Broken Car Key – What to Do, Cost to Fix, How to Cut a Replacement, Repair Options and More.
In this article:
Depending on the type of car key you have, a broken car key usually means you must get a replacement.
Different situations require different solutions. We will discuss each one.
First, we must determine a few things.
What type of key do you have? Is it a key fob, transponder, or regular metal key?
Which part is broken? Is it the button, blade, or cover?
Is the key broken off in the ignition or door cylinder? This presents a particularly challenging situation.
Broken car keys leave their owner in one of three situations:
- Key broken off in the ignition or car door – This situation requires removing the key and then making a new one.
- Key broken in half (or broken blade) – This is an easier situation that only requires making a new key.
- Electronic key failure – This is a different situation and relevant only for transponder chip keys or key fobs.
Let’s look at each situation:
When the key is broken off in the ignition, you obviously must remove it first. This requires the services of a locksmith as it is important not to damage the ignition’s cylinder.
Next, you must get a new key made. Depending on your key type, some coding may be required. Most car keys made after 1998 require coding to work.
When a key breaks as you are trying to start the car or open the door, the cause may be due to a rusted cylinder, broken wafers (parts that make the key match your specific ignition), frozen parts inside the cylinder, or simply trying to insert the wrong key into the ignition.
Whatever the reason, the first step is to remove the key from the ignition or door.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when your key is broken off in your ignition.
- Do not attempt to take it out yourself. You will probably end up damaging the ignition or door cylinder, which will result in a bigger problem.
- Do not throw away the key piece that you do have. The locksmith may find this piece particularly useful when cutting a new key. When the locksmith removes the piece from the ignition, often they can place both pieces together on the machine and simply make a duplicate. This speeds up the process making it less expensive as the key does not have to be cut according to a code. So, let your locksmith that you have the pieces, so they do not have to charge you for a code.
- Occasionally, people get creative and try to start the car with the broken pieces. While it may work, this is not the recommended way. You may have a problem turning off the ignition, or even worse, push the broken piece deeper in the ignition and make it even more difficult for the locksmith to extract.
The next scenario involves a key that is broken in half—just the key blade is broken.
In this situation, you will simply have to make a duplicate and code the key if the vehicle is newer than the 1998 model year.
This is mostly relevant for non-transponder and transponder car keys which you put in the ignition and turn to start the vehicle.
If you have the broken pieces, keep them. To get the best results, go to a local locksmith shop to get a duplicate.
Remember that you may need to program the key. This step may require the help of your vehicle dealership or locksmith.
The last situation is when the key’s electronic mechanism malfunctions or no longer works.
This situation is only relevant for key fobs, remotes, or transponder keys having electronic chips that are damaged or no longer working.
This scenario requires replacing the key with a new one and coding the chip. Otherwise, the vehicle will not recognize the new key. After coding, the key, remote, or fob will work again.
When your keys use codes, you may find it less expensive at the locksmith or vehicle dealership as the key code is not required to cut the blade. Always keep the damaged key and tell the locksmith or dealer you still have it. The key may be useful to them and save you some money in the long run.
Q: How much does it cost to replace a broken car key?
The price of replacing a broken car key varies and is based on each situation.
If part of the key is stuck in the ignition, labor time must be added for the removal. The rate averages $50 per hour. Most locksmiths have a minimum fee of $35 for key removal. Of course, these prices vary depending on the region, travel time required, possibly even the make and model of the vehicle.
To that fee, you must add the price of a replacement key. Key costs depend on the type of key. You can read a detailed explanation about vehicle key replacement cost here.
For cases where the key is simply broken or does not function, the cost is the price of getting a new key made.
Here are some rough estimates:
Broken Key Fob:
$250 to $400 (for most makes and models, not including high-security keys: BMW, Mercedes, etc)
Key broken off in the ignition or door cylinder: $150 to $300
Broken key but not in the ignition: $120 to $250
Key broken off in the ignition or door cylinder: $120 to $220
Broken key but not in the ignition: $60 to $120
Q: Can I superglue my car key?
A: When someone’s key breaks, the first thing they think of is using superglue to attempt to repair it.
