Automotive Tools: New Arrivals

May 3, 2021
Despite ongoing production issues, new products aimed at helping locksmiths have hit the shelves.
The AutoProPAD G2 by XToolsUSA
The AutoProPAD G2 by XToolsUSA

Manufacturing for the locksmith industry is a complicated animal. Unlike other disciplines, where technological advancements in hardware determine the success of a tool, locksmiths generally care more about how any tool will serve them, rather than its physical composition.

This might be an oversimplification, but when it comes to key programmers, there typically are two primary efforts involved. The first is to design hardware and create a software platform that will drive the data exchange between the machine and the vehicle. The second is to populate that hardware with the necessary information to communicate with the various years, makes and models of the world.

Manufacturing took a significant hit in 2020. Production lines that weren’t shuttered were forced to endure modifications that would encourage social distancing in scenarios that typically saw people working elbow to elbow. Outfitting factory workers in appropriate protective equipment also increased costs and potentially reduced the dexterity required to assemble small components, dramatically slowing production lines. Many of those obstacles gradually were overcome.

Unfortunately, no bandage could be slapped over the travel restrictions that defined 2020, and therein lies the problem. Have you ever considered how the various key programmers acquire the necessary information? The primary method is to reverse-engineer the data by physically connecting to a vehicle and documenting the conversation during the key-programming process.

Data engineers fly all around the world, documenting the various immobilizer datasets of all the years, makes and models they can get their hands on. If a particular system or vehicle is inaccessible, then the engineers must wait until the opportunity presents itself. Because of COVID-19, traditional collaborative efforts were limited to video conference calls, and the prevention of travel, specifically international travel, created a scenario of “hurry up and wait.”

Some of you might be staring at that XHorse Mini OBD Tool you were so excited about purchasing when it was announced in late 2019. If you make car keys in 2021 and you don’t own at least one of XHorse’s VVDI Key Tools, you’re doing something wrong. The Mini OBD Tool was made available for U.S. consumption in May 2020. I only can imagine that XHorse intended to push the hardware out while simultaneously populating it with the data necessary for security professionals to create keys. Because of the aforementioned problems, it didn’t work out that way.

Still, manufacturers continue to issue new products aimed at helping to make the job easier for the automotive locksmith. Here are a few that recently hit the shelves.

Xhorse Mini Prog

The VVDI Prog has been one of the most prolific EEPROM and chip reading and writing tools to date. If you do any EEPROM work, you undoubtedly have one in your arsenal. The original Prog was sort of a clunky mess of boards and wires that required computer connectivity to function. XHorse somehow managed to compress the entire functionality of the Prog down to the smallest, most convenient form factor possible — a wand. And, yes, this wand makes magic.

“If these tools get any smaller, I’ll be able to service BMW from the back of a Vespa.” Says Brandon Tucker of Expert Key Solutions in Warrior, Alabama.

The Mini Prog, aside from its modified form factor, marks the introduction of XHorse’s cloud-storage service. After a key-programming file has been extracted from a vehicle’s computer, the Mini Prog automatically uploads the file to the cloud (assuming you have an active Wi-Fi connection) where it then can be manipulated instantly through your computer by using XHorse’s proprietary software. 

XHorse also made available several optional solder-free adapters, which will give you the ability to tackle BMW Car Access and front electronic module systems, as well as servicing Porsche, Land Rover, Volvo, Honda and Kia vehicles.

Xhorse Key Tool Plus

XHorse recognized that the automotive locksmith was transitioning to tablet-based devices and decided that it was time to bring an all-in-one entry to market that could compete with the onboard-diagnostic (OBD) key-programming tablets that are becoming the norm. I imagine that when this machine is fleshed out, it will become a solid contender in the key-programming game. Unfortunately, it was met with a lukewarm reception upon release because of the perils of development during COVID.

The idea here was to create a tablet that would combine the functions of the Mini OBD Tool, VVDI2, VVDIMB, VVDI BIM and VVDI PROG, with room left to expand capabilities as necessary. It also includes the same functions as the VVDI Key Tool, such as remote generating, cloning and transponder detection, as well as programming functions for VW and Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz. You even can control the key-cutting functions of the XHorse Dolphin through the integrated app.

This is easily one of the best designed tablets we’ve handled, regardless of function. The craftsmanship is superb, and its core functions, particularly those of the Key Tool Plus, really shine on this enhanced platform. XHorse intends to populate the machine with immobilizer and OBD key-programming data for as many makes and models it can get its hands on as soon as international travel restrictions are lifted.

If you have the other EEPROM machines that comprise this tablet, you’re probably in no rush to pick this tablet up until some details can be ironed out. For example, there are several paid EEPROM functions on the device (for online EEPROM calculations), but there is no way to purchase the tokens required to access those servers. It seems like a simple enough thing to work out, but it hadn’t happened as of press time.

XToolUSA AutoProPAD G2, AutoProPAD G2 Turbo

The G2 series picks up exactly where the previous AutoProPAD left off, with solid hardware and user interface upgrades. The previous generation was built on architecture that was approaching nearly a decade in age. As newer immobilizer systems emerged that required features such as EEPROM, direct module flashing and online calculations, it was becoming painfully obvious that upgraded hardware was necessary.

Enter the AutoProPAD G2 and G2 Turbo, which boast larger batteries, more onboard data storage and memory, and a screaming-fast new processor, all packed inside a newly designed rugged aluminum body. These upgrades undoubtedly will allow the machine to grow with the ambitions of the manufacturer.

What are those ambitions exactly? The Turbo model features the KC501, an advanced EEPROM device that should make fast work of European makes and models that largely were inaccessible to the previous generation. The KC501 when used in tandem with the AutoProPAD G2 Turbo will provide locksmiths with access to the Mercedes third-generation immobilizer (add key and all keys lost), Mercedes FEM/BDC key learning, MQB key programming, BMW EWS2, EWS3 and EWS4 key programming and Land Rover 2015 and newer. It also will bypass the 16-minute wait for Toyota/Lexus/Scion, among other features.

The Turbo is for the discerning locksmith who isn’t afraid to tear apart vehicles to pull BIN files directly from vehicle computers and write them to the appropriate keys. The AutoProPAD G2 is the continuation of the AutoProPAD FULL line and contains decent enough EEPROM hardware for those who dabble in Toyota, Honda and Chrysler from the early 2000s and who understand that the PIN can’t be pulled by OBD on a 2005 Chrysler Pacifica. Otherwise, the OBD key-programming functions are exactly what one would expect from an AutoProPAD but in a completely upgraded package.

Original Lishi NSN14 Nissan vehicles, H50 & H51 Ford vehicles and more

If COVID-19 was responsible for stagnating tool development, the folks at Original Lishi didn’t get the memo. The tools listed here represent only a small portion of the development that Original Lishi was responsible for over the past year. Not listed are a host of other picks and decoders for motorcycles, scooters and trucks.

If you’re locksmithing in any capacity in 2021 and you don’t own a single Original Lishi tool, you might want to consider picking up a couple, grabbing some practice locks (old door locks and ignitions from a junkyard), throwing the locks in a vise and finding out what all the hype is all about. The fewer locks you have to drill out means faster turnaround times for lockouts and service calls.

Mo Ali is vice president of product development for American Key Supply and has more than 20 years of experience as an automotive electrician and a locksmith.