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Featured Article | Technology

Replacing that Electronic Key

By Jack R. Nerad






Multi-function electronic car keys seem like a good idea.  Many of the newest electronic keys can stay in your pocket or purse while you push a button to start your vehicle.  Others have a computer chip that is recognized by the car, making theft via a bogus key much more difficult.  But what happens when these keys are lost or stolen?  Because of their nature, these keys can't simply be cut by a locksmith or hardware store.  And getting them through a dealer can be difficult.

Now a new law being proposed in California will give motorists 24-hour access to the information needed to replace lost or stolen high-tech electronic vehicle keys.  Sponsored by the Automobile Club of Southern California and introduced by Assembly Member Mark Ridley-Thomas, the bill will have its first committee hearing after the legislature begins its new session in January. The legislation will require the establishment of a safe, secure method for motorists to obtain electronic code information necessary to reproduce many of today's high-tech vehicle keys, and it could be the basis for "model legislation" nationwide.

Currently, many vehicle owners seeking replacement keys are forced to use a facility of the manufacturer's choosing, not the motorist's, leading to less competition and potentially higher costs of repair. Even worse, these facilities may not be open on nights or weekends, causing a delay in obtaining a replacement. Sometimes, consumers have to wait days to obtain a replacement key, and that can be frustrating.

Electronic keys recently became standard equipment on most automobiles sold in Europe after studies revealed that they caused a 90 percent drop in auto theft. U.S. car manufacturers are quickly and increasingly adopting the technology as well, particularly for mid-range and luxury vehicles.

"The Auto Club believes that when a motorist buys a vehicle, he or she also buys everything needed to operate it, including all the information necessary to make a replacement key," said Alice Bisno, the Auto Club's vice president for legislative affairs. "Every auto manufacturer should provide vehicle owners with a secure way to obtain this information whenever owners need to obtain a replacement key.
 
"Greater vehicle security is an asset for consumers, but security improvement should not come at the expense of placing motorists in an unsafe situation or forcing them to pay unnecessarily high prices to obtain replacement keys," Bisno said.

The Auto Club recommends that consumers protect themselves against these potentially high costs by making sure they get a replacement key for their vehicle before they need it. To have a replacement key made, call the toll-free number listed in your car owner's manual or ask your dealer to give you any special codes required to make a key replacement. Even after you've made a replacement key, keep the code information in a safe but accessible place.  One tip: Don't put the information in your glove compartment.  You might not be able to unlock your car to get it when you need it.








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