Programming and Cloning Automotive Transponder-Equipped Keys, Remotes and Fobs

More than 95 percent of new North American passenger vehicles are equipped with some type of engine immobilizer system. Of this number, more than 80 percent of these vehicles’ keys and fobs can be cloned. A significant majority of the remaining vehicles engine immobilizer systems can be programmed by locksmiths.

These numbers are pretty amazing, considering the first transponder-based engine immobilizer systems were introduced into North America for the 1996 model year, which was about 18 years ago. The first transponder-equipped vehicle I programmed was a 1996 Ford Taurus equipped with a fixed code Texas Instruments (TI) transponder chip. A fixed code transponder has a set value that does not change. In addition to TI, a number of other companies provided fixed code transponders for other vehicle manufacturers. These included Megamos, Philips and Temic.

Around the same time, some luxury vehicle manufacturers introduced rolling code transponder-based engine immobilizer systems. A rolling code transponder changes its value (code). Every time the ignition key is cycled in the ignition lock, the computer will expect a new value.

Then came the encrypted transponders that use a Challenge and Response function to calculate the value sent to the vehicle’s on-board computer. The encrypted transponder values are based on mathematical algorithms. The transponder and the on-board computer use these algorithms to calculate the response. If the response sent by the transponder matches the on-board computer’s calculation, the engine will start.

As transponders were evolving to provide higher levels of security, vehicle manufacturers personalized their transponders. This made it more difficult for aftermarket key blank manufacturers to produce transponders that were compatible with the original equipment manufacturers. Mitsubishi is a good example of a vehicle manufacturer who made it much more difficult to find compatible transponder-equipped key blanks for their different vehicle years and models.

Transponders come in two types: programmable and clonable. Programmable transponders have a set value. This value is then programmed into the vehicle’s on-board computer.

Common original equipment transponder-equipped keys/fobs come in the following four types:

  • Plastic head transponder-equipped keys
  • Flip Keys with remote functions
  • Remote Key Entry (RKE) with an attached blade for keyed start
  • Passive Key Entry/Proximity Keyless Entry (PKE) fob (no attached blade), both with remote functions.

PKEs are also known as Passive Entry Passive Start. Many PKEs and some Flip Keys and RKEs are equipped with programmable electronic circuit boards, combining the remote functions with the engine immobilizer functions into one circuit board.

 

Cloning Devices

Clonable transponders and circuit board or electronic keys, also known generically as read-write transponders, have either no pre-programmed value or have a value that can be written over. Clonable transponders are designed to obtain their values using compatible cloning devices. Clonable transponder and circuit board-equipped keys are sold as molded plastic head keys, chipless plastic head keys, electronic (two-piece) keys and fob (keyless configurations). Read-write transponders are not available at this time with pushbutton remote functionality.

When a cloning device is manufactured, it is designed to clone most of the programmable transponders on the market at that time. Some cloning equipment can be upgraded to the newer programmable transponders using software or add-on hardware. Other cloning devices do not have a path for upgrades.

Clonable keys are not universal. If the cloning device is sold through a key blank manufacturer, it will clone the transponder/circuit board-equipped key blanks sold by that manufacturer. However, competitive transponder/circuit board-equipped key blank manufacturers’ products may not be able to be cloned using that key blank manufacturer’s cloning device. Before purchasing cloning equipment, determine whose clonable key products you will be using.

The appropriate cloning device will read the information written on the customer’s transponder or electronic circuit board-equipped key and then write that information on the clonable transponder or electronic circuit board, creating a duplicate (clone) of the customer’s key. Some clonable transponders can be duplicated multiple times. Some have limitations to being either cloned once or just couple of times.

Most vehicle manufacturers do not offer clonable key blanks. Clonable automotive transponders and electronic key blanks are manufactured by Ilco, Jet Hardware, JMA USA, Keyline USA and STRATTEC. The key blank manufacturers make use of dedicated clonable chip, ampoule or circuit board transponders that are designed to specifically clone a transponder type or multiple transponder types for the aftermarket. A dedicated clonable transponder will clone a fixed code Texas Instruments or a Philips Crypto.

JMA USA now offers a keyless system for specific BMW models. The BM-6.RKE is designed for Series 1 (2004-2011), Series 3 (2005-2011), Series 5 (2003-2010), Series 6 (2004-2011), X5 (2004-2011), Z4 (2006-2011) and X1 (2009-2011). These fobs with door key do not have remote functions. They are available with or without a TPX4 transponder.

Ilco has introduced the GTI clonable, glass ampoule transponder designed to clone Texas Instruments Encrypted and Philips Crypto programmable transponders. The GTI transponder is contained within the GTH Multi Transponder Head for use with the Ilco Modular Key System. The GTI transponder is compatible with the RW4 Plus and Plus Box cloning devices. In order to clone the GTI transponder, a free software update is required.

