#127 – FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND. . . OR LEAVING A LEGACY?
A Morning Run Around the Subdivision Leaves an Impression.
One morning recently, I went out to run my morning run around our closed subdivision (one way in and out only; just 3 streets). Long ago, I measured out a half-mile loop course of the subdivision, and it works quite well when it comes to avoiding traffic. In the early morning when we run, there is hardly any traffic, and all the regulars who are up and about at that hour know my wife and me. They look for us (it helps that we wear reflective vests), and we don’t have many problems with unexpected traffic.
The morning in question, someone had gotten mud on his tires and left a long track of mud on the course. It was impossible to avoid it completely, so I was soon leaving my own tracks around the loop. Now, I run quite a few loops—or most would think so—and I run almost exactly the same path. As a result, by the end of the run, that path was quite visible from my repeated steps.
So, you say, where is this guy going with this? Well, I left an impression, if you’ll pardon the pun, one that was visible for a couple of days after. I never expected people to be able to see what I had done that day, but not only could they see it that day, but also until the next light rain.
We All Leave Some Kind of Legacy.
Whether we want to or not, we can’t help but leave somewhat of a legacy that consists of who we are (or were!) and what we did as a vocation and avocation.
Like a worm or a snail, we leave a trail of deeds, good or bad, and of things done or left undone. One of the big things is how we make a living and how we treated people when we came in contact with them through our work.
With all of that said, often our lives are summed up in a few words in an obituary, or even fewer words on a tombstone. I don’t mean to be morbid, but I have been doing a lot of thinking about all of this lately. You do that when you get older.
Two recent jobs have given me pause to think even more. I won’t go into details with either one, but both consisted of just outrageous conduct by customers, and I made the mistake of pointing out their errors in each case. I took a great deal of verbal abuse in return, to the point of me considering whether it was time to hang it up. I don’t care much about my legacy, if you want to call it that, but I find it hard to keep silent anymore when I am wrongly accused of doing something that I had nothing to do with.
Auto Lock Problems May Have a Non-Lock Cause.
A generic, hypothetical example might be a car that has sat for 6 months, or maybe even a year or more. Sometimes when vehicles have sat that long, there are problems with electrical components, aside from the obvious dead battery (with no possibility of charging it). Especially when cars are exposed to the elements, there are parts such as Power Train Control Modules, ECUs, BCMs, and such that just corrode. Parts can also fail over time in the weather.
When I come to the car and can’t connect with my programming equipment, I get, “Well, it was running fine when I lost the keys.” Or I may be able to connect, but the immobilizer, already 20 years old, has degraded while sitting to the point where the antenna will no longer pickup the signal from the key transponder.
I Do My Best, But I Can’t Overcome All Circumstances.
I would like people to remember me as one who went out of his way to complete the job, but sometimes there are circumstances that I cannot overcome. I often do diagnostic checks with my equipment, at no charge, to identify the problems that could be a hindrance. Sometimes, as with our hypothetical situation, the specific problem can be determined, and after the customer or his mechanic does the repair, the keys can be programmed, and the “sleeping beast” roars to life.
Each Job Is a Footprint on the Course.
Each job I do is one more footprint in that long run on the race course. After a while, almost 39 years now, the trail is pretty well evident, and the preponderance of evidence is that you have tried your best every single time.
I know I haven’t many years left, but I will continue to stay on that path created from years of hard work, sweat, study, and practice. I very much want to be able to look back and say, “At least I made a difference for a few people for a little while.” Maybe that includes you, if I have done work for you.
Call Us For Help with Your Auto Lock or Safe Problem.
If you would like to find some answers to your auto lock or safe problem, give me a call at 618-466-9347. I can’t promise you that I will have all the answers, but I will do my best to solve whatever auto or safe lock or key problem you have. If on that rare occasion we have to pass, we’ll do our best to send you in the right direction to get your job done. Call me at 618-466-9347, and you can leave some of your footprints alongside mine for a short time on that path we call a “career.”
