VATS Basics

The number of vehicles equipped with the VATS system peaked in the late 1990s, as transponder systems and other anti-theft systems were developed. The last VATS-equipped vehicle sold was the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird which were both...


VATS (Vehicle Anti Theft System) was introduced by GM on the 1986 Corvette because the Corvette had become the number one target of car thieves. Corvette thefts dropped so impressively after VATS was implemented that GM expanded the system in 1988 to the Camaro , Firebird, and Cadillac Seville...


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How do I originate a VATS key?

Just as in duplicating a VATS key, originating a key involves two steps. First you must determine the mechanical cuts for the key itself, and then you must “interrogate” the vehicle in order to determine the resistor value programmed into that vehicle. After you have both the mechanical cuts and resistance value, you combine the two and cut the key onto the correct blank. After checking to make sure that your key operates the vehicle, you are done.

The process of determining the mechanical cuts is the same as with any other GM vehicle. If you are able to obtain the key code for the car, you will occasionally be able to get the resistor values as well – but don't count on it. If you are lucky enough to get the resistor value, it will usually be given as a two-character code which is also shown in Chart 2. On some of the later 10-cut ignitions, this resistor code is stamped onto the lock along with the code as shown in photo 2.

You can also pull the wheel and get the code number off of the ignition lock if you are unable to get the code any other way. However, beginning in 1995, GM stopped putting key codes on the ignition locks of VATS vehicles. These vehicles can be decoded by using a scope to read the numbers stamped on the tumblers inside the lock. Since all replacement locks now have the numbers stamped on the tumblers, it is always a good idea to look into the lock with a scope before pulling the steering wheel, just in case the lock has been replaced at some time.

Another important factor in generating a mechanical key involves airbags. Most VATS vehicles that use the single-sided key are also equipped with airbags. It is very important to understand how to deal with a GM airbag steering column before you start. All airbag disassembly requires that you disconnect the battery while you are working on the system. The VATS system can only be interrogated when the battery is connected. Re-connecting the battery while the airbag is not in place will generate a fault code in the car's computer that may require a diagnostic tool such as the Tech-II in order to clear. Always do all of the mechanical work on an airbag column before you begin the interrogation.

Interrogating a VATS system is basically the process of trying each resistor value until you find the value that allows the car to start. If money were no object, you could cut 15 keys for the car, and try them one at a time until you found the one that works. Obviously, that method would be wasteful and cost prohibitive, so most people use a VATS interrogator. All VATS interrogators allow you to try all 15 values without wasting VATS keys. You will still have to make a “mechanical” key that will turn the ignition lock, but does not have a resistor. The key blank that is most often used as a mechanical key on the single-sided system is the Ilco P1098AV or an equivalent blank. For the double-sided system, any 10-cut blank that is long enough and does not have a rubber head can be used.

Once you have made a mechanical key, you will have to connect the interrogator to the computer in the car in order to feed it the resistor values one at a time until you find the one that starts the car. Because of the time delay factor, you will have to wait a period of time between starting attempts, since even the correct key will not start the car during the delay period. There are three different ways of connecting an interrogator to the car, and the choice of the connection method is determined by the vehicle, the equipment you have, and the preference of the user.

 

Connecting the interrogator

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