Best of 2019: Automotive

Dec. 2, 2019

Hard to believe, but another year is drawing to a close.  It’s been another year of vehicle manufacturers doing their best to make our lives harder and force vehicle owners to go back to the dealer for keys and fobs.  And, it’s been a year of contradictions. Some cars now use transponder keys that have a level of encryption that is higher than what the government requires for “Top Secret” data, while others offer phone apps to unlock and start the car that are easily hacked and offer virtually no security.  The pushbutton start craze continues, despite (or possibly because of) the ridiculous cost and delicate nature of the fobs.

Judging from the growing complexity of modern vehicles, you might think that the motto of the automotive industry is “Technology for the sake of Technology!”  But as they say, “a rising tide lifts all ships,” and the automotive security business is certainly riding the tide of the increasing costs for keys and fobs.  New programming devices seem to be sprouting like mushrooms after a summer rain.  And automotive locksmiths are earning more than they could have dreamed of just a few years ago.  Of course, their costs, in both equipment and education, are skyrocketing along with the cost of keys and fobs. 

Let’s look at a few new tools that caught my attention in the past year.  Some of these are not necessarily brand-new tools but are tools that have been around for a while but are finding increased usage on the newer vehicles.

The Smart Pro from Advanced Diagnostics 

I figured that I might as well start with the “elephant in the room.”  All other programmers get compared to the Smart Pro (Photo 1) at one point or another.  As the successor to the T-Code Pro and the MVP Pro, the Smart Pro had quite a reputation to live up to right out of the starting gate.  Many satisfied users of the T-Code Pro and MVP Pro out there that were happy with their tools, and really didn’t want to change to a new tool unless it was a LOT better than what they were currently using.  Knowing that, AD pulled out all the stops to give the Smart Pro all the features that the earlier tools lacked.  Below is a short list of new features:

  • Built-In Wi-Fi
  • Built-In Bluetooth Connectivity
  • Built-In manual and automotive database (AD iQ)
  • Built-In accessory port for “Smart Aerial” and future devices
  • More Intuitive Menus
  • “Hybrid Operating System” that allows “Token-Free” use for selected systems
  • Elimination of the much-maligned Smart Dongle as well as the standard dongles

Naturally, when the device first went on sale, a few “bugs” that needed to be worked out.  The one that most early adopters complained about was the Wi-Fi.  It took a while to fix that issue, but now those problems are a thing of the past.  Many T-Code Pro and MVP Pro users traded in their old units right away, while others waited for the inevitable de-bugging to be taken care of.  Overall, most of the locksmiths that I have talked with are now happy with the new tool, and some even rave about it.

Development of software and optional accessories continues, and the Smart Pro had the first solution to the “new cable” situation required for the new Chrysler vehicles, (more on this later) as well as the first software for programming the new Pacifica and other vehicles.  Aggressive new marketing strategies, include a multi-tier payment plan that contains several options for “Unlimited Tokens.” The Smart Pro currently covers more than 5000 vehicles and the list is growing steadily.  To learn more about the Smart Pro, contact your dealer or go to:

Chrysler/Fiat Cable Solutions

When Fiat took over Chrysler several years ago, they started doing things here the same way that they do things in Europe and other countries.  In many other countries it’s perfectly legal to force car owners to bring their vehicles back to the dealer for certain types of services, such as keys and key fobs. Things like PIN numbers are proprietary information, and the manufacturers are not required to make things like that available outside the dealership.   This attitude sort of flies in the face of the “Automobile Owners Right to Repair Act” that governs this kind of stuff in the U.S.  FCA (Fiat Chrysler America) does grudging comply with NASTAF, but they seem to go out of their way to make it difficult even there.

That is the reason that Chrysler PIN codes have become so hard to get.  And that is also why most of the newer programmers now “pull” the PIN code directly from the car.  (I’m sure that this really irritates some of the FCA executives, but I don’t expect to lose a minute of sleep over it.)  In what may have been another attempt to force owners back to the dealerships, a new programming cable and system was introduced on the 2018 Chrysler products.  To deal with this, AD and several other manufacturers have introduced a new Chrysler cable.

Interestingly, these new cables do not all work the same way, and most will only work on the machines that they are designed for.  There seem to be two ways to build these cables.  Some cables have two sockets, one 8-pin socket and one 12-pin socket, that connect to the two plugs that go into the new “Secure Gateway.”  (The Secure Gateway is located in various places on different vehicles.)  In use, the two plugs are removed from the Secure Gateway (Photo 2) and then plugged into the new programming cable.  (Photo 3) Once connected, the machine software takes care of the rest.  The second type uses a standard OBD-2 plug, plus two probes.  (Photo 4) The two probes are plugged into the “CAN-HI” and the “CAN-LO” wires on the “Star Module” (Photo 5).

Regardless of which programmer you use, you will need an appropriate cable and the correct software for Chrysler vehicles made from 2018 and up.  Check with your distributor for more information.

