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Introduction to Automotive Keymaking

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So you've decided to look into making car keys for your customers but not sure exactly where to start? This introduction is meant to give you some guidance and tips. Whether you purchase your products from American Key Supply or not, this guide should help you figure out what you need and how to get it.

Have we left anything out? Please contact us and let us know so we can add more info for everyone to see.

KEYS

Transponder KeysIf you're just getting into the business, it can be a very expensive and time consuming task to try and figure out which keys you should or should not stock. We've tried to make it easy for you by putting together some "Starter Packs" which are our recommendations for what you should be keeping in stock. If you click on the links below, you'll see the complete list of keys within each Starter Pack. Notice that some packs include very little of some keys and many more of the others. That's your clue to knowing which cars you're most likely to run into in the field.

KEY CUTTING

HPC Power Speedex Semi-Automatic Key Duplicator (9180MC): ($553.36) This is the least expensive quality duplicator we could find that supports duplication of larger remote head keys such as those made for Chryslers. Most duplicators don't have enough space between the 2 jaws to hold a key with a large head like remote head keys. If you plan to do *automotive* locksmithing, you should get a machine like this.
NOTE: If you are operating in a location with a lot of traffic and plan on doing A LOT of key duplicating all day long, such as in a busy locksmith shop, you should be looking at a different class of duplicator, usually over $1500. But for 98% of automotive locksmiths, this machine is perfect.
HPC The Original Blitz™ (1200CMB): ($1748.20) This manual key cutting machine is the industry standard for cutting standard edge-cut keys by code. It is not as expensive as a $5000 automated machine, but if you don't have money burning a hole in your pocket, the Blitz is the appropriate purchase. Note that if you plan on cutting high security keys, many locksmiths are just buying a high security key cutting machine that *also* cuts edge-cut keys, and you can avoid this expense altogether.
NOTE: By the way, "edge-cut" keys means NOT high security keys. And cutting keys by code means cutting them from scratch like you would do when no original exists to copy on a duplicator.
Laser Key Products 3D XTREME "S" High Security Key Machine: ($6500) For most locksmiths looking to get into the high security key business, the 3D Xtreme from Laser Key Products is by far the best value out there. The Ninja Laser key machine from Keyline is an awesome piece of machinery, but at $8200 (plus more for optional BMW & Mercedes jaws), it might not be worth the difference in price to many. Both machines are very functionally similar. They both are very quiet, very fast, reliable, look great, and cut almost every key you'll ever need, automotive, residential, and commercial. We love the Ninja Laser, but for purely economical reasons, we use and recommend the 3D Xtreme.
NOTE: The cutters used for high security keys do break. We find that ours breaks every 3-4 months, and you DO NOT want to get caught without spare. Please plan on always having a spare. The cutters for edge-cut keys last for years and years.
TIP: If you plan on ever cutting high security keys in the future, you should probably just get one of these high security machines now. You'll save yourself a couple thousand dollars from having to buy a Blitz, and then you're essentially getting one of those $5000 automated machines instead of having to use a manual key cutting machine. The machines are not getting cheaper, and you can just apply for leasing and spread your payments out over up to 5 years! That's a payment of as little as $151/month... or HALF a high security keymake in most areas.

FINDING YOUR KEY CUTS

If your customer lost all of their keys and you're not performing a simple key duplication, how are you going to find out what cuts to put onto the key blank? Traditional locksmith (sometimes called "real locksmithing") involves removing locks from the vehicle and many times disassembling and/or decoding the lock. Many times that's a 15-minute job, but sometimes that's a 2-hour job. With older vehicles, it even involved removing steering wheels. Thankfully, there are many new tools and methods available to the automotive locksmith to make key originations easy and quick. Remember, though, that traditional locksmithing is still an important skill to learn and practice if you want to support as many vehicle types as possible.

KEY PROGRAMMING

Advanced Diagnostics MVP Pro w/ 35 TOKENS: ($3371.69) What we think is most important in life as an advanced automotive locksmith is being able to program as many cars as possible and turning away as few customers as possible. Simply stated, the MVP Pro from Advanced Diagnostics supports more cars than any other programmer out there. And when a car maker releases a new programming system, Advanced Diagnostics is consistently and almost always the first company out with support for it. The MVP Pro supports the new cars and sometimes just as importantly, all of the old stuff. If you want to be able to program everything possible, get the MVP Pro. In those rare cases where you really need to turn down the job, you can feel confident knowing that if you couldn't do it, chances are none of your competitors could have done it either. The MVP Pro isn't the cheapest programmer available, but it is cheap and well worth it. This is one case where you truly get what you pay for!
NOTE: Generally speaking, each time you successfully program a vehicle, the MVP Pro takes 1 token from you. There are a couple exceptions to that rule such as newer Nissans where the steering wheel must be unlocked, or a Chrysler where you need to pull the PIN code. Those will cost another token.
TIP #1: If you buy tokens 10 at a time ($400), they'll cost you $40 each. If you buy tokens 250 at a time ($3250), they'll cost you only $13 each. Obviously it's easier to come up with $400 at a time rather than $3250, but please do the math here. Even if you get the worst bank loan in the world, even if you think it'll take you 10 years to go through 250 tokens, you'd still be saving a bundle by buying them 250 at a time instead of 40 at a time. Apply for a loan with your bank or apply for leasing and spread it out over 5 years.
TIP #2: Every time you run out of tokens, please ask yourself, "how many cars am I programming each week?" If the answer is 4 or less, you should be buying tokens 250 at a time. If the answer is 5 or more, you would probably be saving money by paying $299 monthly or $3250 annually for an Unlimited Tokens Plan (UTP). Your goal should be to get your volume up high enough where you can get upgraded to UTP and stop thinking about how much tokens are costing you every time you program a car. And for those of you with employees, YOU NEED TO BE ON UNLIMITED TOKENS! Your employees are wasting tokens like crazy, trust me.
Zed Full: ($3259 + $2200/yr) For advanced locksmiths that want to support the difficult vehicles such as VW, Audi, Volvo, Jaguar, and Land Rover, buy the Zed Full as your supplemental machine. It does not support anywhere near as many vehicles as the MVP Pro, but it does support a lot of vehicles that the MVP Pro doesn't know about, so it should be thought of as a complimentary programmer. The support on the machine is a lot less thorough and it's history is a lot shorter than a machine like the MVP Pro, so buyer beware. We hear it is a great machine, but make sure you keep reasonable expectations.
DMAX—The End-All Skim/Pin Code Reader & Key Programmer: ($1225.00) Do you program a lot of Chryslers? If you do, you should have this tool.
Reflashers: Some first generation transponder systems, like those found on many late 90's and early 2000's Toyotas, Lexus, Hondas, and Acuras, don't allow you to program keys using OBD2 diagnostic tools. The manufacturer will tell you to buy a new immobilizer unit, which can cost more than $1000! With a reflashing tool such as the KeyLogic ID Pro ($799) or LogiKey Penloader ($1099), locksmiths can make an old immobilizer new again, program the keys, and get their customers going on the same-day and for a fraction of the price. See our Guide to Reflashing for more information (coming soon).
KeyLogic US900 Advanced Cloning Machine: ($1495) Cloners aren't appropriate for everyone. The purpose of a cloner is to DUPLICATE transponder keys when a working key is present. A programmer like the MVP Pro can both duplicate keys and also originate keys when the original key has been lost. Please read our Guide to Cloning for more information.

SOFTWARE

There are a few kinds of software that are important for every automotive locksmith to have.

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