Keyline USA’s (previously known as Bianchi USA) circuit board-equipped head, the TK100, can reproduce multiple transponder types. This battery-less electronic head can be used to clone most fixed code and encrypted/Crypto code transponder types. Keyline has developed clonable Keyless System Kits for specific models of BMW, Volvo, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Infiniti, Nissan, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles. These fobs with door keys do not have remote functions.

Cloning equipment choices include Advanced Diagnostics, Jet Hardware, JMA USA, Kaba Ilco, Keyless Ride and Keyline.

Note: Advanced Diagnostics and Keyless Ride do not manufacture transponder-equipped key blanks.

The Advanced Diagnostics AD900 Pro key duplicator features the detection, reading, generating and cloning of fixed code transponders and the ability for copying of Crypto 42 type transponders and the Texas 4C and 4D transponders. In addition, the AD900 can identify the Philips cryptographic (encrypted) transponders. The AD900 machine is designed to be upgraded to the latest transponder chip technology by adding additional software. For example, adding the AD980 Texas Crypto Stand-Alone Module, the AD900 can detect, read, generate and clone Philips Crypto transponder equipped keys, flip keys, remote head keys and fobs.

Kaba Ilco’s RW4 Plus Transponder Key Duplicator clones Texas Instruments and Philips encrypted code and fixed code (T2, T5) transponder keys without the need of a computer or internet connection. An additional feature of the RW4 Plus is the ability to identify the presence of a transponder and indicates chip type, value and manufacturer. This unit can be used to generate a transponder value. A 12VDC adapter is included for mobile key cloning. The RW4 Plus has a RS232 (serial) port and a USB port. It has an easy-to-read liquid crystal display and multiple language support. Ilco offers an alternative to having to purchase a RW4 Plus Transponder Key Duplicator by offering the Plus-Box, which attaches to the RW4 Cloning Device in order to upgrade to cloning the Philips Crypto transponders.

The Jet Hardware Intelli-Clone (iClone) Device clones Texas Instruments encrypted transponder chips, Texas Instruments fixed code and Philips Crypto 46 transponders in the Jet Hardware’s plastic head clonable transponder key blanks and the new clonable electronic head with attachable key blades. The electronic heads are available with the C1 ampoule style Texas Instruments fixed code clonable transponder, and the C2 ampoule style Texas Instruments encrypted code clonable transponder or the C3 ampoule style Philips Crypto 46 clonable transponder. An ETH head can accommodate a variety of transponders and transponder chips.

The JMA TRS5000 EVO is a fully integrated transponder cloning device that can detect, read and clone transponder keys equipped with Megamos, Nova, Philips, Silca, Temic and Texas Instruments fixed code transponders, and Philips and Texas Instruments encrypted (Crypto) transponders. It does not require attachments, a computer or access to the internet. The unit is compact, measuring approximately six by seven inches at approximately 3.5 inches tall and weighing about one pound.

A large four-line by 20-character alphanumeric display is easy to read. Two buttons perform the cloning procedure: “Read”and “Write.” For data connections, the EVO has one female DB9 RS-232 connector and two USB connectors.

Keyless Ride is the North American master distributor of the Zed-Bull and Zed-Full product line. The Zed-Bull can identify and clone a significant number of today’s vehicle keys. In addition, the Zed-Bull can be expanded to offer additional capabilities when working with transponders and programming keys and remotes. This includes the range of EPROM reading and writing software applications, enabling keys to be cloned from the vehicle memory and standalone 4D and ID46 cloning. There are several configurations for purchasing the Zed-Bull and Zed-Full devices. The kits contain the programmer, PC USB cable, Power adapter, 12V cigar lighter adapter, operating manual on PC software and Security log-in card.

The Keyline USA 884 Decryptor Ultegra is a standalone cloning tool that identifies and clones Texas Instruments Fixed and Encrypted, Philips Fixed and Crypto 2nd generation and other transponders. The 884 is designed to function with the TK100 Universal Head as well as the TK24, TK40, TK50 and TK60 electronic heads. The 884 Decryptor Ultegra is designed to clone 1-piece clonable keys (T2, T5, TK1) from various manufacturers. It is capable of code generation and manual code entry for fixed code transponders. When a compatible transponder key is inserted, the 884 displays the transponder manufacturer and the type. Features include easy-to-read liquid crystal display, USB and Serial ports, a 12V vehicle adaptor and multiple language support. The 884 has been sold in two colors, green and red.

 

Transponder Programming

Programming a programmable transponder-equipped key or circuit board equipped fob into a vehicle’s on-board computer can be accomplished using different methods. Depending upon the make, model and year of the vehicle, a programmable transponder or circuit board key or fob can be on-board programmed or device programmed as long as the basics are followed.

Only a limited number of transponders can be programmed into a vehicle’s on-board computer. The transponder or circuit board type must be compatible with the vehicle. For example, the 2014 Toyota RAV4 and the Corolla use the “H” transponder-equipped remote head key. This transponder is different from the “G” transponder and is not backwards compatible. Another example is the 80 byte Ford transponder key blank. For Ford vehicles using the 80 byte Texas Instruments Encrypted Transponder, these vehicles can only be programmed with an 80 byte transponder-equipped key.