GM Ignition Removal Tools from Accu Reader

The first of these tools hit the market several years ago, but since then, three more similar tools have been introduced.  You can now purchase all four tools in a package deal from most distributors.  (Photo 6) These little tools may look simple and I know that some of you are thinking, “I can make those myself and save a bunch of money.”  I can tell you from experience that isn’t the case.  Take my word for it and just buy the set and go out and make money with them.

The first time I needed these tools was a couple of years ago when I needed to make keys to a wrecked Chevrolet Cruze for one of my regular customers.  Up until then, I used my HU100 Lishi tool to decode the door lock and make a key.  I could normally have a working key for a GM vehicle using the 8-cut HU-100 system in under half an hour without turning the first screw.  And that was exactly what I did on this Cruze.  I decoded the door lock and made a key that worked flawlessly in the door but wouldn’t budge the ignition.  I decided that the ignition lock had been rekeyed or changed and didn’t have any luck at all with the Lishi in the ignition.   I knew that these tools were out there, so I looked up photos of the tool that I needed and tried to make one from the picture.  After all, I used to make my living designing bent wire tools, and I had some neat bending tools, so how hard could this be?   A couple of hours and a lot of cursing later, I finally got my piece of bent wire to work.  The next day, I ordered the set and they have paid for themselves many times over.  (I realized while putting this article together that a 4th tool has been added since I bought my kit; it’s already on order.)

Last month, I had to make keys to three different 2019 GM trucks and I did all three with the IRT Version 2 tool.  (The green tool, Photo 7)  The first time you use one of these tools it will take you a while to get the hang of it, but with a little practice, you can pop out a high-security GM ignition in just a few minutes.  My advice is to keep the instructions in a safe place and read them carefully as you use the tool. 

There are three tricks that I have learned that really help me.  First, when you are trying to depress the retainer with the tool, press in on the lock plug to take the pressure off the retainer.  Normally the plug will pop out easily when you release the pressure on the plug.  The second trick is when you’re using the green tool, remember that the retainer will fly out of the plug when you pull the plug out of the lock.  Wrap a shop cloth around the plug as you pull it out to trap the retainer and spring when you pull the plug out; this is much easier than searching for the retainer and spring on the floor of the car.  The third trick is also when using the green tool.  When you reassemble the lock plug, make sure that the small pin at the bottom of the retainer cavity goes into the center of the retainer spring.  If you don’t have the spring centered, the retainer will not go down far enough for you to get the tailpiece back on the plug.  (The key code is stamped on the tailpiece.)

For more information on the Accu Reader GM Ignition Removal Tools, contact your distributor or go to:

AutoProPad from XTool

XTool has been around for quite a while making diagnostic tools for mechanics.  Their line of AutoProPads designed for locksmiths is relatively new but backed by years of experience in other aspects of modern automotive computer systems.  The first thing that caught my attention about these tools was a video showing how the tool could be used to electronically unlock the trunk on late model Mercedes vehicles.  Although I haven’t used this feature yet, I look forward to trying it out soon.

What prompted me to buy my AutoProPad (Photo 8) was a series of repossessed Ford Fusions that I did for a chain of “buy here / pay here” dealerships that I do work for.  If you have not dealt with a late model Fusion with the alarm active, you are in for a treat.  To make a long story short, the best way that I had to turn off the alarm was to lie on my back, with my feet on the headrest and my head under the dash with a flashlight in my mouth, while using a mirror to read the door-pad code (backwards) off of the back side of the “Smart Interface.”  Not only was this hot and uncomfortable in August in Florida, but it was positively undignified and painful for a 67-year-old man!

And then along came a Fusion that was not equipped with the keypad on the door.  I had another tool that was supposed to turn off the alarm, but I had tried it numerous times before and could never get the procedure to work.  In desperation, I called a bunch of tech-support phone numbers and eventually ordered an AutoProPad (Full Version) on Friday and had it shipped for delivery on Monday.  Monday afternoon, I returned to the car and had a working key in short order.  Since then, I have used it for several other vehicles including VW, Chrysler, Nissan, and GM.  I am currently on the low end of the learning curve with the tool and have not really explored the other features of the tool, but so far, I am impressed.

The AutoProPad is currently available in three versions; the “Basic Version,” the “Lite-Version” and the “Full-Version.”  All three tools use the same basic machine and software.  The differences between the versions are the accessories and optional components that are included.  My “Full Version” AutoProPad included accessories for:

  • Basic EEPROM work such as reflashing and reading Toyota/Lexus and Honda/Acura modules
  • Pre-cloning equipment for systems like VW/Audi/Porsche and BMW
  • PIN-Code reading equipment for early Chrysler vehicles, VW and others
  • Additional cables including the old Nissan cable and others
  • A “Break-Out” box
  • A well designed and versatile hard case
  • One Year of FREE updates and tech support

The AutoProPad does not use or require “Tokens” and after the first year of updates, you can purchase additional yearly service plans for a price that I consider quite reasonable.  (Currently around $600 / year.)  For more information on the AutoProPad, contact your distributor or go to: