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How Do Locksmiths Make Car Keys? – 3 Common Methods

Fact checked by Teddy B.Miller

how do locksmiths make car keys

There are instances when you need a new car key when you lost the master key and don’t have any spare ones; when you have them but they’re locked inside the car; or when they are stolen.

Whatever the dilemma, you can replace a car key with the help of a locksmith.

Locksmiths are not magicians or people who do a trial-and-error job to fix a household or a driver’s problems. They are skilled workers. So, how do locksmiths make car keys? Read on.

Step-by-step to Locksmiths Make Car Keys

If picking the keyway or destroying the window is out of the table, then it’s time to call a locksmith to solve your problem. They have a couple of tricks up their sleeves so you can use your car once more.

Method 1: Scoping

Can locksmiths make car keys even without the original keys? Yes, they are skilled to do just that with a technique called scoping.

It is the most popular method to replace car keys.

  • It involves the use of a specialized scope that locksmiths insert into the keyway.
  • Said tool captures the grooves of the lock cylinder, which will be used to create a new key. It’s like duplication from scratch.

Before asking for the help of a locksmith for such a job, make sure you already know your vehicle identification number (VIN) and other pertinent details about your car. From VIN number and your data, the locksmith can verify the car ownership.

Method 2: Tracing the key code


Another easy way locksmiths do to make new car key is with the help of the National Automotive Service Task Force. They will contact the NASTF to acquire the key code for your car.

In turn, they will use the code to cut a new key. Afterward, they will reprogram the car’s computer system (more on this later), so it can recognize your new key.

In some instances, you can buy a replacement key from an authorized car dealer after providing proof of ownership and the VIN. The new keys will also undergo reprogramming unless the dealership already programmed them for you.

The cost to make a key from a lock in this method goes around $600. If you don’t want to break the bank, you can hunt for a locksmith that has key programming equipment, and spend a locksmith cost of just around $350.

Method 3: Programming the key


Old cars use mechanical keys, hence they are easier to pick. Newer vehicles, however, are now jam-packed with computer technology and manufacturers made sure to include keys in the modern setup.

As such, when you have new transponder keys with chips, they need to be reprogrammed so the car’s electronic control unit (ECU) can recognize them.

If your locksmith has been in the business for a long time, they probably have programming equipment. Some even have portable setups so they can serve you at home or wherever your car is parked.

Reprogramming involves deleting your old key in the ECU so you can use the new one. Since locksmiths will work with software, you can use your new keys in a jiffy.

As with scoping, you need to send pertinent details about your car so the expert can prepare the needed items.

  • Reprogramming, after all, is not a standard “one-size-fits-all” method since vehicles come with varied ECUs, key setups, and such.
  • They also need to purchase tokens from software producers that only sell them to authorized locksmiths.

As such, hiring an adept locksmith is essential.

Locksmiths program car keys from brands that share equipment for reprogramming, like Japanese, Korean, and American manufacturers. Those who own European models will need to connect with a dealer, thereby spending more for a car key replacement.

Under this method, a locksmith make keys for car by first connecting their computer on-board diagnostics (OBD) port – assuming they already have the software and a token. The former is unique, so it can only be used for every reprogramming session.

After connecting the software, they can delete and add new keys. Some manufacturers limit the number of keys in a car system, so deletion is a must. As such, in case you find your old key, it will not be able to start the car.


Can I get a car key made without the original?

You can have a replacement car key without the original key because locksmiths can copy the grooves of the keyway (scoping for cars with mechanical keys) or trace the key code from the NASTF and then reprogram the new key (for newer vehicles).

What do I do if my car keys are stolen?

You better immediately call a locksmith if you lost the car key. The best thing to do is ask a locksmith to reprogram your ECU (if you have a newer vehicle).

Reprogramming is not just about having a new set of keys. Since a locksmith can delete old or stolen keys, the system won’t recognize your old keys. That way, you’ll have peace of mind knowing only your new keys can operate the car.

How do locksmiths open car doors?


Locksmiths are expert pickers, so they can work with traditional tools (lock pick set or slim jim) that can open car doors. The more complicated technique is by creating a new key.

Can I do the key reprogramming myself?

Some manufacturers let drivers program their car keys so you can check the manual or call the dealer if it’s possible. If the answer is yes, you can opt to buy a programmer online, though they are expensive.

Take note as well that not all key programmers can support modern vehicles. As such, consider it your last resort, especially since you won’t be using such a tool every once in a while – unless you’re so clumsy you always misplace your keys.

Self-programming your car key will not always result in success, and you might spend more on this instead of employing the service of a locksmith. You also can try to rekey your car door lock if self-programming is not successful.


When your car keys are missing or stolen, a locksmith is your best pal. Choose a veteran and a highly skilled one because they probably have the equipment, especially if you have a vehicle packed with modern features.

When you know how do locksmiths make car keys, you’ll understand you’re in safe hands. A car without a key needs a quick replacement, and only a trusted expert can save you from stress.

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