Everything You Need to Know About Transponder Keys

A transponder key presents a whole new world of security for vehicle owners and even homeowners. Although transponder technology applies to a variety of situations, automobile security remains their main use.


Although they serve similar purposes, transponder keys are not the same as an automotive remote or "fob." Instead, transponder keys provide an extra level of security to prevent theft. Remotes or fobs operate independent from transponder security systems, so transponders are actually quite different.

Transponder vs. Regular Keys
So what is a transponder key? The word “transponder” comes from a combination of two words: transmitter and responder. As a result, the name explains quite a lot about how a transponder key functions. As you might guess, this type of key works by receiving and responding to important transmissions. But we’ll get to the process later. How is this special key different from a normal one?

This type of key is different from flat metal keys. Criminals can easily copy a regular key and compromise the security of your vehicle. However, it is much more difficult to copy the unique microchip and ID number of a transponder key than simply the tooth design of a regular one.

Normal keys function off the principle that the cuts match the tumblers of the lock. But, a copied transponder key must send the exact radio signal response to succeed. Because this is rarely possible without the actual key, those with transponder keys experience a higher level of anti-theft security. To better understand the benefits of transponder keys, let’s discuss the process by which they work.

How Transponder Keys Work
Each time you use the correct transponder key to start your vehicle, your car sends a signal from its antenna ring surrounding the ignition cylinder. Once the key receives this signal, it transmits the appropriate response to deactivate the engine immobilizers. Although this process occurs within seconds, it must happen in order for your car to start.

In the past, criminals could make copies of this type of flat metal key and have what they need to start your vehicle. And although someone can duplicate the cut of your current transponder key, they cannot duplicate the transponder chip in the head of the key.

The transponder key has a microchip in the head that receives a signal from the vehicle. The key will then give the proper response of a unique serial number or algorithmic answer to activate the vehicle. These two types of responses differentiate types of transponder keys. With each design, the principle remains the same.

The most common chip design has a unique ID or cereal number that the car can recognize. Newer transponder keys often use a rolling code encryption. This adds even more security as the “password" to activate the vehicle changes each time it's used. By using a complex algorithm that only the key can solve, transponder systems make a theft much less likely.

For instance, if someone used a key without the correct ID number or encrypted response, the car would deactivate. During this period, even the correct key cannot activate the car. Luckily, this period only lasts about 4 minutes.

Reasons for the Transponder Key
Back in the 1990s, auto insurance companies confronted some of the larger automobile manufacturers. Insurers argued that they were unable to keep up with the rate of theft, and could no longer affordably insure new vehicles. The manufacturers had to figure out how to make their vehicles' designs more secure.

To appease the insurance companies, many manufacturers began to develop and use anti-theft systems. Now, most large distributors provide at least one model that uses transponder keys. These transponder systems started out for high-end vehicles, but are becoming more common than regular keys.

Some motorcycles even use transponder keys now. Many corporations use transponder technology for commercial building locks as well. This can provide additional security and control for any given area.

Real-Life Application
To reap the benefits of a transponder, consider buying a vehicle with a preexisting system. From there, you can have a locksmith program your car to accept multiple keys, or “clone keys.” Some vehicles even have On Board Programming (OBP). This is where the owner can follow instructions to complete the programming for 2 existing pre-programmed, non-cloned keys.

Not every transponder key is the same. Be sure and consult with an experienced locksmith before making any purchases. Most systems only accept their specific type of transponder key, so you don’t want to be spending money on the wrong type of key.

If you do get a transponder system for your vehicle, make sure to have a spare key ready. These keys are difficult to replace quickly and in some cases you may even need to go to the manufacturer. Avoid sticky situations by getting a spare made from the beginning and keeping it in a safe place.


Affordable Lock is a locksmith in Markham serving the Greater Toronto Area, including Scarborough, Aurora, North York, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Stouffville. With over 30 years of experience, we pride ourselves on looking after your commercial or residential locksmith needs. Affordable Lock’s showroom in Markham showcases a wide selection of keys, locks and an assortment of other security products for your home or business. Whether you are looking to upgrade your home or business’s security, or solve security issues, Affordable Lock Services Inc. in Markham is here for you! Give us a call today.

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