Transponders: Applications, Programming, Cloning and Retrofit

Sept. 5, 2012
Locksmiths can provide a range of automotive services, from lock repair and on-board programming to cloning and transponder key device programming.

The transponder based anti-theft (engine immobilizer) system was introduced into the North American market for the 1996 model year. Today in 2012, two manufacturers supply the majority of transponder technology for the North American market: Texas Instruments and Phillips.  Texas Instruments fixed and encrypted transponders are used by Ford products, Toyota, Chrysler products and other vehicle manufacturers.  The Philips Crypto second-generation encrypted transponder was introduced to North America with the 2003 Honda Accord and has expanded to General Motors products, Chrysler products, Nissan and Infiniti, and other vehicle manufacturers. In addition to Philips and Texas Instruments, North American vehicle manufacturers have used Megamos, Motorola, Temic and others.

With the transponder choices, vehicle manufacturers can change technology as often as they want. There is no requirement for a particular vehicle to have only one transponder make and model for more than a model year.

Three Timelines

To illustrate the evolution of transponder technology, we have created a timeline of three vehicle models, a Chrysler, General Motors and Ford. Each vehicle was chosen for the range of transponders implemented over the years. They are good examples of why locksmith who service vehicles must have an understanding of transponder technology.

Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was introduced for the 1992 model year and is still in production. The Grand Cherokee started with a non-transponder key, then used the Texas Instruments Encrypted transponder, Philips Crypto 2nd Generation transponder, began using a remote head key, onto the FOBIK and the FOBIK with passive start/push button start models. The Ford Escape was introduced for the 2001 model year with the Motorola transponder, onto the Texas Instruments Encrypted 40 Bit transponder, to the IKT, then the IKT 80 Bit, then the high security key blade and finally the PEPS (Passive Entry Passive Start) key fob. The Cadillac CTS began with the PK3+ transponder, went to the circle + and finally the Prox Fob/push button start models.

To follow each manufacturer vehicle, we are using only factory logo key blank numbers in all but two applications where they are no longer available from STRATTEC. The two exceptions are the 2001-2004 Ford Escape key that uses the transponder chip (SFI) and the 75 groove Ford key blade. The key blank is no longer available through distribution with the Ford logo. The second exception is the1992 Jeep Grand Cherokee. This Grand Cherokee uses a non-transponder 84 groove key blank that is not available with the logo from STRATTEC. However, the key blank is available from HATA. The remaining key blanks are the vehicle manufacturer logo key blanks. See Chart 1, Three Timelines.

There are a number of remote head key choices for the Ford Escape and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The number and functions of the buttons determines the remote head, FOBIK and IKT key blank part number. In order to simplify the chart, I decided to include just one part number per the operational years. The key blank part numbers I chose for the different models and years were arbitrary. When ordering a remote head, IKT or FOBIK key, make sure the part number matches the model, year and functionalities of the vehicle.  

Important: At this time, there are no remote head, IKT remote head or FOBIK remote head key blanks/fobs available with clonable transponder chips.


To simplify matters, I will group transponders, circuit board keys and electronic keys as providing very similar functionality. They all "transmit and respond." For the purpose of this article, there are two types of transponders: those with a value that cannot be modified and those whose value can be modified.

Transponder-equipped keys are available in different configurations. The original equipment transponder-equipped keys have the transponder molded into the head of the key. The transponder is not "glued" to the molded head and can be removed. Depending upon the vehicle manufacturer and the design of the key blank, the transponder can be located in different positions: in the center or offset. See photos 2 and 20.

Aftermarket transponder-equipped key blanks are available in different configurations; they can be just like the O.E.M. transponder-equipped keys or have removable transponders or have a two-piece key.

Programmable and Clonable

Programming and cloning are the two methods of creating additional transponder-equipped keys. Programming occurs at the vehicle. Cloning occurs at the transponder-equipped key or fob. When programming, the vehicle’s on-board computer records the transponder’s value. Programming can be accomplished using a programming device or for some models, on-board programming can be used. For most of the newer models, on-board programming can be used if two already programmed transponder keys are available. Multi-vehicle programmer devices are available from Advanced Diagnostics, Kaba Ilco and Keyless Ride and other companies. The products include the Advanced Diagnostics T-Code Pro and MVP Pro, the Kaba Ilco TKO, the Keyless Ride Hotwire and Zed-BULL* programmers. In addition, manufacturer-specific programmers are available.

Once programmed, the transponder-equipped key/fob when in proximity to the ignition system antenna is read and compared to the values recorded in the on-board computer database. If the signal is comparable, the starter will engage, the engine will start and continue to operate.

Multi-vehicle programming devices are catching up to the newer vehicles. New software is being made available for vehicles including the Acura Prox, Chrysler Prox, Fiat 500, Smart Car and Toyota Prius. In addition, Advanced Diagnostics and other companies are introducing Vehicle Identification Number to key code and pin code calculator software. This type of software provides information necessary for programming Nissan vehicles requiring BCM conversions.

Programming is no longer limited to the key or fob. Many vehicle remotes can be programmed using multi-vehicle programmers. The Keyless Ride K2 Forge Universal Keyless Entry Remotes. These rolling code technology remotes are compatible with many North American vehicle entry remotes. K2 Forge remotes are non-vehicle or manufacturer specific. The K2 Forge vehicle entry remote can be programmed to any of the compatible vehicles. K2 Forge eliminates the need to have an inventory of remote models. Choose the number of buttons and program the correct operating system onto the K2 Forge remote. Then the remote is programmed to the vehicle. Most automotive keyless entry remotes are either OBP (On-Board Programmed) or require a programming device (scan tool) to program them to a vehicle.

