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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The theory behind the tool is essentially the same as we have seen with the other tools. As shown in Photo 3, tumblers that correspond to deeper cuts in the system will extend further into the keyway when the tumblers are at the rest position. The trap notch at the tip of the key is designed to trap tumblers that extend past a given point in the keyway as the tool is being withdrawn from the lock. In a system that only has four depths, only one key is needed to decode the lock when using half cuts. In systems that have more than four depths, more than one key will be required. After a tumbler has been trapped and the depth recorded, the release tool is used to release the trapped tumbler so that another tumbler can be read, or the tool removed from the lock.

To use the tool, you first insert the key all the way into the lock and then slowly withdraw it until the tool stops. The reason that the tool will stop is that it has trapped a tumbler in the notch at the end of the tool. At that point, the spacing guide on the side of the tool will tell you which tumbler has become trapped. This will tell you two things: the cut associated with the trapped tumbler is one of the deeper cuts in the system, and in most cases this will also tell you if you are decoding the even or the odd side of the lock. The odd side of the lock begins with wafer number one, the wafer closest to the face cap. On most modern vehicle lock systems, the door lock has opposing (double throw) wafers with the even numbered wafers (2, 4, 6, etc.) move in one direction and the odd numbered wafers (1, 3, 5, etc.) move in the opposite direction to the unlocked position.

The depth that is indicated by a trapped tumbler will vary according to the number of depths in the system, but in a four-depth system, any tumbler that traps can be cut to a 3.5 depth, while any tumbler that does not trap can be cut to a 1.5 depth. Each Determinator includes a pad of work sheets like that shown in Photo 9 to record the depths as the tool is used. Reading and understanding the instructions for each set is extremely important.

After all of the trapped tumblers have been recorded, a test key is made. (For the purpose of this article, I'll use a Determinator that is designed for a four-depth system, but bear in mind that the depths of the cuts will vary in other systems.) In each position on the key a cut is placed according to whether or not a tumbler was trapped in that position. In our example, a cut of 1.5 would be placed in positions where a tumbler was not trapped, and a cut of 3.5 would be placed in positions where a tumbler was trapped. The even-numbered cuts would be placed on one side of the key and the odd numbered cuts would be placed on the opposite side of the key. If the lock was properly decoded, this will result in a key that is cut too high in some places and too low in others, but due to the tolerances in the lock system, it will either turn the lock or be close enough that a little impressioning will allow it to turn.

Following the instructions supplied with each tool and using the basic locksmithing skills of impressioning and progression will usually produce a finished key in a matter of minutes.

The Determinator is available through many locksmith distributors and is manufactured by Car Openers, Inc., Ocoee, FL, telephone 800-561-0443.

All of the tools that we covered here have specific applications for specific vehicles. In some cases, all three tools could be used on a specific vehicle and in others, only one tool may be available for that vehicle. Some locksmiths own all three tools for a specific application and use them either alone or together according to conditions.

Since many of the newer domestic automotive lock systems incorporate wafer tumbler locks for the doors, deck and compartments along with a sidebar lock in the ignition, all of these tools will require the user to be skilled and have a good working knowledge of the lock system. Producing a finished key that is cut to factory specifications will almost always require some additional work on the part of the locksmith. But, any and all of these tools can save you time on the job, which amounts to putting money in your pocket.

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