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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When in doubt, I usually go first to the free references because they are always handy. But, because nothing is perfect, I usually check with a couple of other trusted sources if I have any doubts. The “Genericode” software that Framon Manufacturing produces is what I use for codes, but it also gives me key blank information as well. I also use “Autosmart™” from Michael Hyde, and if the vehicle uses a high security lock system, I may also consult Determinator Tom’s “High Security Quick Reference Book” or his “Key Origination Manual.”
If it’s a domestic vehicle that may have Strattec locks on it, I also check out the Strattec website at http://aftermarket.strattec.com/. This website has a wealth of information on domestic vehicles and some imports like Mitsubishi as well. Of course since it is a manufacturer’s website, don’t expect to find stuff there on vehicles that don’t use Strattec locks.
All of these resources also provide me with other information that I’ll need in order to quote the job properly. While I’m checking to see if the vehicle is transponder equipped, I’m also looking at the bitting of the locks to determine how I’ll go about generating a new mechanical key. I’ll check to see if I can expect to find a code on the vehicle as well.
There are transponder ring detecting devices on the market, but they are more of a diagnostic tool rather than a tool to be used in quoting a job. To use one of those tools, you have to be at the vehicle and usually have a key that will turn the ignition.
Know Your Market
We all know that I’m an automotive geek and that I follow the automotive market a lot closer than most. For that reason, I simply “know” in most cases whether a vehicle will be transponder equipped or not. Here are a few guidelines I use to decide if a particular vehicle is transponder equipped or not. I’ve broken these down by manufacturer because that seems to be the easiest way for me to think about it.
Ford / Lincoln / Mercury
Ford was the first manufacturer in North America to embrace transponder technology. Numerically, there are more Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles on the streets of North America equipped with transponders than any other single manufacturer. That is because in the 2000 model year, Ford made the decision to make their transponder system, which Ford calls PATS (Passive Anti Theft System), standard equipment on all “passenger vehicles.”
The distinction of “passenger vehicles” is an important one and it has changed through the years. In the beginning, “passenger vehicle” meant that the larger trucks and vans like the F-250, F-350, E-250, etc. did not have transponders, but today even most of those vehicles have transponders.
Early Ford Transponder vehicles (1996 – 1999)
The first Ford transponders were introduced in the 1996 model year. From then until the 2000 model year, transponders were optional equipment on a limited number of models. Chart 1 specifies the transponder equipped Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles from 1996 – 1999.
Later Ford Transponder vehicles (2000 - 2012)
When you talk about which Ford vehicles made after 2000, are or are not, equipped with transponders, it’s easiest to list the exceptions that do not have transponders since almost everything from the 2000 model year up is transponder equipped.
Ford Escort & Escort ZX1 – This vehicle used Mazda locks and never had a transponder system. It was discontinued after the 2003 model year.
Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique – The four-cylinder versions of these vehicles never had a transponder system and the line was discontinued after the 2000 model year.
Ford Ranger Pick-Up, 2000 - 2006 – Transponder systems were optional on these vehicles. However, after 2001 ALL Rangers were shipped with transponder keys regardless of whether they were equipped with a transponder system or not. When in doubt, try starting it with a mechanical key - the Ford system is very forgiving.
Ford F-Series Trucks and E-Series Vans, 1999 – 2003 – Transponders are standard equipment on the F-150, but optional on the F-250. As a general rule, if the truck or van looks like a base level vehicle with few if any options, it will probably not have a transponder system. If it is a high-end vehicle with leather seats and power windows, it probably will have a transponder system.