Essential Tools for the Automotive Locksmith

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

Now that you have the computer, you’ll need software. Probably the most basic and most used tool in your software library will be your code software. At one time, code software did just what the name implies – looked up codes. But today, code software has morphed into a multi-function tool that provides a lot more information. Most modern code software will also provide you with spacing and depth information, code cards, cam and carriage information, and other machine-specific information for whatever code machine you use. The more advanced code software will also help you in other ways by providing information on:

—Transponder systems
—Key blank cross reference information
—Fill-in programs that will help you progress a key when you only know part of the bitting
—Vehicle specific look-up capabilities
—Bitting information

What the finished key will look like
I use the Genericode software, which has all of these features. Photo 4 shows a typical look-up screen that displays the code and key cutting information in an easy-to- follow format. In addition, Genericode will interface with most automated key machines, so that after you have looked up the code, all you have to do is push a button to cut the key, assuming that you have an automated machine.

Several other systems provide similar capabilities. I also like the InstaCode software and its clone Kreate-A-Key that is marketed by Ilco, as well as the Blackhawk software. Here are a couple of commercially available software packages that I have found useful.

Autotel, which is produced by Auto Security Products (ASP), has a wealth of information on most domestic and imported vehicles. It provides part numbers, application data and a lot more for a reasonable price. Photo 5 shows a typical look-up screen from Autotel.
John Blankenship has produced a wonderful six-volume “Guide to Motorcycles” that is available in printed form or in a pfd format that you can load onto your computer. If you work on motorcycles, this information is priceless. Photo 6 shows a typical page from one of John Blankenship’s books as seen on my computer.

In addition to code software, I also use several other software packages in the course of an average day. A lot of that software is free and available in the “.pdf” format (Portable Document Format), but you will also need the Adobe Acrobat™ reader software, which if it is not already installed on your computer, can be downloaded for free. Below is a list of some of the free software that I use on a regular basis.
Ilco “Auto Truck Key Blank Reference Guide.” This is the pdf version of the printed book. This information is updated annually and can be downloaded from the web. Because it is provided by Ilco for free, it is a form of advertising, so don’t expect to find much in here about products that Ilco does not manufacture.

STRATTEC Part Search software. This is another free application that is provided by one of the leading automobile lock and key manufacturers. Once again, don’t expect to find stuff here on products that STRATTEC doesn’t make, but they make a LOT of stuff.
Auto Security Products has a catalog with photos of their products in the pdf format on their website that is designed to be used over the web, but you can also download it to your computer for use when you are in the field without an Internet connection.

For automotive locksmithing, you’ll need a basic set of hand tools, in addition to the impressioning file and Vise-Grips™ mentioned earlier. I carry two sets of Torx® screwdrivers; one with individual drivers and another with all of the common sizes in one fold-up set. I use the fold-up set for convenience, but often you will find that you will need a longer shaft and there is no substitute for the individual drivers. I also use two sets of fold-up Allen wrenches, one metric and one SAE, for convenience, but keep a set of long individual Allen wrenches in the truck for when I really need them.

I also consider a set of both metric and SAE nut-drivers as essential tools for automotive work. I keep tools like the nut-drivers and Torx® drivers in roll-up cases like the ones shown in photo 8 out of self defense. I’ve learned through the years that if I don’t organize tools like these, I will not be able to find them when I need them. Or worse yet, I’ll leave them behind on jobs one by one until I have to buy a new set. The cases let me see at a glance if I have put all of the tools back in place before I roll up the case. These cases came from Duluth Trading Company, but there are other vendors as well as Harbor Freight who sell a variety of compact tool organizers.

As far as specialty hand tools go, there are a few that I would never be without. A door panel clip tool like the one shown in photo 9 makes door panel work a lot easier, plus it makes a dandy sliding glass door opening tool.

I always carry a set of security bits along with a driver to use with them. I found this small ratchet set at Lowes and cannot believe how handy it has turned out to be for getting into tight spaces.

The 2-in-1 wedge from A-1 tools is another favorite tool of mine. I seldom use it to pop upholstery clips, but it’s wonderful for holding the door panel away from the door while you reach inside with your hand or with another tool.

The steering wheel kit from Matco Tools has everything I need for steering column work. Plus, the case helps me keep track of all my tools. Similar kits are also available from Snap-On, and Mac Tools.

And of course no automotive locksmith should be without an oops kit - part of mine is shown in photo 13. Door panel clips will inevitably get broken or lost, so I carry an assortment of replacements as well as super-glue and industrial strength contact cement. I’ve found the “Welder” brand of contact cement to be great. I’ve also found that a lot of the materials used in modern door panels simply shrug off super-glue.

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