We’re experienced car locksmiths. Art’s Automotive can handle any automotive lock, key, or immobilizer problem for far less money than a dealership, at least for the makes we repair here. Several times per day someone will assume we can’t take care of a lock or key problem because another shop or a locksmith said it’s something only a dealership can handle. Art’s Automotive is licensed and bonded, like all legitimate locksmiths. The difference between us and some of the others is that we own factory scan tools for every make we repair. This us allows us to work with new systems long before the aftermarket comes up with a solution.


There are lots of places that can copy a key. Since all modern cars have a coded transponder chip with a number that the car can read when the key is inserted into the ignition lock, there are two steps to copying a key: first we cut the key so it can turn the lock, and then we convince the car’s computers that the key is legit.

Chip keys and RFID key IDs

Each key has a unique RFID number, and after the key is cut to match the ignition lock, it’s “registered” in the car’s immobilizer computer so the car recognizes the key and allows the engine to start. Another way to handle this is to “clone” the key’s RFID chip. In other words, as far as the car’s immobilizer computer is concerned, the new copy is now the same as a key it replaced because they both have identical numbers. Most hardware stores will clone a key, none as far as I know can register a key, but many locksmith do both cloning and registration.

A key cloning tool


Cloning chip keys

Cloning has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s primary advantage is that it’s cheaper than key registration is most cases. Another is that the car doesn’t need to be present to copy the key. Finally, it’s a work-around when the key registration limit is reached. There’s almost always a maximum number of keys that can be registered and if we clone a key it won’t count towards the number of registered keys. A downside is that if the key being made is replacing a lost key, the lost key will still start the car, and if the wrong person finds it it could be bad.

Why not a hardware store or local car locksmith?

Why should you choose Art’s instead of a hardware store or car locksmith? For cloning we’re about the same as everyone else. Our prices are in line with other sources. Depending on the key, we might be a little less or a little more than any given competitor. However, not all keys can be cloned, so depending on what you’re driving, cloning may not be an option. Also, if you have a missing key, we can delete the key so nobody can steal your car with it. If cloning isn’t a good option, don’t worry. We have all of the factory scan tools, so no matter what, we’ll be able to get the job done.


There are a lot of different lock and key designs out there. I’ll be covering only the general categories of keys for cars we repair.

Non-chip keys

  • Non-RFID standard keys: These keys are cut on the outer edge and can be all metal or have a plastic head. These are very easy to copy with relatively inexpensive equipment so there are many places that can handle them. We probably won’t have the best prices on these, but may offer convenience. Also, we can copy worn keys without duplicating the wear, making the copy like a new key.
  • Non-RFID laser keys: Pretty much all cars that use “high security” laser keys also have an RFID chip. However, there are “test” key blanks available to test a code cut and inserts for smart keys that don’t have chips.

Chip keys

  • RFID standard keys: These keys will always have a plastic head and the transponder chip must be registered in the car’s immobilizer ECU.
  • Clone standard keys: These keys will have a plastic head with an RFID chip, but unlike regular RFID chip, these chips are writable, so the transponder code can be copied from an existing registered key and written to the new clone key.
  • Laser RFID keys: These are just like standard RFID keys except the keyway/warding is different. Standard automotive wafer locks usually have 6 wafers that are set in two directions, up and down. High security locks use split wafers that double the number of wafers for any given key length. This makes the lock more difficult to pick.

Remote head keys

  • Standard RFID remote head keys: Just like standard RFID keys, but with a keyless entry remote built into the head. We may or may not be able to use a clone chip depending on the application.
  • Laser RFID remote head keys: Just like a laser RFID key, but with a keyless entry remote built into the head. We may or may not be able to use a clone chip depending on the application.

Test keys

  • Test key: These keys can be used to verify a code cut on something other than a special $200 key, or they can be used for opening the doors and trunk only.

Key fob inserts

  • Key insert: These are emergency keys for smart keys. If the smart key battery or 12V battery goes dead, the insert can be used to get into the car.  Inserts may be standard or laser. Some inserts have an RFID chip. Others put the chip in the smart key body.

