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You may have already read that we at Metrolocks can now copy car keys! It’s big news for us, and we’re proud to have mastered the process.

But how exactly does it work? What’s the procedure? Is it safe, is it legal? In this blog post, we’ll answer all those questions.

The easy bit: cutting the key

As experienced key-cutting professionals, it’s not such a big deal for us to cut car keys. They’re similar to a lot of other types of key, and our key machines are all versatile enough to be able to make them.

Most car keys nowadays are laser keys, which can be made on the Triax machine. Older keys are, if not laser keys, normal side-cut, Yale-style keys. (Most motorbike keys are like this, too, as well as many Japanese cars.)

There are of course some exceptions. The famous ones are Tibbe keys (used in many Fords, especially Ford Transit vans) and the SX9 key, found in Citroëns and some Peugeots.

If you saw a Tibbe key out of context, you’d be forgiven for not recognising it as a key. It looks like a metal Q-tip. These can be made on the Triax, but need special equipment to make it work.

I admit that I’m not really sure where the Tibbe lock comes from, or why it was invented. I suspect that it had some special advantage back in the day; maybe it was harder to pick than other car keys on the market. Ford has been phasing out Tibbes for a few years now, though, in favour of laser keys.

A Ford Transit Tibbe key blank. Like a Q-tip, right?

The SX9 key looks more like a key than the Tibbe, but it’s quite funky in its own way. It has four rows of cuts, rather than the usual two that non-laser car keys have. They’re tricky to cut for a number of reasons:

  1. There isn’t any shoulder. The so-called shoulder makes it easy to align the original key with the new key in the key machine. Without it, you need to pay plenty of attention to ensure you’re cutting it properly.
  2. There are two different sets of cuts. This means that you need to ensure you cut the right set of cuts onto the right section of the new key blank.
  3. The margin for error is quite small. On a normal Yale key, you have five cuts. If one of those cuts isn’t quite perfect when you copy, you might still get away with it. The SX9 has 18 different cuts. If one or two of them are in the slightest way out, the whole key might stop working. The more cuts there are, usually the smaller the margin for error.

The hard part: cloning the chip

So, now that the cutting of the key is behind us, let’s talk about the most important bit: cloning the transponder chip that goes into the key.

What actually is a transponder chip? A very rough approximation is this: the car’s security has a number of levels. The first level is the shape of the key and its cuts. If these are wrong, the key won’t turn in the ignition.

The second layer is then the transponder. Once the key turns, the car sends out a signal to check for a transponder. If it can’t ‘see’ one, the car won’t start. If it can see one, it will check whether it’s the right one.

The oldest, most basic transponder chips work on 125kHz, much like the other fobs that we can copy. The car checks whether they have the correct data written onto them. If the data checks out, the car will start.

Nowadays, though, most cars use chips with much more encryption, and the checking process is more of a dialogue than a one-way check. In other words, instead of the car merely reading the data programmed onto the chip, you get this:

  • Car to chip: What information is programmed onto you?
  • Chip to car: Here’s my info.
  • Car to chip: That looks good. I’m ready to drive when you are.
  • Chip to car: Good stuff. Before we go ahead, I’d like to check that you’re also the car I’m mean to start. What information is programmed on your motherboard?
  • Car to chip: Here you go.
  • Chip to car: Perfect. Let’s ride!

It sounds totally daft, but that’s pretty much what happens.

How come we can copy encrypted chips? As with everything encrypted, there’s always a fight between those who designed the encryption and those who are trying to decode it. We’re living at a time when a lot of the existing vehicle technology has been decrypted.

Aside from Mercedes and BMW cars—both of these brands use special encryptions that the industry hasn’t yet sussed—pretty much all forms of car key can be copied.

ID48 transponder chipEven the famous ID48 chip (pictured), a chip whose encryption is so complex that it needs a supercomputer to decode, is within our capability.

Our machines connect to a supercomputer in Italy and/or Canada that crunches all the numbers. We then download those numbers and program them into the chip for the new key.

It’s really quite an exciting field to work in, and we look forward to expanding this side of the business over the coming years. Look out for more blog posts about car keys in the future.

Need a spare car key?

To find out if we can copy your car key, just call us on the number below.