How can you tell if a vehicle is equipped with a working transponder system? The easiest way is to try to start it with a non-transponder key and see what happens. Unfortunately, what will often happen is that the transponder system will see this as a theft attempt, throw a theft code into the...
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How can you tell if a vehicle is equipped with a working transponder system? The easiest way is to try to start it with a non-transponder key and see what happens. Unfortunately, what will often happen is that the transponder system will see this as a theft attempt, throw a theft code into the computer system and make your job a lot harder. Obviously, you don’t want to do that on a regular basis so that is not what I recommend. Besides, you need to know if the vehicle has a transponder before you quote the job to the customer.
For the vast majority of vehicles, the first place I check is one of the free vehicle references from Bianchi, Ilco, Jet or JMA. Many of these aftermarket key blank manufacturers offer an updated resource that is either available from your local distributor, the internet or by contacting the manufacturer. While these books are not perfect, they are free. Of course, when a company produces a book like this, and gives it away for free, you know that it is a form of advertising. So don’t expect to see much information on vehicles that use keys that are not available from the manufacturer.
Then there are the manuals that you have to pay for, such as “Steve Young’s Quick Reference Automotive Manual.” So far, I have yet to find a manual that is 100 perfect – including mine. Everyone makes mistakes, and trying to keep track of which vehicles have which transponder system is like herding cats.
As I tell locksmiths in the classes that I teach, “There is always an exception.” There are very few hard and fast rules in the automotive locksmith business, but the fact that there are exceptions to every rule seems to be the only thing that you can truly count on.
As if the whole transponder business wasn’t confusing enough, you’ve got manufacturers who offer transponders as “Optional Equipment.” This optional equipment is based on various factors such as engine size, trim level, or something else that probably made sense to somebody in the marketing department. But out on the street it doesn’t seem to make much sense at all.
In some cases, such as the 2003 – 2006 Toyota Camry, the manuals will simply tell you that the CE and LE versions are transponder equipped. So what happens when you run into the L version? Well as it turns out, about the only way to know for certain is to go to the dealer with the VIN and see what key their system calls for. Apparently, the date of construction and the engine type will determine if the vehicle actually uses a transponder or not. And unfortunately, the dealerships are not always right.
Sometimes even going to the dealer with the VIN won’t help you. Recently, a friend of mine took the 2008 Nissan Titan, which he had bought for his son, to the dealership to have an extra key made. He was quoted over $300 for the job. After he recovered from sticker shock, he called me and I quoted him a “buddy price” that he could live with. I made two copies of his original Nissan transponder key and then tried to program my keys into the truck with absolutely zero luck. While scratching my head trying to figure out what was wrong, I noticed that the truck had old-fashioned hand-cranked windows. With that in mind, I tried starting the truck with the unprogrammed keys and it started immediately. Just out of curiosity, I checked his original key with a cloning device to make sure that it really had a chip in it, and it did. So this entry level pick-up truck was delivered to the customer with transponder keys, but no transponder system. And even the dealer was going to charge him the full price for a transponder key on a vehicle that they should have known did not have a transponder system. So what in the world are we supposed to do when we can’t even get reliable information from the dealers?
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