Essential Tools for the Automotive Locksmith

You need a computer, key code software, hand tools, key machines and transponder machines.

“What tools do I need to buy in order to be successful as an automotive locksmith?” This is such a common question at trade shows and training events that I have compiled a list of tools that I consider essential.

In 1973 when I first became a locksmith, the essential automotive tools were basically an impressioning file and a pair of Vise-Grips™. Today, my van is packed with all kinds of specialty tools; electronic tools, a computer, and lots of reference material. I’m sure that if you asked 100 automotive locksmiths to make a list like this, you would get 100 different lists. But I’d also wager that a lot of these things would be on most of the lists. So, take my suggestions for what they are – suggestions. This is the stuff that works for me in my area, but if something else works better for you, then that’s great.

The first thing that a new automotive locksmith will need is information - information on bitting, key blanks, code locations, and much more in order to originate keys. The volume of data can be easily overwhelming. Trying to carry that much information around the old-fashioned way in books and magazines will quickly fill your truck and drive you crazy. The solution is to buy a quality portable computer, and fill it with software that will help you find the information that you need. That doesn’t mean that you won’t still be carrying around some books, but by keeping as much info as possible on your computer, you’ll reduce the clutter and be able to find what you need faster.

A lot of folks just starting out try to cut some corners in the computer department by buying a used laptop. As a rule, a used laptop has very little value. You can usually pick them up on the cheap, but if you go this route, make sure that you get one that will do the job. I personally am using a three year old Sony VAIO.

Here are a few things that I would look for in a new computer:
Get a Windows™ machine. There is very little in the world of locksmithing that will run on a Mac, unless you set it up to run Windows™ as well as the Mac operating system (OS) by way of the “Bootcamp™” system. By the time you do all of that, you’ve pretty much tossed “cheap” out the window.

I prefer a laptop running Windows XP™ rather than Vista™, but those are getting harder to find, and Vista™ is getting better. I suspect that I’ll make the transition to Vista™ some time next year myself.

If you go with a used laptop, try to find one with a 9-pin serial port. These are getting harder to find and even though there are USB to serial adapters, a true serial port can be a huge advantage with some of the equipment that you may want to attach to your laptop.

Get the fastest machine you can afford, along with the largest hard drive you can afford. There is no substitute for speed, but you can augment a small hard drive with any one of a number of small plug-in drives that are powered by the USB port.

If you don’t know much about computers, most communities have night classes available, and I would recommend you take one. In today’s world, the computer in your van is probably the most important tool you’ll carry with you, and you owe it to your customers and yourself to know how to use it.

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