Does This Vehicle Have A Transponder?

Sooner or later you will run into a vehicle that either has a transponder system that you didn’t expect or doesn’t have one when you thought it would. The best way of keeping those surprises to a minimum is to pay attention to the details, use...

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 it came to transponders, the Chrysler Corporation was late to the party, and slow to begin using transponders as standard equipment. Even though they introduced transponders on several vehicles in the 1998 model year, it wasn’t until 2007 that you could pretty much count on any Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep vehicle to have a transponder system. Some vehicles did use a transponder system as standard equipment as early as 1998, but on the whole, most Chrysler products made before 2007 could go either way. Below is a list of the early Chrysler vehicles that used a transponder system as standard equipment.

  • Chrysler LHS – 1999 and up
  • Dodge Neon – 2000 and up
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee – 1998 and up
  • Plymouth Grand Voyager – 2001 and up
  • Plymouth Neon – 2000 and up

The remaining Chrysler products had transponder systems as optional equipment. The early Chrysler system was called “Sentry Key” and all of the transponder keys had a distinctive grey colored rubber head. You would think that you could ask the owner what color the key was before they lost it to help determine if it was a transponder vehicle or not. However, it has been my experience that most people simply don’t pay enough attention to their keys to make this very reliable. (Maybe people who do pay attention also care enough to not lose their keys?)

When quoting a price on older Chrysler vehicles I’ll generally quote the price for a transponder vehicle and then if it turns out not to be a transponder system, I’ll make the customer very happy by charging them less than I quoted. This is a LOT easier to do than the other way around.

Of course, the Chrysler system has an “Immobilizer Code” (PIN Code) that you will also need in order to program the vehicle. Most people get the code from a friendly dealer or from a code-broker, but there are also machines that “pull” the immobilizer code directly from the vehicle. One would think that non-transponder vehicles would not have an immobilizer code on file with the manufacturer. That, however, is not the case. I’ve gotten immobilizer codes on many non-transponder vehicles directly from the dealer.

As a general rule, if you have the equipment to program the vehicle, it won’t hurt to try to start the vehicle with a mechanical key. If the car starts, your work is done. If it does not start, and the security light comes on, you can go ahead and program the vehicle without a problem. If the car does not start, and the security light does not come on, you have a whole new problem on your hands. It’s always good to remember that there are thousands of things other than a transponder system that can keep a vehicle from starting.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the Chrysler transponder system:

  • No Dodge van was ever equipped with a transponder system until the Sprinter came out in 2003.
  • No Dodge pick-up made before 2001 had a transponder system.
  • The Viper never had a transponder system.
  • The Chrysler Sebring Coupe and Dodge Stratus Coupe were joint ventures with Mitsubishi and both vehicles used a Mitsubishi lock mechanism and transponder system as standard equipment.
  • The Jeep Wrangler got transponders as optional equipment in 1998, but only on the high-end models. Transponders did not become standard on the Wrangler until 2007.
  • The Chrysler Crossfire was a joint venture with Mercedes and it uses a Mercedes transponder system, so it is essentially a dealer-only system.


GM Systems

The GM fleet of vehicles tends to either have a transponder system as standard equipment, or not at all. The first GM vehicle equipped with transponders was the 1997 Buick Park Avenue, and it had transponders as standard equipment. As long as you check your resources in advance you will find few surprises on most GM vehicles. However, several GM vehicles were joint ventures with other manufacturers and use a transponder system that is not a standard GM system. Below is a list of those vehicles.

  • Cadillac Catera – uses the European Opel system and requires an immobilizer code
  • Pontiac Vibe – uses a Toyota system and Toyota programming procedures
  • Pontiac GTO – uses the Australian Holden system, but has GM on-board programming
  • Pontiac G8 - uses the Australian Holden system, but has GM on-board programming
  • Saturn Astra - uses the Australian Holden system, but has GM on-board programming

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