Problems with car key programming?

car key programming

Yes we do, all the time! Well maybe that’s dramatic, but yes, we have lots of problems with car key programming. If I’m really honest, I’d hate to be starting out in this business all over again, having to learn everything from scratch. There are so many traps that have been set by the manufacturers, or at least it feels that way. 

car key programming

The issue with car key programming is that by its nature, you are messing around with the immobiliser system. Most of the time the key will programme up without any problems at all.

When you take your car to the dealer, everything is done behind closed doors. While you enjoy your ‘free’ Wifi and coffee dealer , the dealer technician kills your car dead but you’re none the wiser. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen because they’ve called us to try and sort out the problem. 

I’ve been asked a lot over the years whether anything ever goes wrong with car key programming. So here are a few things to be aware of, with a story or two to keep you going to the end of the article, hopefully. 

Car Key programming problems - The wrong parts

Let’s start with the simple things first. At our workshop in Lincoln, we welcome hundreds of customers, every month. We invite them to sit and wait while we cut and programme a key to their vehicle. When you come and visit us, there’s even glass so you can watch!


When we order keys in for your car or van, we use various suppliers that we trust. Sometimes its the dealer, but mostly they are established suppliers we have worked with for years. 

Unfortunately, every now and then, the Ford Focus key we ordered turns out to be a Ford Transit key and won’t work on y our car. Sometimes it has the wrong chip, or maybe the key has the wrong blade. But either way, we’ve got you here, but can’t finish off the job. 

Again, we know this happens at the dealer, it happens in any retail business.

What Happens Next?

Fortunately, there’s normally no danger to you or your car. Once we’ve apologised for wasting your time, we’ll make sure that the parts are re-ordered and checked before we call you next time. Most of our customers understand these things happens and we appreciate this. It helps that they can drive home! It’s not always that simple.

Programming Problems - Computer says No

car key programming

Now we get into a grey area. We’re very proud that all of our equipment is sourced from reputable companies.

We know that some Auto Locksmith companies and garages buy cheap knock-off programming equipment. It costs a fraction of the genuine car key programming equipment, yet they still wonder why it causes problems.

For years we’ve turned down both Mercedes and BMW car key programming . The reason for this has been very simple. The equipment hasn’t been up to scratch, until very recently. 

Unfortunately, our software developers don’t always get it right. It’s not uncommon for us to be told our computer can programme your car, but for the software not to work. 

Why doesn’t the software work?

Computers don’t always do what they are supposed to. When the supermarket self service till doesn’t want to play, it’s annoying. But fortunately there’s normally someone who will be able to help, and reboot the till. With car key programming, sometimes the computer needs a reboot, or maybe the programme won’t run correctly. 

At the supermarket, you can move to another till. If our computer doesn’t want to play, there’s not too much downside. 

We really do appreciate you’ve made the trip and given up some of your time. But this happens at the main dealer also. The good news is that unlike the examples to come, if the software won’t programme the key, you can at least drive the car home! It isn’t always like this, so lets move on to the drama!

Car Key programming problems - We've killed your car, sorry

You probably won’t read this on other Auto Locksmith websites. It’s not really talked about, but in eighteen years programming car keys, it’s not always gone to plan. 

We’re going to explain all the different ways a car key programmer can spoil your day. Just like a medicine bottle, car key programming can have some nasty side effects. This is the honest truth, so here goes. 

Car won't start

Key programming - We messed up, sorry!

We all mess up. Most of the time, in any job, we get away with it. No-one knows and we can put it right without any consequences. 

We’ve all been there right?

Unfortunately, when car key programming goes wrong, it can be an expensive mistake. Are you ready for our first story? Ok here goes. 

Audi Convertable - New Dashboard please

car key programming

Back in 2012, we’d already been trading for seven years so I knew alot about car keys even then. On top of that we were busy, I’d just taken on Simon as a trainee, and life was good.

However, with all these stories to come, if I’d spent a bit more time finding out about potential problems with cars, we’d have never touched the Audi of our story. 

It was an unusual car, only sold in the UK for a few years, and although it looked the same as any convertable Audi, the electronics were different. 

Simon plugged into the car as usual, but couldn’t extract the key programming code needed. Audi had stopped giving out these codes years ago, so our new equipment asked the car for the code, which is normally successful.  However this time it didn’t want to play.

car key programming

What we didn’t know is that if you don’t follow the key programming steps exactly, (and we didn’t) the dashboard gets corrupted. The fault meant the mileage didn’t show up on the display, and the owner wasn’t happy. The photo above shows what we were left with.

