Girl TORQUE: Lost keys

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

I discovered this recently after misplacing the key to Toyota’s 1.5-litre Yaris Edge. Fortunately the second master key’s at Toyota. A replacement? That’ll be $319.50, thanks.

Which sounds a lot until you look at what’s involved in modern keys – and discover you can pay much more for a new one.

Modern cars feature remote locking, and immobilisers to prevent some low-life making off with your pride and joy. So the key holds a wireless door lock transmitter plus immobiliser circuits, tucked inside a case designed to withstand handbags, beach sand and pocket-jostling with loose change.

New Toyotas come with two master keys; lose one and you can buy a stock key which will be matched to the car using the other as a template; after all the company must be sure it is the owner trying to get a new key for the car. Lose both master keys and you have to prove the car really is yours, buy a new key – and get the car programmed to it, thus paying for up to an hour at the dealership and perhaps a new immobiliser – $450, thanks.

That pays for clever tech which constantly searches for the continually-changing security code transmitted by the transponder inside your key. If the car and key match, you can start her up. If they don’t, you can’t – and nor can a thief.

Toyota advises that if you lose one master key, get another before you lose the second. Copying the master key is your most affordable option, not to mention, if key stock runs out and Australia can’t help, it can take eight days for another to arrive from Japan. That’s a long time to leave your car at the mall.

The key replacement system isn’t standard. Perhaps the biggest difference among those companies we spoke to was BMW, with each car already programmed for 10 key codes with new keys supplied only on proof of ID and ownership. However, the codes are carried by BMW overseas, so new keys take four or five days to obtain.

Quotes we obtained varied from $13 for an old Mazda with no immobiliser to $678 for a Peugeot, with higher costs where the car immobiliser had to be matched to a new key.

Losing keys isn’t unusual. Toyota sells five or six Yaris keys per month; Mitsubishi sells around 180 immobiliser keys a year priced at $300 to $500; Mazda sold 1082 last year and BMW over that. I am not alone.

The most unusual reasons for loss? Toyota product planning manager Bruce Buckland says his most memorable are the son who lost a key in the river after an unauthorised fishing trip with his mates in dad’s SUV. And a key that got stuck to a magnetic cat collar!

I’ll be more careful in future. Meanwhile, if you’re buying a used car that has an immobiliser and comes with just one key – check how much a spare will cost, it might help you bargain.

Read more Girl TORQUE columns here.