Expert advice: what to do if you lose your car keys

lose your car keys
You know you put it somewhere. But where? (Picture iStock/Atkinc)

There are few things as frustrating, stressful and potentially expensive as if you lose your car keys. We know because it’s something that we get thousands of calls about from drivers every year. The question is: what do you do about it?

Is the key really lost?

It’s worth putting a bit of effort into finding the lost key because it’s such a hassle and so expensive to replace one. Of course, you might know it’s lost because you watched helplessly as it fell out of your pocket into the sea. But if there’s any danger it’s in another pair of trousers, down the back of the sofa or simply ‘misplaced’, it’s worth looking.

There are different kinds of lost key

Is the key lost because it’s locked in the car? Or is it lost because some toerag pinched your bag? And are you at home with access to the spare? Or are you miles away from it? If you do have the spare key to hand, that buys you some time.

What kind of key do you have?

It’s worth remembering that a physical key doesn’t just disarm the car’s steering lock. If the car is built from 1995 onwards, the key will have a transponder in it. This will talk to the car’s main computer and disable the engine immobiliser.

If you have a fob where the key blade flicks out and you put that in the ignition, pressing a button on the fob will disable the immobiliser and alarm.

On more recent cars, you may not have a physical key at all (although there will probably be a traditional key blade hidden in the fob). The ‘key’ may just be a fob that enables you to press a button in the car to start the motor and drive it.

lose your car keys
A master locksmith will be able to help in various ways, possibly even by picking the lock (Picture iStock/Andrey Popov)

Who to call?

This depends on the problem and where you break down. If it’s roadside, or you need rescuing swiftly, call your breakdown operator. They will be experienced at rescuing drivers from dangerous situations.

If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, look for a specialist auto locksmith. Your best bet is to find one that’s been approved by the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA). A specialist locksmith like this will come to where you are. And according to the MLA, some carry key programming equipment worth in excess of £100,000.

On top of that, a breakdown operator or locksmith should be able to open a locked vehicle if the key is locked inside it. Alternatively, a local garage may well be able to help. Find one here.

The most expensive option will be going to a franchised dealer for your car’s manufacturer. It could also be the slowest. Many don’t have the specialist equipment needed for reprogramming keys. Some will even use a specialist auto locksmith, but probably add some profit margin onto the price to cover their costs.

What will they do?

In many respects, no longer having a physical key is a big plus. A specialist locksmith will be able to program a blank key fob so that it works with your car. They’ll also be able to delete the lost key so it no longer works.

But in order to program a new key, they’ll need proof that the car belongs to you. To do so, you’ll probably have to show them the V5C registration document and have the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to hand.

Obviously you won’t set out to lose your car keys on purpose. But it really does save an awful lot of aggravation if you don’t mislay them in the first place!

By John Price, a member of Green Flag’s automotive technical support team

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