#126 – “COMING HOME TO A PLACE HE’D NEVER BEEN BEFORE. . .”
The Rockies Can Feel Like Home.
The title line is from one of the most recognizable songs ever written: “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver. That song propelled him into a level of stardom that ensured he would never be able to spend as much time as he wanted in those Rocky Mountains.
If you’ve ever lived in or near the Rockies, you can understand the idea of them feeling like home—even if you’re not originally from there or haven’t been to that particular part of the Rockies. I know that working there is a real joy when, from time to time, you can lift up your head from your work and see the masterpiece that God created. I always felt at home up in the Colorado mountains, doing what God called me to do.
So Can the Small Towns of My Youth.
I get the same feeling when I have jobs out in the country, especially in the area where I grew up. Country is not just rural. In my mind, for it to feel like home, it also needs to be one of the small towns from my youth, where memories were made and the person I was to become was fashioned.
One such place is a little town that, as far as I know, was never incorporated. There is a triangular piece of ground on the east side of the “Hard Road” (as we used to call it) that held a two-story house, long since demolished. That house was the first place I actually remember living, and every time I drive by that place, I slow down and let those old and fragmented memories come back.
That triangular piece of grass is just as much home as those Rockies that John Denver, as well as millions of others, loved.
I Often Have Jobs in My Hometown.
I often have occasion to go back to the town where I went to high school, and this is often the town I refer to as my “hometown” for that reason. A lot of events in my life happened in that town—a lot good, some bad, but certainly enough to qualify as a hometown.
Two Recent Jobs in My Hometown
Last week I had two jobs in that hometown on one gray morning. The first was a simple key duplication at a dealership that is owned by a high school classmate of mine. He’s done well with it and has a fine business to show as the result of his life’s work. I rarely see him, but when I do, I always receive a hearty “hello, Al.”
The second job was for someone I knew only by name. He had two cars at his house that each needed a second or backup key. After cutting a standard double-sided key and a laser-cut, high security key, I needed to program them into the vehicles, so I spent some time there at his house.
Memories of What Used to Be
It was an area I knew well. Across the street toward the northeast was the building that once held Johnny’s Market, the equivalent of a convenience store in its day. It basically amounted to a very small grocery store and was a great place to stop on the way home to just grab an item or two.
Also across the road from the customer’s house, but toward the east, was another large building that used to be the biggest funeral home in the town.
At best, I have to say that I disliked the place, only because I hate to go to funerals and visitations. I was very happy when it became a hair salon and spa many years ago.
But, back to reality. The key for the 2018 Ford Fiesta programmed easily. As I worked, I could hear the gentle clucking of hens as they went about their business of laying eggs and eating. Call me crazy, but to me it is such a gentle calming sound. It took me back to the early days of my life on the home farm.
Programming the key for the Chrysler van was a little bit more trouble, but it finally took the second key. Those hens just kept clucking away, unmindful of my problems.
Back to Reality
Reality always has a harsh jerk to it when it hits you. I had to collect my money and head back to my current hometown. It was a certainty that I left with a pocketful of re-stirred memories, and I look forward to “coming home” again in the future, even if it is not exactly where I’ve been before.
Forgive me for my ramblings, but being a locksmith isn’t all work. It is life, all of life, and involves helping people whenever I can and letting them know about Jesus and the grace of God that directs my steps.
Call Us for Automotive Key or Lock Work or for Safe Work.
If you have any automotive key or lock work or safe work you need done, give us a call at 618-466-9347. Yes, I’m an older man now, but that just means I know the area and grew up in some of the area I serve and where you live. We’ll do our best to get you back on the road or get that safe open for you. Call 618-466-9347. I’ll be the one who answers the phone from wherever I am.
#125 – “WHAT’S ON YOUR COMPUTER?”
Wondering What’s In My Wallet?
The title of this article is a take-off on the commercial where several different celebrities ask, “What’s in your wallet?” I kinda chuckle every time I hear it for a couple of reasons. First, if they have to know, there’s very little money in my wallet, and second, no plastic cards that these same celebrities are trying to push.
