Essential Tools for the Automotive Locksmith

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

What kind of key machine you put in your van will depend largely on how much you have to spend. If you are just starting out, I’d recommend staying away from a high dollar automated machine until you build your business to the point where you actually need one. I’ve been using the Framon #2 manual code machine shown in photo 14 for over a decade and it has never let me down. As far as I’m concerned this machine is bullet-proof. There are other manual machines out there that also do a good job, such as the HPC 1200 or the Ilco Universal II.

My high-security machine is also a Framon machine. Photo 15 shows my old Framon Sidewinder, which looks a lot different from the current version of the machine shown in photo 16. I love both machines, but since my old one is still going strong, I’m keeping it until it dies.

Someday I hope to upgrade to a Framon 2001 shown in photo 17, but since I don’t do the volume of work a lot of other locksmiths do in the field, I just can’t justify the expense right now. But, if I ever quit writing and making videos to go back to full-time locksmithing, I’d have one in my truck in a dirt road second.

This is the part of the article that I’m going to get the most static about. Remember, these are suggestions based on my personal experience, not a sales pitch. Basically there are only two manufacturers making multi-vehicle transponder machines in the North American locksmith market: Advanced Diagnostics and Silca. Let’s take a minute to look at the tools offered by each.

Based in the UK, Advanced Diagnostics (AD) has a long track record of producing specialty tools for the automotive market. They have been around since before transponders and they make a lot of automotive tools that locksmiths have generally never heard of nor will they ever need. The tools that locksmiths do use are sold under several different names, even though they are all manufactured by AD. Some of the names you may be familiar with are: T-Code (photo 18), T-Code Pro (photo 19), Codeseeker, MVP (photo 20) and MVP-Pro.

The AD tools fall into two basic categories, traditional tools that use periodically updated software that must be purchased, and tools that use “Tokens” which are used up each time the tool is used. If you purchase a T-Code or a T-Code Pro, you can theoretically use the machine as much as you like without incurring any new cost, unless you want to add software for new vehicles that are introduced. If you buy an MVP or an MVP-Pro, the cost is considerably lower than for a T-Code or T-Code Pro, but every time you used the machine you would use up a token. Replacement tokens are purchased over the Internet as needed, and the cost depends on the quantity of tokens you purchase.

For the T-Code and the T-Code Pro, periodic software upgrades are released to keep the tools current for the new vehicles. The process of developing and releasing new software never stops and there is no end in sight. Some of the latest software updates will work on both the T-Code and on the newer T-Code Pro. However, many of the newer vehicles can only be programmed with the newer T-Code Pro, because the software for those vehicles will not operate on the older T-Code.

NOTE: A while back, AD discontinued the T-Code and replaced it with the T-Code Pro, allowing owners to trade in their old tools. A similar process is now going on with the MVP and the MVP-Pro with various incentives for users to trade up to the new equipment. I have included the older machines in this article because there are still lots of them out in the field and they are constantly being bought and sold as used tools.
Silca is based in Italy and their tools are sold mostly through Ilco distributors here in North America. There are only two Silca tools, the SDD (Silca Diagnostic Device) shown in photo 21 and the TKO (Transponder Key Originator) shown in photo 22. The SDD was the original Silca tool and as time went by a multitude of adaptors and cables were introduced in order to handle the newer vehicles. The TKO was introduced almost two years ago as a replacement for the aging SDD. All of the functions of the various adaptors and cables were incorporated into the TKO so that only one cable was needed. A trade-in program was offered to those who wanted to trade in their old SDD tools on a new TKO, and many owners did so.

Just as with the AD tools, periodic software updates were necessary to keep up with the new vehicles. The major difference though is that so far, all of the updates continue to be compatible with the older SDD tool.

What vehicles can and cannot be programmed with these tools? If I included a list of all the vehicles that each machine could program here in this article, it would be obsolete by the time the article was printed. It’s just easier to say that at any give time there are vehicles out there that one machine can program and the other one can’t, but this is constantly changing. The two manufacturers are constantly working to out-do one another. This is great for us in the field because the competition keeps the market up to date and helps to keep the costs down. In the end though, no matter which machine you buy, there will always be brand new cars out there that you will not be able to program until the software is introduced.

I’ve had an SDD for a long time and plan to keep it as long as possible. So far, I’ve done well with the machine, and since I paid it off years ago, all I’m getting from it now is profit. Someday, I’m sure that I’ll need to upgrade, but so far I’m thrilled that Silca is keeping their software updates “backwards compatible” so my elderly SDD (shown in Photo 21) can keep on working.

I’ve also positive experiences with the various AD tools. They are both tools that are designed to do a job. As long as I get the job done profitably, I’m a happy man. I see no need to be fanatical about one tool or the other. They both work and I’m happy with my choice. I hope you’ll also be happy with your choice.

Regardless of what machine you buy, look into the tech support that is offered for your machine. Some distributors simply sell the machines and have no experience in actually using the machine. Others offer extensive support after the sale. I can assure you that if you are just getting started in transponder work, you will be calling tech-support occasionally until you get the hang of using the machines.

I could go on quite a bit more here about cloning machines, specialty machines like the NGS and others as well as the books I carry with me, but I’m afraid I’m out of space. If you’re interested, you can always email me at           

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