How to Program a Car Key Chip

Dustin Hawley | Feb 10, 2021

Nowadays, electronic car keys have become the norm, a massive shift from just a few decades ago when anyone with a little know-how could turn over the ignition on a car with some crossed wires and a screwdriver. These days, even with a precision cut key, most vehicles won’t start without the presence of the proper computer chip.

how to program a car key chip

As a matter of fact, some cars no longer require you to insert the key at all. An electronic fob’s mere presence is enough to use a push-button ignition on many current vehicle models.

This is all great news for car owners, since it means your car, truck, or SUV is much more difficult to steal than in generations past. On the other hand, electronic keys introduce new components that can be expensive, even without paying a dealer to program them. If you can do the job yourself, you can save both time and money by not having to visit the dealership.

It goes without saying that different manufacturers have different processes. In light of this, If our guide doesn’t work for you, we advise you to consult your manual or call your local dealership for more information on how to program a car key chip for your particular vehicle.

This is a general guide on processes that should be effective on most American cars. Some manufacturers, like Mercedes, use proprietary technology that ensures that a dealership is the only entity that can create new keys, so keep this in mind when determining whether you can take on this task with your vehicle type.

Programming a Second or Third Key

The most straightforward key programming process is a situation where you are looking to program a second key. Since you already have a (master) key you can use, manufacturers assume you own the vehicle and make the process quick and easy. Note that some manufacturers require two keys to use this method, in which case it’s only useful for making a third key.

  • Sit in your driver’s seat, and set your new, blank key somewhere within easy reach. If you have two existing keys, set the second existing key along with the blank. You’ll need to swap them out quickly, so keep them close.
  • When ready, insert your working key into the ignition, and turn the key to the on position. Don’t actually start the motor. Simply turn the key to the point where the car’s electrical system is activated. The instant that power is activated, turn the key back to the off position and remove it from the ignition.
  • Now is when you’re going to need to move quickly. You’ll have a total of five seconds to remove the first key and insert the second key. Depending on your vehicle, this second key may be your new key or second working key. Repeat the same process outlined above, turning the key until the electronics come on, then turning it off again.
  • If you have a third key, repeat this same swapping process with the third key. If not, leave the second key in the ignition. Regardless of which of the two options you choose, when your new key is inserted and turned off, your car should go into security mode.
  • The security light should turn on the dashboard and remain illuminated for about three seconds while the key is programmed. On certain vehicle models, you may have to press the buttons on the key to confirm. Once the security light shuts off, remove the key, then reinsert it to test if the process was successful.

Programming a Single Key

A handful of manufacturers will allow you to program a single key, even if you don’t have a key that works. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to have the key cut to fit the ignition, which means you’ll need to provide proof of ownership to a locksmith.

That said, the process is much simpler than programming a second or third key:

  • Insert the key into the ignition, and turn it to the on position. Don’t turn on the engine, only the electronics.
  • Leave the key in this position for 10 minutes and 30 seconds, and then turn it off.
  • Turn the key back on, and wait for additional 10 minutes and 30 seconds before turning it off again.
  • Repeat the process for a third time.
  • Return the key to the on position, and it will program the key.
  • Test your new key by turning on the ignition.

Programming a Push-Button Starter

In some cases, you can program a keyless ignition fob for cars with a push-button starter. This is by no means foolproof, but it’s worth trying before you pay a dealer to program it for you.

  • With the fob in your hand, get into the driver’s seat, closing the door behind you. Have one hand ready on the fob, and the other on the vehicle’s start button. Similar to the processes above, you’ll need to work quickly, so prepare accordingly.
  • When you’re ready, press your car’s start button 15 times in quick succession, with no more than two seconds between each attempt. Keep your foot off the brake while you’re doing this; remember, you’re not actually trying to start the engine.
  • After the 15th button press, push the lock button on your fob. If the pairing process was successful, the car doors will lock, and the fob will be fully functional. If it was unsuccessful, it’s worth a shot to repeat the process and see if there was an error in the initial attempt. This tactic’s timing can be a bit finicky and difficult to get right on the first attempt.

Don’t Forget to Check Your Battery!

Many times, a non-functioning electronic fob doesn’t actually need to be replaced. Before you spend a small fortune on purchasing a new fob, it’s worth checking to see if an affordable battery replacement will solve your problem.

To open the fob, you’ll need to look for a tiny “key” built into the unit’s seam. Once located, pull out the key, and use it to pry open the housing. Take your time and be careful to avoid causing any damage to the housing. Once accessed, Inside, you’ll see a circuit board. Remove this carefully, and you’ll find the battery attached to the bottom.

Most key fobs use a small watch battery, which you can find at most pharmacies and home improvement stores. A majority of them only cost a couple of dollars, so it’s smart to try replacing your old battery with a fresh one before replacing the entire fob.

Summary

Programming a car key chip can be very easy, or it can become somewhat involved, depending on your vehicle. That being said, if you have a little time and determination, you can often program your own and save a bit of money on an already-pricey project. To save more money on your car, read more of our automotive guides!

Explore new car previews
2022 Honda Civic Si Preview
2022 Honda Civic Si Preview
That's right, sport compact car fans. Honda is returning the Civic Si to the lineup and is calling it the "best-handling" and "most fun-to-drive" Civic Si ever.
Read the full review
2022 Lexus LX Preview
2022 Lexus LX Preview
The redesigned 2022 Lexus LX 600 is a refined example of the Toyota Land Cruiser and comes in Standard, Premium, Luxury, F Sport, and Ultra Luxury trim levels.
Read the full review
2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Preview
2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Preview
The 2023 Corvette Z06 is on its way, though the automaker hasn’t released much more than a photo to confirm its existence. However, we won’t have long to wait for more details, as Chevy will officially unveil the car on October 26.
Read the full review
Read all articles
Scroll to the top
New Car Preview
2022 BMW i4 Preview
Most Dependable
2019 Vehicle Dependability: Most Dependable Family SUVs
Most Popular
10 Most Popular Luxury SUVs and Crossovers
New Model Update
New for 2019: Subaru
New Car Preview
2022 Honda HR-V Preview
More related
articles