A few ID cards, like my driver’s license and FOID card, are in my wallet, and of recent years, Medicare insurance cards have taken up residence next to them. And yes, a voter ID card. But setting aside the blatant invasion of privacy that those self-same celebrities are demanding and promoting by their question, my answer to “What’s in your wallet?” is “Not much!”
Does a Locksmith Need a Computer?
But back to the topic of this article. . . The question in the title could be rephrased to ask, “Why do you need a computer to be a locksmith?” The curt answer would be, I don’t. Like 99% of the people on earth, I don’t need a computer. I use a computer for the same reason that most people use them for—convenience, especially in a society that considers a computer as central to business. But need it? Hmmm. . . I could get by without it.
So what does a locksmith have on his computer to justify its daily use?
Online Website Stores Are Useful for Placing Orders.
To start with, the majority of my suppliers have “website stores,” and it is more convenient to put together an order over time and order online than it is to call up and talk to a sales rep.
I still do talk to sales reps. Some have been locksmiths and are quite knowledgeable on what product might better fit my needs. But, for the most part, I dump needed supplies into a “shopping cart,” and submit the order when the dollar amount exceeds the threshold for free shipping. But I still call orders in from time to time.
“Well, it’s obvious,” you say, “that you would order online, but what else is on your computer?”
Locksmith-Only Sites Provide Info.
I have a couple of locksmith-only information websites that I go to to track down key information and procedures for originating keys and programming keys and remotes. It’s not critical that I have these sites accessible on my computer. In fact, for everything I have online, I have a backup paper source for the same information.
There are people on these sites that you can interact with a bit, and one of my favorites is actually based in Great Britain, with locksmiths around the globe asking and answering questions, as well as producing real solutions for lock problems.
Paying Sites Provide Key Codes, Pin Codes, and Key Cuts.
There are other sites I use that I pay for. One site is a VIN to code/pincode site that I rarely use, but in certain odd circumstances, it has bailed me out. The site provides key codes and pin codes for just a few foreign autos, and it is pay per use. It is a nice backup to have in extreme cases where a code is needed but is not easily available elsewhere.
The other site along the same lines is a code to key cuts site. I do use this quite a bit because I can track down many codes quicker on my phone than pulling out large books of codes to track them down.
Not only is it code to cuts, it also fills in the possible cuts when not all are known. This has become more important over the years because car companies have gone to not putting all tumblers in the door and trunk locks to discourage theft by surreptitious key generation. If there are multiple possibilities for the missing key cuts, the site will give you all of them in a progression chart to help you complete the key.
The Computer Helps Save Time and Money for You and Me.
There are other things, mostly informational, on my computer that get used from time to time, but I’ve covered what I use the most. The use of the computer for this locksmith is for convenience, efficiency, and time saving (most of the time!). That means I can do your job more efficiently and save money and time for both of us.
But I’m Still “Old School.”
I am “old school.” There is no getting around that. That’s why I have paper-based backup methods and sources for just about everything on my computer. So, rest assured, if you have a lock or safe problem, we have you covered. Whether I pull out a Dell laptop or a crusty old code book from the 1980s, I have the knowledge and resources to get your job done, and done correctly. Call us at 618-466-9347, and we’ll discuss your particular lock and safe problem.
Call If You Need My Services. (Don’t Text or Email!)
And since I still am “old school,” your way of reaching me has to be by phone call. We don’t correspond with customers by email or text. When you deal with Al Davenport, you talk to Al Davenport. You can do just that at 618-466-9347. Remember that we open and service safes also. (And we don’t take plastic!)
#124 – AND THEN THINGS BECOME SURREAL. . .
Most days the calls come in, appointments are made, and the work completed. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s never boring. There is always something new and different and interesting. But things can be routine until you run into something really strange. . .
One afternoon recently, things started off normally. I had taken three calls and set them up in a row to do them quickly and efficiently.
