Lexus and Toyota Transponder keys.
In 1998, Toyota began equipping some of their more popular vehicles with a transponder based immobilizer system. This anti theft system is quite secure. The keys have an embedded transponder chip that must be recognized by the vehicle before it will start. The circuitry that controls this function an integral part of the onboard computer system of the vehicle. Until the system recognizes a pre registered key, the starting , fuel, and ignition systems of the vehicle are not functional.
Unlike some add on security systems, bypassing this immobilizer is not a matter of removing a component or splicing some wires to hot wire the vehicle. This is good news for the vehicle in terms of theft prevention, but can quickly become a nightmare for the owner that misplaces the keys to the vehicle.
When additional keys are needed for the car, the procedure is simple enough provided that the owner is in possession of a working master key for the vehicle. The mechanical cuts can be transferred to the new transponder key blank using a key duplicator just like it has been done for years. At this point, the new copy of the key will lock and unlock the doors, open the trunk, and even unlock the steering wheel and turn the interior accessories on, but it will not start the vehicle until it's unique electronic code is recognized by the vehicle. This is accomplished by using one of the master keys already registered with the vehicle to initiate the programming mode. This can be done with any of the pre registered master keys, but cannot be done with a valet key.
The problem waiting to happen, is the situation in which the owner of the vehicle does not have any master keys for the vehicle. While transponder technology is not a new thing in general, it is relatively new to the automotive industry. What used to be a quick stop at the hardware store for a couple of spare car keys for under $5.00 is a thing of the past. The transponder keyblanks are more expensive, and need to be programmed to the vehicle. When faced with a cost of $30.00 to $75.00 dollars and setting an appointment for a duplicate key, many owners will tend to delay or forgo the expense. This can come back to haunt them in a big way!
Previously when all keys to the vehicle were lost, the owner would bite the bullet and have a locksmith originate new keys for the car from scratch. This would cost considerably more than a duplicate key, and depending on the time of day (night) and location of the vehicle could cost anywhere from less than one hundred, to several hundred dollars.
If this happens with a transponder equipped Toyota or Lexus vehicle, the onboard computer must be replaced at a cost of more than $1,000.00!
Reprinted with permission of Jim Parrie, Old Capitol Lock Services.