Key Fob Replacement: What You Need To Know

By Andrew Ganz 11/01/2022 8:00am

replacement of key fob

Today’s key fobs do more than unlock and start a vehicle. They double as convenience devices and a significant theft deterrent. But key fob replacement is an issue.

All that complexity makes them expensive to replace if you lose or break your car’s key fob. The days of getting a new key cut by a corner locksmith are long gone. In some cases, the only way to replace a car key is to visit a dealership and shell out hundreds of dollars. 

Your car insurance may cover the fob replacement, though going this route counts against your deductible. Replacing the key may not be a great plan if the automaker charges $400 for a new key fob and you have a $500 insurance deductible. 

In this article, we’ll tackle the following challenges of key fob replacement.

Types of Car Keys and Fobs

There are several different types of car keys. Older keys — those usually from the mid-1990s or before — are simple to replace. Anything newer than that will require a little more effort.

A Simple Key

Like the key that opens your home, the keys that started cars built for the better part of a century are plain cut metal. Newer cars may have a chip embedded in the plastic key head that talks to a transponder located in the instrument column, but even these are relatively simple for a locksmith to program in many cases. 

A Key With a Remote Fob

Keyless entry became commonplace in the late 1990s. These systems can unlock or lock the car, and maybe even arm an alarm at the tap of a button. The key needs to be inserted into the ignition to start the vehicle. Sometimes, the metal key and the remote are a single switchblade-style unit. Pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Maverick and SUVs like the Toyota 4Runner still utilize this key fob type. 

A Single Fob For Access and Starting

Tesla Model S key fob

You’ve probably seen these fobs by now. Although these fobs look like they are missing a key, they have one integrated. Some of these are pretty attractive, such as a leather-wrapped fob that comes with some Volvo models.

Single key fobs are generally standard. However, Tesla offers three types of keys and for the fob, it charges $175. Tesla charges for the fob — in the shape of a Tesla — since it offers a smartphone digital key and smart key card, which will work and unlock your vehicle if your smartphone is out of battery.

The single key fob can be kept in a pocket or bag for both access and starting in most cases.

Key Fob Capabilities

Key fobs do more than just lock and unlock your car. They serve very useful purposes, like rolling down your windows or even summoning and auto-parking your car. While you won’t find these features on every key fob, many newer cars are adding additional features to their fobs.

Controlling Windows

Car manufacturers have come a long way from windows where drivers manually rolled them down. These days, newer cars like the Volkswagen Tiguan allow you to roll down the windows by simply holding down a button. The feature comes in handy on a hot day when you want to let your car air out the heat before getting in.

However, you’ll need to roll them up on your own. Also, don’t leave the windows down too long, or you might let some unwanted bugs inside your car.

Self-Parking and Summoning

One of the coolest features that some car key fobs offer now is the ability to summon your car with the press of a button. This feature is offered in vehicles like the Genesis GV60, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia EV6. These cars do not come and find you like Tesla’s summon feature, but if the car is parked in a tight spot, you can hold the button, and it will pull or back out of the spot and stop wherever you want it to.

Just as you can pull the car out of the spot, you can park the car from the key fob, too. If the space is tight and you don’t think you would be able to open the car door, you can hop out and make the car park itself. Every car with a fob doesn’t do this, but it’s not hard to find one that offers the feature.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace a Key Fob?

There’s no simple answer, but few modern key fobs are inexpensive. Even basic remotes may require special programming with computer software only accessible by a dealership. 

Though the repair won’t take more than a few minutes to replace, this can get expensive. 

Kelley Blue Book contacted dealerships across the country for replacement costs of key fobs for some popular and high-end models. Quotes we got for replacing key fobs for a 2020 Subaru Forester with a push-button start ranged from about $200 to $400. A 2020 Toyota Sienna fob was about the same. However, dealers quoted as little as $150 to replace a 2017 Honda Accord key fob. 

BMW Key Fob

Several BMW dealers said that the more advanced security features embedded in the fob for a 2020 X5 justify the roughly $500 they charge to replace and program one. If you think that’s a lot, consider that the crystal fob Aston Martin included with some of its models might cost $2,000 to replace and reprogram. 

Key Fob Programming

Every dealer we surveyed said they wouldn’t program a key fob unless you visit the parts department and show proof of ownership or registration. 

This level of security is an asset since it means a would-be thief can’t write down your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and get a new key fob programmed at a dealer. 

Some locksmiths may program specific keys, though they will likely need a second, functioning fob to do so. Online sites advertising programmed remotes shipped to your door may not be reputable unless they ask for ownership verification, so shop wisely. 

Key Fob Battery Replacement

Automakers make it reasonably easy to swap in a new battery, though you may need to use a small screwdriver to pry the key fob open. 

Generally, these batteries cost $10 or less, though some fobs require two batteries. Battery specialist shops and dealers will often replace the battery for free since it only takes a moment or two. If you’re handy, you can save time by buying a battery at a hardware store, a big-box retailer, or online, and then swap it yourself. Your owner’s manual — which is often available in PDF form on the automaker’s website if you’ve lost it — provides instructions on replacing the key fob battery.

And if you’re in doubt, YouTube is full of videos from users explaining how to replace a key fob battery. 

TIP: Keep an extra battery in your glove box or center console along with whatever tool is needed to pry it open for emergencies. Some cars will alert you to a key fob battery that needs replacement, though. 

Accessing and Driving Your Car When The Key Fob Is Dead

If your car offers keyless access and engine start, you can still access your vehicle with a dead fob. You can release a physical key found inside the fob (consult your owner’s manual). In some cases, you can also open the trunk or liftgate.

You can also hold the key fob up to the start and stop button (or another location in the car) to start the vehicle. Again, your owner’s manual will contain vehicle-specific information about where to hold the key fob.