Job One: Rekeying a Toyota Tailgate Lock
The first job was at a large auto body repair business, and my task was to key a new Toyota Tundra tailgate lock to the existing key. Even at a relaxed pace, it only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to disassemble the new lock, put in the correct tumblers, and reassemble the lock. After handing over the rekeyed lock, I collected my check and headed just a half mile down the road to the next job. It pays to plan ahead when you’re scheduling. It saves a lot of time and money for gas.
Job Two: Originating and Programming Keys for a 2007 Dodge
The second job was a routine one also, a 2007 Dodge Nitro that was an “all keys lost” situation. The customers thought they could save a little money by ordering the keys from Amazon, which is OK by me, as long as the keys are of decent quality. When they are not and do not program correctly (or at all), you have to do a lot of explaining about exactly what is wrong.
The picking and decoding of the mechanical lock went smoothly, and I cut the customer-supplied Remote Head Keys. Using my programming tool, I pulled the pin number and programmed them, but that’s when a little hiccup happened. The keys would start the vehicle, but neither remote attached as the head of the key would work.
OK, time to check the batteries in the remotes. I checked the batteries in front of the customer, and one was completely dead. On the other one, the battery was satisfactory, but the contacts for the battery needed to be bent to make a proper connection.
With one battery replaced and both keys redone, I rechecked them with the customer beside me. Both remotes worked, but the car’s remote system obviously had some problems—dealer-level problems. I told the customer to check with the dealer on his next trip in, and he said he would. He was just happy to have his Nitro running again.
Job Three: Originating Keys for a 1964 Buick
The third scheduled job had the potential to be interesting even when I scheduled it. It was an “all keys lost” situation on a 1964 Buick. Working on a vintage vehicle can sometimes be challenging. I drove three towns away and pulled up in front of the house.
The fun began immediately: an elderly couple who obviously had been married just short of a thousand years. Both were slightly hard of hearing and both constantly corrected each other on minor details about the last keys. They led me into a garage. Their car was a monster ‘64 Buick, about the size of an Abrams tank. With the situation I had, I decided that using my “tryout keys” to determine the cuts for the ignition and door keys would be the best route.
That’s when things got loud and surreal. The husband put on a Johnny Cash “Greatest Hits” album that was at a sound level that “Spinal Tap” would call an 11 on a 10 scale. I shouted to the couple to let them know that the car battery was dead, although I could still do my job of making the keys without a working battery.
The next 25 minutes were a mass of confusion with them trying 3 different battery chargers, which they could not get to work, and the couple shouting criticism and direction at each other while “A Boy Named Sue” (and other hits) drowned them out.
I quit trying to make polite conversation and enjoyed the concert while making the keys.
I saw Johnny Cash in concert at the University of Illinois way back when I was in school there, and he and his band weren’t nearly as loud in concert as they were on tape in this garage. Oh, did I mention this was an 8-track tape system? With car lights flickering on and off, the sound booming off the walls of the closed garage, and two people shouting very loudly at each other, it was a rather strange scene.
I finished up making the keys and gave them two sets. I told the lady to hide one set, so they would always have them, and she replied, “Heavens, no! That’s why we had to call you! My husband is not supposed to drive, so I hid his keys and forgot where I hid them. I’ve looked everywhere, but I haven’t been able to find them after looking for a couple weeks.”
Externally, I kept my poker face, but inside I was shaking my head. Yes, I’d run into this before, but this was one of the stranger ones.
I collected my fee and both said, “I hope we don’t have to call you again.” I agreed and wished them well with the battery chargers.
Job Four: Opening a Locked-up Ford Taurus
It was as if the Lord knew I needed a regular job to bring reality back in focus, so on the way home, I got a call to open a Ford Taurus. All went normally, and I was thankful for that.
Call Us About Your Automotive or Safe Lock Problem.
If you do have an odd situation, don’t be afraid to call us. We solve problems that arise out of day to day life, as well as those that might be a little far out there. The number to call is 618-466-9347, and do not be afraid to tell me what you need done, or why. After almost 39 years as a locksmith, I’ve seen and been through it all. Besides, it makes for some very interesting days. Call 618-466-9347, and remember, we also open and repair safes.
