OEM, Refurbished, and aftermarket keys – Learn more about all types of keys before you purchase a replacement or spare key.
In this blog post, we will cover one of the most important aspects of getting replacement car keys, which is the type of replacement key you get.
You already know that there are different types of car keys – non-chip, transponder, remote head key, Fobik keys and key fobs.
However, when you get a replacement key, most often you are not aware that for each type of key, you have different “versions” or “options”
Basically, every replacement key out there, either sold online, by a locksmith or from the dealer is one of the following three:
First, we have OEM keys or Original Equipment Manufacturer–
OEM means original key from the manufacturer. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get it online or from a locksmith, it only means it’s the original type of key, or in other words, as good as it gets. These types of keys are obviously the most expensive and are of the best quality. You can find OEM keys online, at the dealer, or at the locksmith shop.
Second, refurbished key-
Alternatively, you can get an original OEM key, that was used, and the parts inside were replaced – that would be a refurbished key.
There are many online stores that sell refurbished keys with new original parts inside that they replaced. That means, an original, used key, but the electronic parts inside are new. These types of keys can be a good solution for those who are looking for an original key, but a cheaper option. If we compare it to a book, then think about this as a used book, that a few pages inside replaced with new pages.
Of course, you will have to trust the seller to replace the inside parts with the original parts.
And finally, you can get an aftermarket key-
An aftermarket key is simply a copy of the original key, most often with very cheap replacement parts.
As a result, while this key is much cheaper than OEM or refurbished keys, they usually don’t last long, and many times can cause issues with the coding and programming procedure.
Today, you can find all types of keys as aftermarket keys including:
Remote key fob – Push to start, smart keys (Including with or without immobilizer)
Keyless entry remotes
Here is a quick summary, including the pros and cons of each type of key:
Most reliable keys
Slim chances for coding issues – Compatible with your car
Original part from the manufacturer
Usually, come with a 3-4 year warranty
Long range (about 60 feet)
Sometimes have limited availability and are hard to find online
Cheaper than OEM
Original replacement parts (if buying from a trusted source)
As long as the parts inside are original, they may last as original OEM
Hard to say for sure which parts were replaced and if they are original parts or not
Limited-time warranty (usually a year or less)
Very easy to find
The cheapest option to go with
Usually, don’t last long, sometimes only a few months.
This may cause coding and computability issues.
In rare cases may damage the car’s computer.
Limited range – usually about 20 feet
One more aspect of buying aftermarket keys is that in case you need to make a spare key, and you want to use your aftermarket key as a primary – it probably won’t work.
Now, that you are aware of the different options, let’s see how you can recognize which type of key you get.
To make it easier, we included four categories:
- Part weight
- Is there a Logo
- Where did you get it?
Original OEM keys are heavy. You can actually hold the key in your hands and feel its weight. This is especially true in case you want to have a spare key made. You will be able to feel the difference immediately.
This is only relevant, of course, if you buy the key from a locksmith shop or dealer and can check the keys physically.
In addition, most often they will come in a special package, which will show it is an OEM key, like in the picture below:
Original OEM keys usually come with a logo on them while aftermarket keys have either no logo or a logo that you can see isn’t of a good quality.
Furthermore, you can touch the logo and try to move it. Original parts will have the logo fit perfectly in them while aftermarket keys logos will probably move or fall when you touch them.
One of the most obvious indicators is how much the part costs. While OEM key fobs usually cost about $80 or more, aftermarket key fobs usually cost way less.
A word of caution:
We have seen more and more cases where aftermarket keys are being sold as OEM. This is especially true with online stores. It may be a good idea to read the small letters and even ask the seller directly which type of key they sell.
Where you get the new key:
As always, use common sense where you buy the key. In case you buy it from an authorized dealership or a local locksmith shop that has been around for years, you can pretty much be certain that they won’t sell you aftermarket keys unless they specifically tell you that.
When you buy online, most often from stores that offer huge discounts, you may want to double-check more about the part, warranty, and refund policy.
Now, let’s answer some common questions:
Which key should you get?
Well, it depends.
If you lost your key and this is your brand new car, or want to have a spare key for your brand new car, we suggest you go with OEM. It is worth the money as you probably will have a few good years to use it.
In case your car is 5-10 years old, a refurbished key from a reputable source would be a good option.
Finally, in case you lost your key to your rental car, chances are an aftermarket key should be your choice.
Do aftermarket car keys work?
As mentioned above, they usually work. The thing is that they may not work after a short period of time, as well as limited range to lock and unlock the car.
Finally, remember that aftermarket keys may cause issues when you want to add additional keys to the system (programming and coding issues) so use caution when you buy an aftermarket key and make sure you get a warranty.
How do I program aftermarket keys, and can they be programmed?
The process of coding aftermarket keys is exactly the same as coding OEM keys or refurbished keys. An automotive locksmith will connect the coding machine into the car’s OBD and the machine will do the rest.
Keep in mind that sometimes, especially for the newest models, there may be issues with coding those keys as the quality of the electronics inside are of a less quality than OEM.
Are aftermarket keys less secure or reliable than original keys?
Aftermarket keys are definitely less reliable than original keys (OEM) because of the quality of the components inside them.
However, as far as security, there is no difference between them and OEM keys. As long they are coded to the vehicle properly, both keys have the same level of security.