Keys To The Future

Add keys to the list of new niche markets that computers have created. And like with all such niches, some have rushed to greet it and others ignore it outright.

Leroy Trujillo is one of those greeters. He's the manager of Territorial Key Lock & Safe, Inc., and he estimated that about 15 percent of the keys he creates these days have some type of technology in them.

He said most advanced keys use transponders, a type of device that sends a radio signal that activates a vehicle. Naturally, this type of technology is pricey. For instance, the cost of duplicating a normal key runs about $4.50, but it costs $55 to duplicate a transponder key.

"But you're buying security," he said. "Not just the key."

He's referring to the fact that transponders can prevent a thief from hot-wiring a car, and he also pointed out he can duplicate a key for less than the dealer. Part of those savings comes from free programming, a perk he said most dealers do not provide.

He also noted that Territorial can purchase its transponder keys in bulk, thanks to the buying power of its affiliate company, Heights Key Lock & Safe Inc. in Albuquerque.

He said that he also relies on third parties to provide the technology needed for such services. For example, he uses a program called Keyless Ride to re-create the correct signal in transponder keys. The program uses a simple graphical interface that only asks the user to enter the car's make, model and year, and Trujillo said it requires little training to use.

Reprogramming also requires a computer and a cable to link to a car's electrical system. Naturally, Trujillo must also find the correct blank key and then cut it to match the car's physical locks.

Trujillo did say his shop can duplicate the majority of keys and even most remotes, but higher end models, such as Mercedes vehicles, require a trip to the dealer. He also said he places custom parts orders, but that does mean a two-day waiting period.

Trujillo said that thus far, adding transponder keys to his catalog has been worthwhile, but that's a sentiment not shared by all locksmiths in the city. Just consider Ron Bybee of Santa Fe Lock and Key.

Bybee said he has about 45 years of locksmithing experience, and he has no interest in the transponder market.

"I don't care," he said. "I refer them to someone who can do it."

Bybee did say he was limited by a lack of employees. Anything he does, he said, he has to do himself. Thus, taking the time to buy the computer equipment and then learn the technology just won't work for him, even if it means losing the ever-growing amount of would-be customers calling about transponder keys.

"The only ones who really make money are the computer tech guys," he said.

He also said he was skeptical of the security benefits of the transponder keys, and added that would-be burglars can tow a car or just cut out the catalytic converter, and that a special key wouldn't stop them.

Additionally, Trujillo said that hypothetically, someone with the right software and tools could reprogram a key without a locksmith, but he said he hadn't yet heard of that happening.

And even with all the technological innovation, Trujillo said mechanical locks will never disappear completely. He said that all the digital door locks he sells also come with a slot for a mechanical key to address problems such as a power outage.

"There will always be a need for mechanical keys," he said.

AB 1 Locksmith also provides transponder services.

Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com.

Copyright 2012 - The Santa Fe New Mexican

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