Since about 1996, car keys have used a transponder to keep your vehicle secure. These small computer chips inside the car key fob communicate with the car’s immobilization system (or IMMO system) and prevent it from being operated if it isn’t present.
The introduction of transponders significantly reduced instances of auto theft. Still, it can also put you in an annoying situation if you lose the key or it stops working as it should. A car key programmer allows you to reprogram keys, program new keys, and adjust the IMMO system to get back on the road.
If your car’s key fob is lost or broken, getting a replacement can be a hassle—and, depending on what kind of car you drive, it can cost a pretty penny. With an auto key programmer, you can make your new keys yourself, saving you both time and money.
Some automotive scan tools have key programming features built-in. These models are often designed for professionals, though, and carry a professional-level price tag. A stand-alone key programmer is a more affordable option for drivers or locksmiths who don’t need a scan tool’s functions.
Just like scan tools, you’ll find different levels of car key/key fob programmers that have varying capabilities. Let’s look at the different auto key programming tools and what features they offer to decide which one is best for you.
Let’s have a look at the editor’s top picks.
Top Auto Key Programmers 2021 (Editor’s Picks)
|Editor's Picks||Product||Our Rating|
|Best Overall||Autel IM508||9.5/10|
|Runner Up||Autel MaxilM IM608||9.5/10|
|Best Budget Buy||ICARSCANNER CK-100||8.5/10|
|Best Value||Autel MP808K||8.5/10|
|Also Great||XTOOL X100 Pro2||7.5/10|
Table of Contents
- 1 Top Auto Key Programmers 2021 (Editor’s Picks)
- 2 Auto Key Programmer Buying Guide
- 3 Best Key Programming Machines For All Cars Reviews
- 3.1 1. Autel IM508 All System Scanner with Key Programming
- 3.2 2. Autel MaxilM IM608 OBD2 Scanner with IMMO
- 3.3 3. ICARSCANNER CK-100 Car Key Programmer
- 3.4 4. Autel MP808K Diagnostic Tool with Key Programming
- 3.5 5. XTOOL X100 Pro2 Auto Key Programming Tool
- 3.6 6. XTOOL X100 PAD Professional Programmer with EEPROM
- 4 Can I Program A Car Key Myself?
- 5 Final Thoughts
- 6 Types Of Car Key And Their Replacement Cost
- 7 What Is Car Key Programming?
- 8 How To Use A Car Key Programmer
- 9 FAQs
Auto Key Programmer Buying Guide
- Save money. Replacing electronic keys at the dealership is expensive. In some cases, buying your key programmer is cheaper than the cost to have a single key replaced by a professional, and you’ll have the power to make as many keys as you need.
- More secure. Any lost electronic keys will still start your car if you don’t deactivate them. With a key programmer, you can make sure that only the keys in your possession can start your vehicle.
- Troubleshoot problems. Like any electronic system, your car’s computer can sometimes encounter strange errors or glitches. When those glitches happen in the IMMO system, you can’t start your vehicle until the problem is fixed. A car key programmer lets you identify and solve these problems at home, getting you back on the road more quickly.
There are quite a few different brands of key programmers out there, many of which have merits. Most home mechanics, though, two brands rise to the top for their consistency, performance, and value: Autel and XTool.
Autel’s specialty is in the research and development of intelligent automotive diagnostic equipment. With more than ten years in the industry, they’re trusted by professionals because of their consistently reliable and accurate tools.
While Autel sells everything from entry-level code readers to professional scan tools, they’re most robust in the spectrum’s high-end range. Compared to other brands, you may pay a bit more to get an Autel tool, but that investment is worth it if you’re looking for the best performance.
Recommendation: Autel IM508Check Price at Amazon
Founded in 2010, this Shenzhen-based company focuses on providing one-tool solutions for customers in the automotive repair sector. This customer-oriented approach to development is their most potent quality. Not only are their tools innovative and accurate, but they’re also very user-friendly and have strong customer support.
XTool’s range of car key programmers is powerful and intuitive. They’re an excellent choice for everyday drivers because they’re more affordable for the features you get than tools from other brands, without sacrificing build quality or durability.
Recommendation: XTOOL X100 Pro2
Auto Key Programming Tool Pricing
Generally, how much you pay for a car key programming tool will be dependent on which features you need to have included. You can break the tools down into three broad price ranges:
- $100-$200: These tools will only program new keys from the vehicle’s memory or deactivate old keys you no longer have. They’re a budget-friendly option for both car owners and locksmiths and are typically simple and straightforward in their operation.
