Automotive Key Generation Tools

These tools can save you time on the job, which amounts to putting money in your pocket.


Roadside service providers have done a lot of good things for locksmiths. For years they have been supplying many of us with a steady stream of business and a quick and easy source for automotive key codes. Unfortunately, a few people abused the key code service and now it has become much more...


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Roadside service providers have done a lot of good things for locksmiths. For years they have been supplying many of us with a steady stream of business and a quick and easy source for automotive key codes. Unfortunately, a few people abused the key code service and now it has become much more difficult to get a key code over the phone for the rest of us. Suddenly, I'm getting a lot of calls from locksmiths who had been dependant on getting key codes, but now want to learn how to generate keys the old-fashioned way.

In the automotive locksmith world, generating a key without having access to a key code service basically breaks down to the following four techniques.

1. Finding the key code somewhere on or in the car.

Never assume that the customer even knows what a key code is. It's amazing how many times you can find the key code numbers written on the owner's manual or on some of the original paperwork that came with the car.

I once had an employee who spent all afternoon trying to make keys to an early 90s Cadillac Seville, and only called me to help after he had damaged the steering column. After I repaired the damage, I went to work on the door and trunk key while he began interrogating the VATS system. The first thing I saw when I opened the glove compartment was a small envelope that was labeled "Key Codes." Inside the envelope were the original "knock-outs" from the keys!

Had my employee taken 30 seconds to look in the glove compartment, the job would have gone from an all-day mess to a very simple VATS interrogation. Learn from his mistake and make sure that you always look for a code before you start disassembling things.

2. Using tryout keys.

Tryout keys are a lot like that old guy that you know up the street — they're simple, slow, and nerve-wracking, but can be utterly reliable. They can also be a very simple solution to some very complex problems. They work almost every time they're tried. There is almost always a faster way, but not always a better way. I've never heard of anyone seriously damaging a lock while using tryout keys.

Perhaps the most common use of tryout keys is the Ford 10-cut system. In that system, one-third of the information necessary to generate an ignition key (two out of six cuts) can be gained from the door locks. Once that information is known, the number of tryout keys needed to determine the remaining four cuts is a relatively small number. The tryout sets for the ignition can be grouped in such a way that makes it easy to finish the key quickly and easily without any disassembly.

The procedure for getting the door cuts is another matter. Some locksmiths use tryout keys for that as well, but others use a variety of methods. While the ignition is a sidebar lock, the doors use a single throw six wafer-tumbler system. Several of the other methods described below can be used to decode the doors, and the choice of method boils down to personal preference.

The bottom line is that tryout keys are extremely effective, but slow. They can also be a little expensive if you try to outfit yourself with tryout keys for every system out there. If you have a visual impairment, tryout keys may well be your best choice. I have a friend who is an accomplished locksmith despite being legally blind, primarily thanks to tryout keys.

3. Disassembling the lock and fitting a key by hand.

This method will almost always get you a working key, but it can be very difficult to accomplish. Removing the lock often requires being able to turn the lock and if you don't have a key, that means picking the lock. While lock picking is one of those skills that a true locksmith is supposed to possess, in reality it is often just not an option on many automotive locks.

That is not to say that removing and disassembling the lock is never the correct choice; in many cases it is far easier than it sounds. In the Ford 10-cut system mentioned above, the door lock is often held in place by a simple metal clip that extends to the edge of the door that can easily be removed with a screwdriver. Once the lock is in your hand, it can be sight-read by looking through the drain hole in the bottom of the lock.

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