Broken Honda Key HEADS

Honda key heads frequently snap off or come apart. If this happens you probably won’t need to buy a new key. We can remove the electronics from your broken key and install them in a new key shell. We’ll need to cut the key to work with your car, but none of the reprogramming is necessary. Lower labor and a cheaper product make this an attractive option.

Another advantage to key shells is that there are aftermarket shells available that are MUCH stronger than the original. Durashell is one of the best we’ve seen, and so far, we’ve never seen one break a second time.

Lots of remote head keys and "unbreakable" replacement shells


Do you have any worn, twisted, or cracked keys? A worn or poorly copied key can wear the locks with continued use. Locks are more expensive than keys, so getting a new key will save money in the long run. It also may save you from breaking a blade off in the lock cylinder.

So how do you get a good copy of a worn key? If a worn key is copied with a regular key duplicator, the wear will be copied onto the new key. There are a couple ways to deal with this.

A new key and a badly worn key
The worn key is a bad copy of the original. Using it to open and start the car has resulted in a twisted and cracked blade, as well as putting extra wear on the lock cylinders.


One possibility is to manually measure the bitting with a caliper, and then cut a key using the known depths for the manufacturer. In general, the measured depths will be smaller than the original, since metal wears away as the key is used. However, if dealing with a bad copy that was poorly clamped when it was made, the key may actually be thicker than it should be. Basically, a human will need to make some guesses and engage in a little trial and error. Our key machine automates this process, using a stylus to measure the key and software to correct for wear. It also allows for manual entry for the cuts if the software doesn’t get it right.


Another way to deal with a worn key is to cut it from indirect code. We enter the VIN number into the manufacturer’s database, retrieve the indirect code, enter it into our little CNC machine. The key machine then uses the indirect code to find the direct bitting code. After the key is cut, we test to make sure it works well. Provided the locks haven’t been changed since the car was manufactured, the key will work.

SMART KEYS / Key fobs

We call them Smart Keys, since the Toyota Prius was the first car we repair that had the system. However, there are at least a couple other popular names. Nissan and Infiniti call them Intelligent Keys. Most locksmiths refer to them as proximity keys. Regardless of the name, a Smart Key allows the driver to unlock and open the door and start the car without removing the key from his pocket. They use both a battery powered transmitter for normal operation and a traditional passive RFID chip in case there’s a problem with the system. We can fix ANY problem with your Smart Key system. It doesn’t matter if other shops have tried and failed. Smart Keys are our specialty; we’ll be able to get it working again.

Smart keys sitting on a counter


If you have a 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, or 2009 Prius Smart Key with damaged lock and unlock buttons, we have replacement cases available. The Smart Key isn’t designed to come apart, but we can break the old shell and then install the guts into a new shell made by an aftermarket company.

We also have several other styles of smart key cases in stock. Give us a call at 510-540-7093 to check inventory before coming down.

A Prius smart key case split open


Ignition lock cylinders and door lock cylinders sometimes get stuck and won’t turn. Sometimes it’s because someone tried to break in and sometimes the cylinder just wears out. This is especially common on the Honda Accord, Civic, Fit, Element, and other Honda cars with the “sidewinder” or “laser” keys. We stock the plugs (the rotating part) and wafers for these locks, so we can usually get the car in and out on the same day and your original key will still operate the lock.

A lock cylinder slug with a single wafer poking up with the key instsalled
Note the wafer on one side sticking up. This is what causes Honda lock cylinders to get stuck, which has left more than a few folk stuck in parking lots.

What to do if your car ignition lock is stuck

If you do one day find that your ignition lock cylinder is stuck, here’s how to free a stuck ignition lock cylinder. First, try wiggling the steering wheel while turning the key. If this works, you probably don’t need any repairs. When the right wheel is pushed against the curb, the steering lock can bind on the column, making it impossible to turn the key.

If that doesn’t work, try wiggling and jiggling the key lightly while trying to turn the key. If you still can’t get it to turn, take the key out and tap on the face of the lock cylinder. What you’re trying to do is get the stuck split wafer to drop (see picture). However, gravity isn’t won’t always be working in your favor. Don’t hit hard and don’t hit the plastic. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to tow the car in.