- Recommendation: Carrfan CK-100
- $200-$800: Auto key programmers in this price range tend to combine the key/key fob programming abilities with an OBD2 scan tool’s full diagnostic functions. Intermediate to advanced home mechanics may find them a good value if you plan to make other repairs. They don’t usually go beyond the functions of less expensive ones when it comes to key/key fob programming abilities, so they don’t offer any more significant value to locksmiths.
- Recommendation: XTOOL X100 PAD
- $800+: If you want professional features like IMMO programming and full key/key fob programming capabilities, you must buy a car key programmer in this price range. It will also include the diagnostic features of mid-range ones, along with expanded key programming options.
- Recommendation: Autel MaxilM IM608
Most key programmers will offer various features, from merely programming new keys to replacing all the keys and resetting the vehicle’s security systems. The most common features include:
- Add a key/ new key programming. This function allows you to create a new key for the car from a blank, without deactivating the existing keys.
- Reset/relearn keys. If your existing keys have malfunctioned, this function helps reset them back to their original operation.
- New remote control programming. Remote controls and key fobs can be programmed to work with your vehicle using this function.
- Key cloning. This feature makes a copy of an existing key by cloning its information into a blank.
- Read keys from IMMO memory. With this function, you can generate new keys straight from the vehicle memory. It allows you to make replacements even if you’ve lost the originals.
- All keys replaced. If you don’t have any of the original keys, this function allows you to generate a whole new set. Doing so will also deactivate the old ones.
- PIN code reading. The PIN associated with your IMMO system is stored in your vehicle’s computer memory. With this feature, you can retrieve the PIN and use it to make new keys or remotes.
- Reset immobilizer. This function helps reset the vehicle’s security system, troubleshoot problems, or get the system to recognize new keys.
- Program immobilizer. IMMO programming gives you more in-depth control over the vehicle’s electronic security, allowing you to alter the parameters or even deactivate them.
Best Key Programming Machines For All Cars Reviews
1. Autel IM508 All System Scanner with Key Programming
The Autel MaxilM IM508 comes with their XP200 Key Programmer included, and they’re designed to work together as a unit. This feature gives you access to the advanced key and IMMO functions at less than half the price of the IM608 above.
Like the other best key programmers, the Autel IM508 can do more than make keys. It performs a range of useful service functions, including resetting the oil and battery lights. With the Autel MaxilM IM508, you get factory-level diagnostics of all systems on more than 80 manufacturers.
The only significant lack in the Autel IM508’s key programming features is that it can’t program the ECU. It’s also not available for all compatible vehicles—you’ll want to double-check with Autel if you’re looking for a specific make and model.
What the Autel MaxilM IM508 does well is striking a balance between performance and value. It lets you make keys, reset the IMMO data, and perform a host of other helpful maintenance tasks. You’ll get the same high build quality Autel offers on their pricier models, with an interface that’s easy to use and read.
- Allows writing of new keys, even if they’re all lost
- Write and refresh IMMO and ECU
- Wide vehicle compatibility
- Resets BMS, TPMS, Oil light, and more
- Full OE-level diagnosis of all electronic systems
- Higher cost
- IMMO programming not universally compatible
The Autel MaxilM IM508 provides professional key programming functions at a more affordable cost than the IM608. It is an excellent choice for professionals on a budget or advanced home mechanics.Check Price at Amazon
2. Autel MaxilM IM608 OBD2 Scanner with IMMO
If you’re looking for the best key programmer for professionals, the Autel MaxilM IM608 is your answer. This multi-functional diagnostic tool has powerful functionality you won’t find anywhere else. It is one of the most advanced all-in-one programming tools available. To top it off, it’s compatible with abouT 80 different manufacturers.
You’ll get full access to the IMMO system using the Autel MaxilM IM608. This includes programming new keys and remote controls, as well as reading keys and reading data from the engine computer. The Smart Mode is beneficial, walking you through the process step by step. More experienced mechanics can use Expert Mode to access individual functions.
So what’s not to love about the Autel MaxilM IM608? The price. At over three grand, it’s the most expensive option on the list. Having said that, professionals who need full ECU control for various vehicles will find it well worth the investment.
- Professional key programming with complete IMMO support
- IMMO Smart Mode walks you through making keys step by step
- Reads and writes data to ECU
- Compatible with more than 80 manufacturers
- 10” touchscreen easy to read and use
- All-system diagnosis with bi-directional control
- Built-in 8MP camera with flashlight
- Most expensive option
- Inexperienced mechanics may find it intimidating
The Autel MaxilM IM608 is the best key programmer for professionals, giving you complete control over key programming and IMMO systems. While it is more expensive, the cost is worth it if you need full functionality and wide compatibility.Check Price at Amazon
3. ICARSCANNER CK-100 Car Key Programmer
The compatibility with various American, Asian, and European cars makes CK-100 one of the most versatile hand-held key programmers. The flip side of this is the SKP900 is the most expensive item on our list.
