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Why you should insist on a spare key when buying a used car

06 August 2020 - 07:33 By Motor News Reporter
Losing car keys can be an expensive headache, but there are cheaper replacement options available. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Losing car keys can be an expensive headache, but there are cheaper replacement options available. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

When buying a used car, one of the important things people sometimes overlook is to ask for the spare key.

Modern car keys aren’t cheap and most people are shocked when they discover a replacement could cost thousands of rands. On top of that, if you lose your car key you could be stranded without your car for a few days if you don’t have a spare.

Replacing a lost car key used to be a simple task of taking the spare to a key cutter and having a copy made for about R250. These days, however, it's a different story with modern keys equipped with transponders that communicate with a vehicle’s immobiliser unit and engine control unit (ECU) to allow the car to start. It can also be a keyless entry and start function.

This can be a hi-tech headache for car owners as the cost of a replacement key ranges from R2,000 to R4,500 and the price for keys for exotic cars can be higher. A new key needs to be ordered, cut and coded which could mean up to a full day or more off the road.

While the cost of a replacement key is high, if you lose all the keys to your car, the costs and time off the road will increase significantly, particularly if the car's computer has to be reset or replaced to match the new replacement keys.

“One could easily be quoted anything from R10,000 to more than R20,000 for work done on various models of cars,” says Dewald Ranft, National Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association.

Aftermarket workshops and car key fitment centres can offer a more cost-effective service to cut and recode modern car keys for most car models.

These shops carry original-equipment keys and also aftermarket keys which may look different but work as well and cost less. Some workshops carry diagnostic tools that can help reset the car's computer if both keys are lost, says Ranft.

Motor News priced the cost of a replacement key for a 2012 Hyundai Accent; the Hyundai agents quoted R3,800 while independent service provider Car Key Fitment Centre quoted R1,800.

Ranft cautions that if your vehicle is still under warranty, be sure to check that it won’t be affected if you select a nonoriginal key at an alternative workshop.

The bottom line is, when buying a used car, always check that you have two working keys, and check that the spare matches the car.