#123 – ALL DAY RAIN—
TIME TO CALL A LOCKSMITH?
I have this stubborn notion in my head that customers wait until it is raining (or in some cases snowing) to call for a solution to their lock problems. Then throw in the idea that the weatherman says rain all day, and for once, when you don’t want them to be right, they are.
Yes, I do appreciate the work and being able to help people with their lock and safe problems. That’s what I do and probably will until my dying day.
But give me a little leeway to complain just a tad. It’s allowed, you know. Old men are allowed to be just a little grumpy from time to time. That’s why someone in their infinite wisdom invented the word curmudgeon.
A recent Thursday was a beautiful day with a comfortable temperature and just enough work to cover my basic daily requirements to make a modest living. Then Friday rolled around, and the fun(?) began. Let’s take a look at what we did while playing in that rain.
Job One: Originating Keys for a Nissan Altima
First, and very early in the day, was originating keys for a 2004 Nissan Altima. Under dry conditions, it’s not too difficult a job, but it was pouring cats and dogs. The general idea is to pick the door lock and decode it. However, it is hard to see the very tiny lines on the Lishi pick/decoder with water on it, so it means constantly wiping the water off it.
After getting a good solid read from the decoder, I retreated to my truck and cut the working key. At this point, I just went back and forth from my truck to the car, determined 2 additional tumblers, cut the transponder key, and then finally programmed the key. At this point, my part was done, but the car wouldn’t start, probably due to a starter problem. I left that for a mechanic to deal with.
One note related to rainy day locksmithing: never, never use a pen that does not contain waterproof ink. As much as I like Pilot G-2 pens, they run like crazy and are not good in the rain. Any standard ballpoint would be better.
Job Two: Programming Proximity Keys for Several Vehicles
The next stop was a small used car lot, and most of the work was programming proximity keys inside the cars, so of course it wasn’t raining quite as hard then. Three quick jobs and a minimum of slogging in the rain, and I was read to head home for some good ole “Slop Bucket Soup” for lunch.
Job Three: Duplicating Laser Cut Emergency Keys for a Ford Edge
I had hardly finished the last bite when it was back out in the rain. It’s good to have a Gore-Tex™ rain coat. It does keep one dry. Also a must is a coat with a hood that is large enough to double as a partial umbrella above the lock you are bending over to work on.
The first job after lunch was a quick job duplicating laser cut emergency keys for a Ford Edge, and then finally, a job indoors!
Job Four: Picking a Padlock on a Storage Unit
The local U-Haul has a huge complex of rental units indoors, and after locating the customer needing my services, I took my time and picked a U-Haul disc-type padlock.
Job Five: Originating Keys for a Grand Prix
But the final job of the day was back out in the rain—and a lot of it—to originate keys for a Grand Prix. To top it off, the vehicle’s door lock was not working well and had tumblers hanging up that did not respond to lubrication.
I finally picked it, but the decoding produced a key that would barely work the door.
Time to go to the ignition lock. Even though it was a sidebar lock, with a little knowledge and skill and a lot of grace from God above, it can be impressioned. And it was. I cut it on a chip key, and 12 minutes later, I wrote up the ticket and collected my fee.
At least I didn’t drown. It had rained all day, and I had one of the busiest days since the start of the year.
Rainy Days Make You Appreciate the Dry Ones.
I guess it is one of those things where you appreciate the good days more when you get a few wet ones thrown in. Dry clothes are something to be thankful for, as well as a warm house and a good supper.
Yes, it’s about the simple things in life. And sometimes it means that to appreciate those simple things you have to get out and do your job in messy weather.
Don’t Hesitate to Call for Help with Your Lock Problem on a Rainy Day.
So, if you have lock problems on a rainy day, don’t hesitate to call. (Based on past rainy days, no one hesitates at all, but I had to throw it in there just in case.) We will do our best to put you back on the road, no matter if it is raining or not.