This is not recommended. It would be difficult to be able to get the glue to hold both pieces together securely. If you do manage to meld the two pieces, once you insert the key into the ignition, it may break again. When this happens, you may cause a bigger problem as now one-piece is stuck in your ignition.
Bottom line – do not try it!
Q: How to fix a broken key?
A: Fixing a broken car key is difficult if not impossible and is certainly not recommended. Whether the electronic mechanism in the key has malfunctioned or the actual key blade is broken, the help of a professional locksmith will be required to get a replacement.
Q: Can you cut a new key from a broken one? Can it be copied or duplicated?
This is a particularly important point. The short answer is “yes.” This can be done, and it is highly recommended. Keep both pieces and let the locksmith know you have them.
Here is why:
First, this can save you money! When you get a replacement key, a locksmith or dealer needs a code to know the cut of the key. Each vehicle has its own unique key. Getting a new code costs money $ 40 to $80 depending on the vehicle’s make and model.
If you still have the key, they do not have to get a code. They can copy the broken key on a special copy machine without the need to pay for the code.
The second reason to keep broken keys is especially relevant for vehicles that are 10 model years old or older.
After years of using the key, the ignition cylinder, and the wafers inside begin to deteriorate or erode. From use, the key also begins to show signs of wear. If you do not change the ignition or the key, you have no problem because they are still almost a perfect match.
However, for these older cars with older ignitions, when you cut a new key by the original code, it may not fit perfectly into the ignition anymore. This may result in problems turning the ignition or the door cylinders.
So, if you have the broken key or its pieces, the locksmith or dealer can just copy it. By doing that, you should not have any problem. This key would be a closer match to the broken key and should work fine on the ignition and the doors.
The bottom line. Always keep the broken car key until you get a new one. Be sure to let the locksmith know you have it.
Q: Who can copy a broken key?
Several places can copy a broken key—the local hardware store, the vehicle dealership, or a locksmith.
There are a few things to remember:
- Make sure they have the right key blank. Many makes and models exist when it comes to vehicles. So, there are many different blanks. To ensure you have the correct blank, have the VIN number or the exact year, make, and model of your vehicle.
- Remember that even if the locksmith or hardware store has the correct key blank and can make a replacement, you will still have to have the key coded. Codes are needed for most models made after 1998. This is important. Otherwise, the vehicle will not start.
- Regardless of where you have the replacement key made, be gentle with the key when using it in the ignition or door cylinder for the first time. Remember, the new key may not be the perfect match like your old key.
- We highly recommend getting a spare key while you are getting a replacement key. This is especially relevant if your car key needs to be coded. If you get an additional key, ask for a discount.
Q: Can you start a car with a broken key?
If the key fob itself is damaged, or the chip inside is damaged, then your car won’t start. In fact, it may even “lock” itself because of a security shutdown. The security system may detect that someone is trying to steal the car. This will result in even more problems.
Likewise, if the chip in the transponder key that the chip is damaged, the vehicle will not start.
And finally, a regular car key that is broken into two pieces should not be placed in the ignition.
Most keys today use some type of transponder chip technology. Perhaps if your vehicle has just a simple metal key, you might be able to start your car with the broken pieces.
However, it is unlikely you will succeed. You will likely cause more damage. Therefore, we do not recommend trying to do that.
The only exception is if you have a key fob. This is the only type key with which you might still be able to start the vehicle in an emergency.
Remember that even if you can start your car with the broken key. Get a replacement as soon as you can. Chances are the method you are using with your broken key will not last long.
Q: Can Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and other home improvement stores make a key from a broken key?
In this case, it depends on the store itself. We checked a few stores and received a different answer every time. It depends on who is at the key station. Some service people said they cannot make the key. Some said they can try but cannot promise it would work. Others recommended that we go to a car key repair shop or a local locksmith.
The bottom line is you can try. Even if they can duplicate a broken key, remember that for most models made after 1998 you will need to have the key-coded anyway. This is relevant for broken key fobs or transponder keys. Sometimes, it is best to call a locksmith or the vehicle dealer from the beginning.