What are the different types of car keys? The answer is more than you might think! Vehicle manufacturers have settled on a handful of form factors for their vehicles. Depending on your make and model, you’ve likely used a few types of different car keys. Most car key types work relatively the same way, while others have been recently introduced or moved away from.
The type of car key you have doesn’t impact what a car locksmith is able to service, however. If a concern with your key type is if a locksmith is able to service it, don’t worry! Locksmiths are highly experienced professionals capable of servicing any type of key you may have.
What Are the Different Types of Car Keys?
There are five types of car keys: mechanical keys, transponder keys, remote-head keys, switchblade keys, and smart keys. Each of these keys is easily identifiable, and you’ve likely used one or two of them in your life. Learn what makes each of these car key types different below.
1. Mechanical Keys
Car manufacturers no longer use mechanical car keys. These keys resembled something similar to your house or apartment key. It was as simple as a piece of metal cut to fit the ignition. Vehicles built before the mid-80s likely still use mechanical car keys.
These keys were phased out due to a high number of car thefts and the ease of copying these keys. New technology was introduced to replace the mechanic car key, which leads to our next car key type…
2. Transponder Keys
Transponder keys, also known as chip keys, were introduced in the mid-80s to replace mechanical car keys. This new technology specifically addressed the problem of car thefts. Today, they are the most common type of car key used.
Transponder keys house a chip and battery inside the plastic handle, which communicate with antennas and a receiver inside the vehicle. Once inserted into the ignition, the chip sends a code to the receiver via the antennas. Upon receiving the matching code, the vehicle’s ignition lock disengages, and the key can turn.
This entire process is completed in milliseconds and greatly reduces car thefts. Modern vehicles use what is called a “rolling code,” which is a set of codes that change after every use. This iteration boosted security even more amongst modern cars and trucks.
Fobs are often paired with transponder keys. Key fobs are small devices used to control the vehicle’s locks. They often have a button to open the trunk and sometimes a remote starter as well.
3. Remote-Head Keys
Remote-head keys are easily recognizable by having buttons on the key’s handle. This type of key combines the transponder key with the key fob. Many remote head keys have a lock, unlock, and trunk opener button. They are very common types of keys and use the same technology as transponders.
4. Switchblade Keys
Also known as flip keys, switchblade keys are bulkier that feature buttons like the fob, but the key blade folds into the handle. Upon pressing a button, the key will switch or flip out for you to insert into the ignition. These keys look drastically different from their transponder counterparts, but they operate the same way.
5. Smart Keys
Finally, the most recent car key type introduced is the smart key. There is no one form factor for smart keys, especially with the introduction of Tesla vehicles which use an app. Other smart keys may look like a small key fob with a few buttons.
Smart keys work similar to transponder keys, but the vehicle reacts before the key enters the vehicle. The antennas built into the vehicle detect the signal of the car key to react. When approaching the vehicle, the key will sends signals to the vehicle to unlock the car door.
Once inside the car, the driver can press the button to start the car as the antennas detect the presence of the key. If you were to walk away from the vehicle, the door locks would engage since the signal is no longer present.
Other settings can also be programmed into the key and car, such as adjusting the mirrors, steering wheel, or seat. Not all modern makes and models use smart keys, but many manufacturers are moving toward them as standard features.