7 Different Types of Car Keys: Which One You Have?

For most of the history of the automobile, you used a basic mechanical key to do everything from starting it up to opening the trunk. The past three decades have seen a number of enhanced security developments that have changed the way people access their vehicles.

There are many situations when you may need to replace your car keys. The transponder may stop responding, the key could break in the ignition, your keys were stolen, or maybe the keys were simply lost. Knowing what kind of key, you have is beneficial in anticipating the possible costs for replacing lost, stolen, or broken keys.


There are different types of cars with different modifications, ranging from their wheels to the types of keys they use. These keys come with different specifications. The seven commonly known types of car keys include:


The Mechanical Keys

Mechanically cut car keys are among the older types of car keys discussed on this list. Also known as a traditional car key, this is the most basic type of car key used today. Generally, these keys are used by older vehicles that do not have any security encoding. This type of key can be made with any machine used to cut metal.

However, given that these keys are the most basic variant, they’re not the most secure. Typically, these keys are predominantly made from metal. This means that copies of the key can be made using various methods. Standard blank keys can be used to make copies of mechanically cut car keys.

Remote Keys

These types of keys are usually needed for basic tasks such as unlocking and locking cars from a distance. The security device will either use an infrared signal or more commonly, a radio transmitter to send an encoded message to the receiver in the car. Remote car keys are usually battery operated and have a button on the key fob, which will disable the car’s alarm system.

With a remote car key, users will be able to lock or unlock their car key at a nearby distance. Unlike smart keys, which can also be used to unlock the vehicle without physical contact, a remote key will need to be inserted into the ignition to start the vehicle.

Transponder Keys

This type of key has a microchip in the key handle and is more secure than the traditional car key. Transponder car keys have been used since 1995. When inserted into the ignition, a sensor responds and activates the transponder. The price to copy a transponder key is anywhere from $40 to over $100. To replace entirely, a dealership may charge around $250, while going to a locksmith will be less expensive.

Another type of transponder key is the rolling code key. Introduced in 1999, this key sends a new code every time the car is used, protecting the car more securely than traditional transponders. Replacing this type of key is very expensive, typically $500 or more per key.

Flip Style Remotes

This key folds within itself and it’s sometimes called the switchblade key. There is always a button that will pop out the key for use. Here the base or shank of the key is can be retractable into the head or fob of the key.

A switchblade key is a key that folds within itself much like a switchblade knife. Typically, there is a button that will pop out the key for use. It can cost around $200-$300 to replace the whole thing, although if just the shank needs to be replaced, the cost is around $75.

Smart Keys

Smart car keys are one of the latest types of car keys to be utilized by vehicle manufacturers. These are not actual keys, as they are designed to stay in your pocket and no ‘unlocking’ is needed. A car that uses a smart key system will have a series of antennas that can detect the presence of the smart key.

The car’s immobilizer will be deactivated and the ignition started with the push of a button if the smart key is within. Smart keys are fobs that when it is within range of the car, will enable the car to turn on by the press of a button. It does not need to be inserted into the ignition. These keys have to be replaced through the dealership and can cost anywhere from $200-$400.

Master Keys

Many early cars were equipped with a master key intended to be used to make copies or replace keys for a car. It was not intended for normal use. Master keys were hundreds of dollars to replace, and sometimes it was necessary to replace the whole engine management system, potentially costing thousands of dollars.

Most cars nowadays do not come with master keys, however, if you purchase a used car, double-check the owner’s manual to see if you should be receiving a master key with the other keys.

Valet Keys

As the name suggests, valet car keys are designed to be used by valet services. With a spare valet key, vehicle owners will be able to hand over a specialized key with limited functionality when using these convenient services. Ultimately, this is a more secure way for drivers to use valet services.

With a specialized valet car key, the key will only be able to lock or unlock the doors and start the ignition. However, a valet key will not be able to unlock a glove box or trunk that the owner has locked. Many drivers keep valet keys handy in the event that they are locked out of their car or misplace their keys.