Max Wilson, the owner of The Locksmith Agency in Richmond, Virginia, says that customers who buy their fobs after car keys replacement searching for makes and model years often fail to work. “All of the Honda, Toyota, and other manufacturer’s fobs look identical, but their radio frequencies differ.”

An electronic key fob controls entry and ignition, but does not require a key. The fob communicates directly with the vehicle via radio waves that align with its locking mechanism. Two fobs are standard in new cars. They often offer enhanced functions such as remote start or lowering all windows simultaneously. An automobile fob transmits a low-frequency, unique signal to the car’s receiver unit. The fob is activated when the receiver unit detects the signal as correct and allows the driver access to the fob to unlock the doors, start the engine, or do other tasks.

These radio frequency numbers may be different for certain car models and makes. This means that the radio signals connecting the fob to the reader inside a 2021 Toyota Tundra may differ from those used in mated vehicles like 2021 Toyota Tundras. Wilson claims that a 2015 Honda CRV may have any of the 20 fob options. Sam Wilson, Max’s brother and second-generation locksmith, says that every detail is important when buying a new fob. Think of it this way: A traditional key can’t be used on all cars. Fobs are the same.

Faulty fobs could make your car’s computer vulnerable to hacking, and even stop basic functions like turning off the engine. Thieves can tap into the fob signal near the front door to hack into the car and drive off.

If you are replacing or repairing your fob you should do your research. Max Wilson says that while some locksmiths are able to reprogram and replace fobs, it is important to only trust a professional locksmith. Verify their training and certification paperwork. Talk to them about past jobs. Wilson says that you can often tell who is legit by looking at their websites and reading online reviews.

Sam Wilson estimates that it will cost between $150 and $250 to get a locksmith to come to your home to reprogram an existing fob. He says, “If it’s much higher or lower than that, you can price-check it by calling another place.” There are many fraudulent practices in the locksmith industry. Look for someone who will not overcharge you or use bait and switch. Ask questions.”

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