What are Transponder Keys? (Chip Keys)

Also known as chip keys, transponder keys are automotive ignition keys with signal-emitting circuits (the transponder) built inside the head of the key. See example:

The transponder provides radio frequency between the key and the vehicle - basically the key talks to the car - and if the signals don't match, the car won't start. Each individual transponder is unique and therefore will only talk to a specific car, reducing the risk of theft.

The majority of keys to cars built after 1998 contain transponder chips.

The transponder key may not work if the transponder itself has been damaged in some way. In this case, it may emit a signal that the device in the car won't recognise and therefore will not allow the car engine to start. This is considered a safety device for the vehicle, as the engine will not work if the device receives an incorrect signal. Because the frequency is unique to the car and the key, the car shuts down if a non-programmed frequency is used.

And how about a little bit of history for you... Transponders were actually first used during World War II, when they were placed on Allied aircraft to allow radar to determine if they were friendly planes or not. They are still used in aviation today.

The history of transponder car keys can be traced to post-Berlin Wall Germany, when the number of stolen cars skyrocketed from around 30,000 in 1989 to 141,000 in 1992. Throughout Europe, over 1.5 million cars were stolen per year! In 1993, the Allianz Insurance Group made the German automotive industry adopt transponder chip key systems in cars and motorcycles. By 1994, many German and non-German models started field testing transponder keys, with all other models following by around 1998.

So hopefully you now have a better understanding of what transponder keys/chip keys actually are and how they work. For more details on how to order replacement transponder/chip keys, or for an assessment of your key to determine if it contains a transponder chip, please call us on 0800 506 111. 

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