The CK-100 can program new keys for over 57 different vehicle manufacturers. In most cases, you can also read the pin code directly from the vehicle. The inclusion of remote programming is a helpful feature, too. Even better, the Carrfan CK-100 is easy to use, even if you’ve never programmed keys before.
The Carrfan CK-100 Car Key Programmer includes the full ECU and IMMO programming features. Also, it does give you more tools than other DIY devices. Those tools include reading and adjusting mileage data. You can also identify chips in most keys, program smart keys and transponders to work with your vehicle’s IMMO system.
- Full functionality for professional mechanics and locksmiths
- Can read pin codes for most supported vehicles
- Supports Toyota G chip keys
- Wide vehicle compatibility
- Free online updates for life
- Easy to use for both pros and DIYers
- Poor instructions
4. Autel MP808K Diagnostic Tool with Key Programming
The Autel MP808K offers professional diagnosis and features at a relatively affordable price. In addition to its key programming functions, the MP808K allows bi-directional testing of components, full OBDII diagnosis, and 23 services and reset functions.
The vehicle compatibility of the Autel MP808K is impressive, as well. You can use this key programmer with cars and trucks from more than 80 manufacturers. While some features aren’t available for all vehicles, that’s still quite impressive for the price.
Now the Autel MP808 K’s key programming capabilities aren’t as robust as with other key programmers. It doesn’t allow programming of the VIN, IMMO system, or ECU, for example. As a key programmer, it’s basic but functional, both resetting and creating keys quickly.
- Programs new keys, even if they’re all lost
- Bi-directional component testing
- 23 service functions and all-system diagnosis
- Wide vehicle compatibility
- Data management system makes it easy to review data
- One-click push updates through Wi-Fi
- Enhanced diagnostics and key programming not available on all vehicles
- Not as many IMMO management functions
While the Autel MP808K doesn’t offer as much control over the key and IMMO systems, it is an affordable key programmer for those who need wide vehicle compatibility.Check Price at Amazon
5. XTOOL X100 Pro2 Auto Key Programming Tool
Let’s start things off with arguably the best value in key programming: the XTOOL X100 Pro2. It’s easily the most affordable way to access advanced programming features from a hand-held key programmer. Also, the straightforward layout is easy to navigate and use.
Key Reading and Programming
Programming keys is easy with the XTOOL X100 Pro2, and you can do it on almost every North American and European vehicle. While the compatibility is limited on Asian models, this still makes it a versatile key programmer for home users and professional locksmiths. Along with programming new keys, you can read keys from the IMMO memory. The XTOOL X100 Pro2 also supports remote programming.
Most key programmers can read and make keys at this price point, but the XTOOL X100 Pro2 takes this a step further. Included advanced features include programming VIN and IMMO data, as well as reading and adjusting the mileage.
- IMMO and VIN programming included
- Capable of reading keys from IMMO memory
- Supports most vehicles from Europe, Asia, and North America
- Anti-seismic and ruggedly built
- Supports reading and reprogramming mileage
- Excellent value for supported features
- Free updates supported
- May not work with vehicles pre-1996 or post-2011
- Doesn’t support Japanese vehicles
6. XTOOL X100 PAD Professional Programmer with EEPROM
The guided interface of the XTOOL X100 PAD makes it easy to program new keys—when it works. What’s frustrating for many users about this tool is that it’s challenging to identify which vehicles are compatible, and the included instructions aren’t beneficial. While it supports 59+ manufacturers, it doesn’t support all model years. Once you’re up and running, however, making new keys is a fast process.
The XTOOL X100 PAD can program your immobilizer information, VIN, and mileage information. However, the X100 PAD allows the programming of the ECU itself, making it a more useful option for professional garages.
Beside Full OBDII Functions, XTOOL X100 PAD supports Reset Functions such as EPB calibration, Oil Reset, Throttle Body adaptation, DPF regeneration, Battery reset, Steering Angle Calibration, TPMS light reset, etc.
- Easy to use the key programming tool
- Supports a wide range of compatible vehicles
- Allows programming of the ECU
- Can read and program VIN
- Free lifetime updates through the web
- Pro-level functions without the professional price tag
- All features not available on all vehicles
- Select model years from some manufacturers aren’t supported
Can I Program A Car Key Myself?
You absolutely can! You’ll need to have the master key on-hand with some key makers to do so, but more sophisticated models can read keys from the vehicle itself. Expect to spend a bit more generally if you need this level of functionality.
As you can see, the price of key programmers varies greatly. There are two main factors: the number of vehicles supported and the range of programming functions.
If you just want to make new keys for your own car, don’t pay for professional features you don’t need. A more affordable model will serve you just as well. However, for locksmiths and mechanics, a higher-end product like the SKP900 may be worth it in the long run. Best of luck picking the right key maker for your needs!
Types Of Car Key And Their Replacement Cost
The traditional key is the manual metal key that cars have used since their invention. Since there are no electronic components, they don’t require any coding. A copy can be made by cutting a blank to the correct shape to fit the lock and ignition. The blanks only cost about $3-$10. Some locksmiths will also charge for labor, but even so, it’s the cheapest option to replace.
You won’t see master keys often in modern vehicles. They typically came with older cars that used traditional keys and were not designed to be used. Instead, they exist as a template off of which to make additional copies.
Replacing a master key can cost hundreds of dollars. If you’re buying an older used car, check the manual to see if it should have a master key. In some cases, the entire engine management system needs to be replaced if the master key has been lost, which can cost more than the vehicle is worth.
In use since the mid-’90s, transponder keys are metal but have a chip in the handle. The transponder is activated when the key is in the ignition, disabling the car’s IMMO processes and allowing it to start.
Copying a transponder key costs around $40 to $100. If it’s lost, you’ll pay about $150-$250 to replace it, depending on whether you go through a locksmith or a dealership. The most expensive transponder keys are rolling code keys. They’re more secure and more challenging to reproduce and can cost $500 or more to replace.
These keys have a traditional metal component that folds into a plastic fob, similar to how a switchblade knife works. Replacements usually cost between $200 and $300, though it’s less if you only need to replace the shank (usually around $75-$100).
These keys will unlock the doors and start the car but won’t open the trunk and limit functions in other ways. The style of the car key will determine how much it costs to copy or replace.
The most advanced keys in use, smart keys, let you turn the car on by pushing a button as long as they’re within your vehicle’s range. These keys can be some of the most expensive to replace because you can only get them through your dealership. If it’s lost, expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $400 for a replacement.
What Is Car Key Programming?
The chips in transponder keys and smart keys are programmed to interact with the specific vehicle they’re associated with. The car key programming process is done at the factory when your car is first sent out or at the dealership when you go in to get a key replacement or copy.
Car key programming devices allow you to sync new keys with a vehicle rather than going to a dealership to have it done. Since it uses information taken directly from the vehicle’s computer to create a unique key that will only operate that vehicle, it’s just as secure as having a new one made by a professional.
How To Use A Car Key Programmer
The first thing you’ll need to do is get a blank key that works with your vehicle. You can order these online from your vehicle manufacturer for much less than you’ll pay to have a key made.
The exact process of using a key programmer varies depending on the tool and what kind of locking system your vehicle uses. Most tools you buy will walk you through the process, either with an on-screen wizard or in the repair manual.
Generally, you start by plugging the programming tool into the diagnostic port, then choosing your vehicle’s make and model from the menu. It will show you the password or pin code for the vehicle’s IMMO system to program this into the new key. Many of these tools can also remotely turn on the ignition, a beneficial feature for programming new smart keys for keyless ignition systems.
Can I program a key fob at home?
Yes, and in some cases, you can do it without a key programmer. Get into your car and turn the ignition to the first “on” setting, press the fob’s lock button, and turn the key off. Repeat this three times. You should hear a lock sound if the programming worked.
What do locksmiths use to program keys?
Automotive locksmiths use an array of specialized equipment to program new keys for vehicles. These include transponder programming and cloning devices and code machines that allow them to read and duplicate pin codes and passwords for vehicle security systems.
How much does it cost to program a key?
That depends on your vehicle and the locksmith you go with. Generally, rekeying a car costs somewhere between $50 and $300.
How long does it take to program a key fob?
Not very long at all. Using an auto key programming tool, you can typically program a key fob in 15-30 minutes.
What scan tool can program keys?
There are a few different options out there. The XTool X100 is one of the most affordable scan tools with IMMO programming and reset functions and new key and remote programming. If you need more professional features, the Xtool X100 PAD also supports a range of repair functions like EPB calibration and battery reset, in addition to basic diagnostics and key programming.
You’ll find some key/key fob programming abilities on the majority of professional-level scan tools. An excellent example of this is the Autel MaxiPRO MP808K, which includes advanced features like bi-directional control and new key programming.
Read More: Tim’s Review of the Best TPMS Programmers