Best of 2020: Automotive

Dec. 2, 2020
Transponders, software and cables helped to make a locksmith’s job easier.

I always heard that the phrase “may you live in interesting times” originated as a Chinese curse. However, that appears to be untrue.

Regardless of the origin of the phrase, I doubt whether any of us would deny that we, indeed, live in interesting times, and if it isn’t a curse, it’s pretty darn close. A lot of us would have loved to have just skipped over 2020 entirely. 

As bad as 2020 has been for many of us, it brought locksmiths yet another batch of new tools and software, proving once again that our industry isn’t dead yet.

Here are a few new tools that caught our attention in the past year. Some of these aren’t new but are tools that found increased use on the newer vehicles.

The Smart Pro from Advanced Diagnostics / Kaba Ilco

Even though the Smart Pro has been out for well over a year, it’s the programmer that all other programmers are compared to, and software released in 2020 made it even better.

The Smart Pro replaced the T-Code Pro and the MVP Pro, and the expectations for the Smart Pro were high from the beginning. A lot of satisfied users of the T-Code Pro and MVP Pro didn’t want to change, but because there would be no more updates for their existing tools, they didn’t have much choice.

Advanced Diagnostics USA (AD) did the best that it could to give the Smart Pro all the features that the earlier tools lacked and locksmiths had sought. Some of the new features include:

  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Built-in Bluetooth connectivity
  • Built-in operator’s manual and automotive database (AD iQ)
  • Built-in accessory port for future devices and support for pre-existing devices, such as the Smart Aerial
  • Easier to understand operations and menus
  • Alternatives to “tokens”
  • Elimination of dongles, particularly the much maligned Smart Dongle

The Smart Pro got off to a rocky start. Many T-Code Pro and MVP Pro users traded in their old units right away, while seasoned users waited for the debugging process to be more or less complete. Probably the biggest early complaint was that the Wi-Fi system simply didn’t work. It took a while to fix that issue, but thankfully that problem is a thing of the past.

Today, most automotive locksmiths have come to grips with the new tool, and some even rave about it. Sure, there still are those who hate it, too, but there seem to be fewer of those every day.

On a side note, I discovered the hard way that most of the newer machines, including the Smart Pro, simply don’t do a good job on older vehicles, particularly “oddball” vehicles.

There’s no reason why they should. We don’t buy new tools to work on old vehicles; we buy new tools to work on new vehicles. Having learned that important lesson, I now keep my older machines rather than trade them in or sell them for a fraction of what I paid for them to use on older vehicles. (There still are days when I deeply regret selling my old NGS tool!)

During 2019 and 2020, the development of software and optional accessories continued, and the Smart Pro started chalking up a number of industry “firsts.”

Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) unwittingly had a lot to do with the success of the Smart Pro. FCA has done more than any other car manufacturer to make 2020 “interesting” for locksmiths. It began by cutting off access to the SKIM Codes (sometimes called PIN Codes or Immobilizer Codes) to force owners to take their vehicles to the dealer for new keys, remotes and fobs. Then, FCA started to add proprietary programming ports and hiding them in different places in the vehicle to make it even more difficult for anyone outside the dealership to add keys, remotes or fobs, despite the Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act of 2011.

AD seems to have taken the actions of FCA as a personal challenge rather than as an obstacle. Smart Pro software now will pull, or totally bypass, the SKIM Code on almost every FCA vehicle, without the use of third-party providers, such as the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). (The exceptions are Chrysler, Plymouth and Jeep vehicles from the 1990s and early 2000s.)

Two cables to deal with the proprietary ports (more on this later) were another solution. Then, software was introduced to deal with every new roadblock that FCA came up with. Some of the first software solutions relied on NASTF, which required automotive locksmiths to become members and spend additional money. But early in 2020, AD announced software that made the Smart Pro a stand-alone solution, and membership in NASTF no longer was required for any Smart Pro functions.

Software for the Smart Pro introduced in 2020 covers a lot of vehicles. Here is a partial list:

ADS2321 – Programs proximity keys for 2020 Hyundai and Kia vehicles. In most cases, the software pulls the PIN directly from the vehicle, which makes third-party support unnecessary.

ADS2296 – Programs bladed and proximity keys for most new Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Supports adding keys, all keys lost and immobilizer resets.

ADS2295 – Programs Dodge Promaster, Jeep Renegade, Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Giulia, and Fiat 500X vehicles. Supports adding keys and all keys lost. (Requires the ADC242 Smart Aerial.)

ADS2297 – Programs New Nissan proximity keys without requiring third-party support. All PIN Codes are bypassed directly by the Smart Pro without requiring NASTF. Supports adding keys as well as all keys lost.