If you’ve lost all of your keys, we can help you with that too. First off, we’ll need proof you own the car in the form of a driver’s license and a current copy of the vehicle registration. We’ll need to complete a “D-1” form and keep it on file in case we’re audited. Next we’ll get an “indirect code”, which is a set of numbers that don’t correspond directly to the key cuts, but through software or a database can reveal the key cut depths. We’ll use this to cut a key that turns the lock cylinder.

Keys for older cars

Next, we’ll need to deal with the immobilizer. If the car is older than 1998, there probably isn’t an immobilizer system, but on newer cars, we can do a seed reset. This means we can make the immobilizer ECU think it’s new and put it in auto-registration mode, then we register the keys we made so they’ll start the car.

On older Toyota cars (up to 2003), it probably won’t be possible to do a seed reset. If all of the keys are lost, the immobilizer ECU may need to be replaced. There are some locksmiths that own an aftermarket reprogramming device that can put the ECU in a new condition. If your car is older, and has an immobilizer system, and you’ve lost all of your keys, give us a call and we’ll let you know what to do. In some cases you’ll be better service going to a different shop if your car is 2000-2003 Toyota if you’ve lost all of your keys. We can fix it, but there may be others that can fix it cheaper.

Some early Honda cars require a red programming key to register a new key. Most people haven’t seen their red programming key in 20 years, or may have never had it if the car was purchased used. We can deal with a lost red key as well, although it may take a couple days.


This is a pretty nice machine. We can cut standard, laser, and dimple keys with the Futura Pro. It’s a mini-CNC machine that can cut a key from indirect code, direct code, or even decode a key using a laser or stylus. It has a huge database that stores all of the bitting possibilities for all of the different manufacturers. If a key is worn the Futura will recognize that the cut on the key doesn’t match possible cuts for a key of that type, and will “add” material so the new key is cut properly, thus creating a new key from a bad copy. Not only that, it sounds pretty cool as it chews away at the key, almost like music.


a CAN bus waveform on an oscilloscope

There are automotive locksmith shops that can do everything we can do, up until this category. Locksmiths can deal with working systems to register new keys, but when the system isn’t working, it’s usually beyond the scope of their services. A network failure can prevent the immobilizer system from working. A smart key oscillator or antenna can fail, so the car door doesn’t unlock when you touch the handle. A security code may be lost after replacing a body control module or engine control module.

This type of work that requires an automotive locksmith license and a firm grasp of electrical and network diagnosis and has typically fallen to the dealerships. Many of them do a good job of it, but it’s usually not cheap. We’ve found that we can make a good profit while still doing this type of work cheaper than everyone else.


If you find yourself locked out of your car in the middle of the night and don’t want to Uber/Lyft home and deal with it in the morning, we won’t be able to help you. There are some good local locksmiths that have 24 mobile service.

Rex Key

Rex Key is a locksmith in Berkeley. They’re on University Ave. near MLK, but they have vans that will come to you 24/7. The guys at Rex Key are VERY cool. Many years ago, the guys at Rex Key served as our mentors and helped us get started, which is pretty amazing when you think about it: a locksmith that’s helping a competitor get started just because they enjoy sharing their craft with others. We’ve now been able to do the same by sharing our hybrid expertise with other local shops. Anyway, if you need lockout service, residential or commercial locksmithing, or other automotive lock work on a make we don’t service, give Rex Key a try…

Rex Key: 510-527-7000 &

Reed Brothers

Reed Brothers is also a local locksmith in Oakland close to the Berkeley border. I haven’t really worked with this company, but I met one of the partners at a social event and he’s a really nice guy. I also see there vans all over the place and they’re 24/7 as well.

Reed Brothers: 800-400-5625 &

AC Lock

AC Lock is another Bay Area locksmith located in Berkeley on University Ave. I’ve also met one of the partners from AC Lock at a social event and he was really cool as well. He’s really into automotive locks and immobilizer systems and definitely knows his stuff. AC lock provides mobile service in Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Alameda, Montclair, Orinda, and Piedmont.

AC Lock: 866-269-5625 &


Did you enjoy reading about our car locksmith business? If so, you may be interested in some of these other articles.

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On an older Toyota losing all your keys can be a pain to deal with.

No keys left to copy? We can make you a new key if you’ve lost all of yours.

Smart key circuit board repair