Another consideration is remote function keys and fobs. Not only must the transponder be the same, but also the remote circuitry must operate at the same frequency. Unfortunately, not all remote function keys and fobs have the frequency listed. Fobs and remotes must be ordered vehicle model and year specific to ensure proper operation.

Once the proper transponder key blank, remote, flip key or fob is chosen, the next step is to determine the method of programming. Transponder-equipped keys (no remote functions) may be able to be programmed on-board. Many remote head keys, flip keys and fobs require additional programming for the remote functions, making it more practical to use a programming device.

On-board programming procedures vary by manufacturer, model and year. Some require two operating keys. Some require one key.

One resource for on-board programming information and instructions is the STRATTEC annual comprehensive catalogs or the Web Site: aftermarketstrattec.com. Another option is the Ilco Auto Truck Key Blank Reference, which contains cloning and programming information in addition to the key blank reference. The latest can be downloaded at the Ilco Web Site: www.kaba-ilco.com

When programming a transponder or circuit board-equipped key or fob, the choices include multi-vehicle transponder programming devices and dedicated vehicle programming devices. For most locksmiths, using a multi-vehicle programming device is financially practical because it will include many common vehicle manufacturers and models. Multi-vehicle programming devices are available from Advanced Diagnostics USA, Keyless Ride and Ilco.

Advanced Diagnostics offers two programming devices, the TCode Pro and the MVP Pro. Both will program bladed transponder-equipped keys and fobs (keyless) as well as specific remotes. The TCode Pro is sold in different configurations from the device alone to the device with 21, 26 or 38 software programs. The locksmith purchases all software and accessories for the TCode Pro.

The MVP Pro is a token-based device that is sold as a complete package that includes one new MVP Pro machine, 10 tokens, a carrying case, user’s manual, main cable (ADC-250), Nissan old style port cable (ADC-136), USB update cable, 110v power cable, 11 color coded dongles and the Smart Card Calculator Kit with 2 “SMC”cards.

The use of tokens to program a fob, key and/or remote takes the place of having to purchase any software updates. However, any hardware, cables, or non-standard dongles are an optional purchase.

The Keyless Ride Hotwire PC-based transponder, RKE and PKE programming device operates in conjunction with a laptop computer. The Hotwire is a box measuring approximately 6” X 4”, which contains the electronics to program a vehicle. Thirty-one software titles are available. Keyless Ride has a number of purchasing programs.

Kaba Ilco’s TKO Transponder Key Originator programming tool can be used to program and originate transponder keys, read and reset vehicle immobilizer error codes, determine the number of keys programmed to a vehicle and program remote keyless entry. Built into the TKO is an internal database of vehicles that is expandable and updateable, an internal CAN Router and a “Help”function to locate vehicles OBDII port.

TKO dimensions are 9” by 6.5” by 2”. The device comes with an OBDII cable, a serial cable, a power cord and adapter, software and instructions, and carrying and storage case.

The TKO can be purchased as Complete and Select buyer option programs. The Complete program is preloaded with all available software through the previous year. The Select program is preloaded with popular software that is based on the national average. Additional software is available on an “a la carte” basis.

For locksmiths who specialize in automotive work, there are several programming devices that might be considered depending upon your market. These include the D-Max, the VAG Tango and the Ford IDS device.

The AE Tools & Computers DMax Chrysler Skim Code Reader reads and programs the Skim Module in order to program the anti-theft system on Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles manufactured from 1998- on including fobik keys.

The Edilock Ltd VAG Tango transponder programmer can cover, read, write and generate transponders used in the latest vehicle immobilizer technologies. Vehicle manufacturers include Audi, BMW, Mini, Porsche, VW and Saab.

The Ford Integrated Diagnostic System (IDS) provides diagnostic and engine immobilizer programming of current and future North America Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. The IDS package replaced the Worldwide Diagnostic System (WDS). This enables locksmiths to program keys and fobs to new vehicle models, eliminating the wait during the development time that the multi-vehicle device manufacturers require until their software is available. The IDS runs on a standard laptop platform, and utilizes the VCM and VMM.

Asian knock-off programming and cloning machines are also available. They are significantly less expensive than the originals. However, they are not exactly the same as the originals and as a result, they may not operate as the originals. Asian knock-off machines may be up to that date when they were originally built. However, I do not know of any that can be updated using correctly written software. In addition, there is no technical support and no customer service. If there is a problem, the shipping costs to return the machine make it impractical. Caveat Emtor.

 

For More Information

The following transponder programmer, cloner and transponder key blank companies have been discussed in this article. Their web Sites are:

Advanced Diagnostics USA: www.mvptcodesupport.com

AE Tools & Computers: www.aetools.us

Edilock Ltd: www.vag-info.com

Jet Hardware: www.jetkeys.com

JMA USA: www.jmausa.com

Kaba Ilco Corp.: www.kaba-ilco.com

Keyless Ride: www.keylessride.com/locksmiths

Keyline USA: www.keyline-usa.com

STRATTEC: aftermarket.strattec.com

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