New cloning machines are available from Jet Hardware and JMA in addition to the cloning equipment from Advanced Diagnostics, Bianchi, Kaba Ilco, Keyless Ride and other companies. These include Advanced Diagnostics AD900, Bianchi 884 Decryptor Ultegra, Jet Hardware iClone, JMA TRS-5000 Evo, Kaba Ilco RW4 Plus and the Keyless Ride Zed-BULL* cloning devices.

The Jet Hardware iClone can clone clonable transponder chips, ampoules and many electronic keys. According to JMA, "the new TRS-5000 Evo can read most electronic keys and clonable transponders, cloning them onto JMA's proprietary TPX1, TPX2, TPX3 and TPX4 glass tag transponders."

When cloning, the transponder value is read and written onto the clonable transponder. Depending upon the transponder, information may be required from the vehicle’s on-board computer. The Philips Crypto transponder uses "challenge and response" functionality. When cloning the Philips Crypto transponder, access to the vehicle is required, as the necessary information is not contained just in the transponder.

Once all of the information has been gained and recorded onto the transponder chip, the new transponder-equipped key or fob can be used to operate the vehicle. Note: When reading a transponder or electronic key, if the value cannot be read with the key blade inserted into the cloning device, try repositioning the head, either on its side or upside down.

Transponder key cloning has made a major leap with Bianchi introducing clonables for BMW and Volvo models. With the introduction of clonable keys for these vehicles, a previously untouchable market has become available for locksmiths. According to some reliable sources, this is only the beginning.

The most important difference between cloning and programming is that a limited number of programmable transponder-equipped keys/fobs can be recorded into the vehicle's on-board computer. In contrastm an unlimited number of cloned transponder-equipped keys/fobs can be created. As each cloned value is read and accepted like the original programmed transponder.

Most ampoule and chip transponders are molded into the head of the key blank. The plastic encapsulates the transponder protecting it from the elements. The position of the transponder within the head varies depending upon manufacturers, models and years.

Important: Do not mistake a clonable transponder key for a programmable transponder key. A clonable transponder normally does not have a preset value. Programming this transponder will result in a problem, as the on-board computer cannot recognize it.

Some of the clonable and multi-vehicle programming devices can be upgraded to the manufacturer's most up to date models. For more information, contact the device manufacturer.

A cloning machine can do more than just clone. A cloning machine can be used to identify a customer’s transponder-equipped key to know beyond a doubt the proper transponder for the customer's vehicle. Insert the customers' key and press the button to read the transponder. Most cloners will indicate they type of transponder. Some will indicate the readable value.

Chipless Transponder Key Blanks

The concept of chipless transponder key blanks offers locksmiths the ability to continue to use a customer’s transponder in a new key blank or blade. Retrofitting the damaged, worn or mis-cut keys' transponder eliminates the need to either program or clone a new transponder. Chipless transponder keys can save customers’ money.

There are two styles of chipless keys. The first, similar to the original bow-shaped key blank, has a slot that accommodates the transponder within a cradle. The cradle is normally loaded from the top and having a poke hole in the bottom of the head to push out the cradle. This style is available from Bianchi, Jet Hardware and JMA. Bianchi calls this the Slide-Cap Type or the Shell Type. Jet Hardware offers their chipless keys with the suffix -LC. Many of the JMA automotive and motorcycle key blanks are available chipless.

JMA offers the option of ordering a chipless key blank with a transponder of choice. As an example, before aftermarket key blanks were introduced, you could use the Lexus long blade key blank with a JMA TPX2 Texas Instruments Encrypted clonable chip for the first version of the Kia Amanti. This configuration allowed locksmiths to clone a customer’s key, eliminating the necessity of purchasing the key from a dealership.

The second style is a removable transponder carrier that slides into an electronic key head. Transponder heads with carriers or carriers are available from Bianchi, Ilco and Jet Hardware. The Bianchi TKXX chipless head is the head and insert that contains four transponder slots in specific locations. The head is similar to the TK100 and works with the Bianchi horseshoe blades. The Ilco Electronic Chipless Head and carrier, part number EH3C, has the same overall shape as their Texas Instruments and Philips 2nd generation Crypto Electronic Heads. The carrier has four pockets that accommodate different shape transponders in specific locations. The carrier slides into the Electronic Chipless Head and then attached to the modular key blade. Jet Hardware offers the ETH head with removable transponder drawer to be used with their 2-piece keys. The drawer has different size pockets that accommodate different types of transponders in specific locations. The ETH head is the same basic shape as the Jet Hardware SCH heads.

Important: Always cut and test the mechanical operation of the blade before assembling.

Automotive work is changing rapidly, enabling locksmiths to participate in a number of different areas. Locksmiths can provide a range of automotive services from lock repair and on-board programming to cloning and transponder key device programming.

For more information, contact your local locksmith distributor or the following manufacturers:

Advanced Diagnostics:

Bianchi USA, Inc.:

HATA Inc.:

Jet Hardware Manufacturing Corp.:


Kaba Ilco Corp:

Keyless Ride:

STRATTEC Security Corp.: