How do smart keys work?

Automobiles equipped with smart key systems have multiple transceivers (antennas that send and receive radio signals) located in a few positions throughout the vehicle. These transceivers constantly monitor for the presence of a smart key in or around the vehicle. When a smart key comes into range of the radio signal of the vehicle's transceivers (a distance of a few feet), the RFID device in the smart key receives information in the vehicle's radio signal commanding the key to return the unique digital signature of the RFID chip in the smart key. If the vehicle's security system recognizes this unique digital signature as that of a key authorized to operate the vehicle, it allows entry into the vehicle, and allows the vehicle to be started with a pushbutton or twist-knob. Most smart keys utilize both active and passive RFID modes. This means that if the battery in a smart key dies, it will not operate normally, but there is usually an emergency procedure which can be used to open and start the vehicle with the smart key until the battery is replaced.

Why do vehicles have smart keys?

Smart keys are a theft deterrent feature as well as a convenience feature. Methods of theft such as "hot-wiring" or forcing of the ignition do not work for vehicles equipped with smart keys. The convenience of a smart key is that by simply leaving the key in your pocket, your vehicle door can unlock for you as you approach, then allow you to start the vehicle with the push of a button, without having to handle any keys.

How are smart keys programmed?

Different vehicles have different systems requiring different methods. Special equipment is required to allow the vehicle to learn the unique digital signature of the smart keys which are to be authorized to start the vehicle, and in some cases the keys also need to learn the unique digital signature of the vehicle. Most smart keys also have a metal insert which is actually a small mechanical key which must be used to unlock the vehicle in the case of a dead vehicle battery. Without this blade you risk being stranded or damaging your car to open it in the case of a dead battery. To avoid this situation, when purchasing smart keys always be sure that they include new metal key inserts, cut to fit your vehicle.