Lost car keys is a nightmare scenario for many drivers. Whether they’ve been accidentally locked in the car or stolen from a house or handbag, replacing car keys can be a major expense. However, over the past few years, it has actually got cheaper. And in years to come it could cost less still.
The reason it’s got cheaper is simple: electronics. A decade ago, replacing a key would mean changing the locks and ignition barrel. Independent car security specialist Terry Watts explained: “Most of the systems now give the option of erasing all the old codes from the ECU (Electronic Control Unit). For lost car keys we re-programme the ECU. Anyone trying to get into the car using the old key will set the alarm off and the old key certainly won’t disarm the immobiliser.”
A decade ago, lost car keys would have cost anywhere between £400 and £1000. Now replacing them can only set you back £120. But costs from car manufacturers do vary. Volkswagen said buying and programming a new key for a Golf would cost £174. For a Qashqai, Nissan said it would be £191. And for a Ford Focus it’s £319.
However, if car manufacturers can programme new keys, so can the villains who steal the cars. Now Volvo is taking things a step further. Where most car makers have a programme on a PC for enabling keys, Volvo has a software download that can only be accessed via its server in Sweden. “Unless you have the connection to that server, you can’t do it,” said Volvo Training’s Paul Brooks. “It means only authorised people can programme our keys. It also means that we can trace all our software back to where it’s been downloaded.” And Volvo’s replacements for lost car keys aren’t too expensive either. They cost a competitive £200.
The Volvo system is being explored by other car manufacturers. But what if you didn’t need a key at all? At the recent Shanghai Motor Show, General Motors unveiled a vision of a future car that relied on scanning the owner’s eyes. The Chevrolet-FNR employs iris recognition software. This only unlocks the car and lets it start if it recognises the person from their unique iris ‘print’.
Of course whether this will ever be realistic for the cars you and I drive is another question altogether. “That will be driven by the third party providers to the car companies,” said Paul Brooks.