So How did you fix it?

Nowadays, this is a fairly simple fix, however, back in 2012, the only person who could fix it was the dealer. So we booked it in, let them order the parts and paid the £1200 bill. To make matters worse, it needed two visits because the replacement dashboard they had ordered was already corrupted! Not our fault this time. 

With a new dashboard, two new keys and all the labour, we learnt a hard lesson. Do the research, and know for sure the pitfalls of car key programming. The main thing was that we sorted out the problem, no questions asked and we paid the bill.

The good thing about this problem was that the owner could still use the car, however it’s not always like this.

Sorry, our car key programming has upset your van.

This time we weren’t so lucky. We’d bought some really good software to programme the new type of Renault Trafic van, just a few years ago. For years we couldn’t touch these and the dealers were programming every key for these. Eventually some good quality equipment came out, which we tested for a few months and then bought. 

What we didn’t know was that with these vans, during car key programming you need constant power. These days we use it as standard on most cars, but back in 2015 there wasn’t the need.To programme this van, our computer has to read all the data out of the van, decode it and then programme the key. It takes about 30 mins and these days is a routine job. However, on this occasion, after 15 mins the van went dark and our computer would no longer communicate with the van. 

This is bad news

It meant that the van was no longer starting, in fact it didn’t know it was a Renault Trafic anymore! It’s memory had been wiped out and we were well and truly stuck. 

Fortunately, if you pay good money for the software, it normally comes with a good support package. Every month we pay hundreds of pounds so that on the off chance of needing help, a support technician will help us. 

Extra car key programming power needed

How did you fix the problem?

The first thing we did was take the owner to our friends at Dack Motor Group. This local Lincoln company had a hire van available at short notice that we paid for. This meant that the customer could go back to work and we could sort out his van.

We believe that if you entrust your vehicle to us, then we do everything possible to help you with any problems that arise. On this occasion it was our fault and ours to fix. With the customer taken care of, we contacted our support team. 

The next morning they guided us through the process of fixing the van and within twenty four hours everything was back to normal. 

What car key programming lessons did you learn?

This taught us another valuable lesson, about the importance of using the correct equipment. We immediately purchased a portable battery support unit. At £700, this unit has been worth every penny because since this incident, we’ve not had it happen again. 

car key programming

Admittedly, the customer was a bit put out. However we know he really appreciated the effort we put in to helping him carry on as normally as possible. 

Car key programming- It gets worse!

It gets worse alright, try and picture the scene. When I started trading I knew very little about car keys. I’d spent one week on an Auto Locksmith course and two days on a car key programming training course. I cringe now when I think about how much I didn’t know. This next job changed my life, gave me nightmares and I’ll never forget it. 

The van was very similar to this one, the year, 2006. I was fresh faced, trading for just four days, this was only the second vehicle I had ever plugged into alone. 

The owner had just bought it, and all I had to do was a spare key. In those days you couldn’t clone this type of key, instead it had to be coded to the van directly. 

Unfortunately, what I didn’t know ( and what no-one else knew ) was that if you selected the wrong Ford Transit van from the software menu, it was bad news.

This van wasn’t a normal Ford Transit with a normal diesel fuel pump. It was a special turbo diesel version, with fly-by-wire controls. The minute I plugged my computer in I was doomed. It wiped the keys out, but wouldn’t let me code new keys in. The van was dead, well and truly ruined. 

Go direct to the dealer, do not pass go.

The following morning we towed it to the local Ford dealer. They had it for ten days, couldn’t fix it and gave me a £600 bill. 

Eventually, after lots of head scratching, stress and pleas for help, I had it recovered to a company in Nottingham who specialised in this problem. This car key  nightmare was almost over.

Five days later they had it fixed! This time the diagnostic support team paid the bill! They admitted that the software was ambiguous and later rewrote the menu to make it safer to use. 

And then after all that!

This van must have been cursed. A month after the owner got it back, it rolled down a grass verge and was written off!

But I learnt a lot. This painful, expensive and stressful car key tought me much more than any training course. I tried to look after our customer the best I could and I never charged him for the car key. 

Putting the customer first

Problems happen in any business, and we’re no differentWhat we’ve learnt over eighteen years is that when things go wrong, we need to put them right and look after you, our customer. 

We really want to assure you, this is rare, and most customers come and go without a hitch. However we hope this has given you an insight into our world and thanks for reading. 

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