ADS2281 – Programs bladed keys and remotes for the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. PIN Codes are bypassed automatically, and no third-party support is required. Supports adding keys as well as all keys lost.

ADS2290 – Programs bladed and proximity keys for several GM vehicles. The PIN Code is read and processed automatically by the software; no internet connection or NASTF membership is required.

Also in 2020, AD introduced several marketing strategies that make the ownership of the Smart Pro easier and more affordable and offered several new programs to reduce or eliminate the cost of “tokens.” The Smart Pro covers more than 5,000 vehicles, and the list is growing steadily. 

To learn more about the Smart Pro, contact your dealer or go to:

FCA Cable Solutions

When Fiat took over Chrysler and it became FCA, it started doing things in the United States the same way that it does things in other countries. In many other countries, it’s perfectly legal to force car owners to bring their vehicles to the dealer for certain types of services, such as keys and key fobs. PINs are proprietary information, and manufacturers aren’t required to make things like that available outside the dealership.

This attitude flies in the face of Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act of 2011, which ensures that vehicle owners have a choice in where they have their vehicles serviced. FCA grudgingly complies with the law, but it goes out of its way to make it difficult or expensive. To deal with this, AD and other manufacturers introduced special Chrysler cables.

Interestingly, these cables don’t work the same way, and some work only on the programming machines that they’re designed for. Some cables have two sockets, one eight-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.) During use, the two plugs are removed from the Secure Gateway and then plugged into the new programming cable. After everything is connected, the machine software takes care of the rest.

The second cable type uses a standard OBD-II plug, plus the proprietary Star Module plug or two probes that can be inserted into the wiring or the Star Module itself. When using a cable that’s equipped with two probes, one probe is connected to the CAN-HI and the other to the CAN-LO connections on the Star Module.

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

TDB084 Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep Gateway Cable from The Diagnostic Box

Recently, the folks at the Diagnostic Box introduced a cable solution for FCA vehicles that’s as close to universal as I have seen. This cable incorporates the eight-pin and 12-pin plugs and new proprietary CAN-HI/CAN-LO plug into a single cable. This eliminates the necessity to use probes on the Star Module. In addition to having all the connectors on one cable, the TDB084 cable also uses a coiled cord that’s long enough to reach even the most remote Star Module, such as the one used in some Chrysler 300 vehicles that’s located in the trunk!

The TDB084 not only works on the programmers from the Diagnostic Box, but also on any other programmer that has the appropriate software. This is accomplished by using an OBD-II plug on the cable that plugs directly into the OBD-II plug on your programmer. 

For more information on the TDB084 and other Diagnostic Box products, contact your distributor or go to:

AutoProPad from XTool

The new line of AutoProPads designed for locksmiths is backed by years of experience in other aspects of modern automotive computer systems. The thing that caught my attention about these tools was a video showing how the tool could be used to unlock the trunk electronically on certain late-model Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

The first time I used this feature, I fell in love with it. I was the third locksmith called to unlock a particular vehicle. Before I got in the truck, I reviewed the procedure, and because the AutoProPad has a built-in battery, I had the tool in the correct mode for the vehicle that I planned to unlock before I got to the job. After I was there, all I had to do was plug the tool into the OBD-II port (the car had been unlocked by one of the previous locksmiths) and push the button. The sound of the trunk popping open was music to my ears! The customer was as amazed as I was, and he wanted to know why the other two guys didn’t do that.

Note: The Mercedes trunk feature doesn’t work on all Mercedes vehicles, so check the application list before you quote a price.

What prompted me to buy my AutoProPad was a series of repossessed Ford Fusions that I did for a chain of buy-here/pay-there dealerships. If you haven’t dealt with a late-model Fusion that has the alarm active, you’re in for a treat. To make a long story short, the best way to turn off the alarm was for me 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 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 68-year-old man!

And then along came a Fusion that wasn’t equipped with a keypad on the door. I had another tool that was supposed to turn off the alarm, but I tried it numerous times before and never could 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.

Now I use the AutoProPad more than any other programmer in my truck. I routinely perform jobs that I used to turn down on Honda, Ford and Chrysler vehicles that have had modules swapped out. This is because of the dealer-lever diagnostic software and tools that the AutoProPad provides.

The AutoProPad is available in three versions: Basic, Lite and Full. All three tools use the same basic machine and software. The differences 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
  • Precloning equipment for systems such as Volkswagen/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 doesn’t use or require “tokens,” and after the first year of updates, you can purchase additional yearly service plans for a price that I consider to be reasonable.

For more information on the AutoProPad, contact your distributor or go to:

Steve Young has been a locksmith since 1973 and has trained and taught locksmiths since 1988. He is a frequent contributor to Locksmith Ledger.