Snow is a bit of a different story. It sometimes becomes necessary to limit travel if the roads are in poor condition, but again, we’ll do our best to get your lock work done as quickly as allowable.
Call us at 618-466-9347, and we’ll see to your lock and safe problems, come rain or shine. Hopefully shine!
#122 – A BAD DAY LOCKSMITHING IS BETTER THAN ANY DAY FISHING!
You Won’t Find Me Playing Hooky to Go Fishing.
I’m not a fisherman. Period. Oh, I’ve fished before, but the last time was almost 50 years ago. I have no intention of breaking that streak of consecutive non-fishing days by just dumping work and sticking a line in a pond somewhere. You can count on that.
So, when you call, I’m going to answer the phone. You need not worry about hearing a recording saying “Gone fishin’!”
But I Have Bad Days from Time to Time.
But I have my days, believe me, where the day goes pretty rough. Never enough that I wished that I was off fishing, but almost. A bad day of locksmithing starts off with the idea that even on a good day, you’re doing what a lot of people consider impossible. Making high security keys, opening safes, that sort of thing that the average “Joe” or “Joetta” just can’t do. In popular language, it’s not in their “skill set.” Then throw in the idea of having a bad day, and the impossible becomes difficult to do.
I recently had a string of jobs that, after looking back, constituted a bad day.
Bad Day, Job One – Key and Remote for a Honda Civic
It started at an auto body shop, and the first culprit was a 2010 Honda Civic 4-door hybrid. To start with, I broke the cutter on my side milling duplicator machine and had to replace it. Then, for some reason, I had a hard time getting the cutter adjusted just right.
It took a third time tracing the blank before it would enter and operate the lock.
Oh, well, time to program the remote. After about 10-12 tries, it was finally accepted by the car. By that time, I was starting to look over my shoulder. . .
Bad Day, Job Two – Remote Head Key for a Dodge Ram
At that same place of business, the owner just wanted a Remote Head Key (a key containing remote buttons on the head of the key) duplicated and programmed into his 2006 Dodge Ram pickup. No problem, I thought, naively. I cut the key, went to the truck with my high dollar, “take me out and try me first” programmer and just could not get it to pull the pin number on the vehicle to program keys. Oh, well, that’s why we in the key programming after market have multiple tools in our “kit,” as my British friends like to say.
When there is a hiccup with my fancy programmer, my little blue box programmer usually works in that situation. But no go again. I’m starting to shake my head as I pull out a tool that I had not used on Chrysler before. Finally, it pulled the pin number and allowed me to add the extra Remote Head Key.
Ok, I thought, maybe the bad part of the day is over.
Bad Day, Job Three – Removing and Adding Keys on a Toyota Camry
I pulled into a local dealership to remove the old keys electronically on a 2018 Toyota Camry and add two back in.
I should have known it was not going to go smoothly—and it didn’t. The key part went ok, and the car started right up with both new keys. But the remote part of the key did not program in, no matter what I did. Now you know why you never meet a locksmith with a full head of hair.
Something was wrong with the receiving antenna or system, and it is basically beyond my “skill set” (got to use that one again!) to track down and repair or replace what’s necessary.
Better Day, Jobs Four to Six – Success!
You’ll be happy to know that after lunch, though, things went much smoother:
Originated the keys for a 2006 Econoline van in about 10 minutes
Cut and programmed a flip key remote for an F150 in about the same amount of time and
Cut another side milled (high security) key at another dealership
Hard Times Help Us Appreciate the Good Times More.
I’m convinced that God gives us hard times, so we can appreciate the good times even more. One day with half rough and half smooth jobs really reinforced that lesson for me, and I thank God for His rich grace that He supplies so often.
Let Us Help with Your Bad Day Relating to Auto Locks or Safes.
You might be having a bad day sometime, and it may involve giving me a call for automotive lock or safe work. Just know two things:
Bad times don’t last forever; and
We will do our best to make sure they don’t, at least as far as your lock problems go.
So, if you need keys made, a car opened, or any type of safe work, just call us at 618-466-9347, and we’ll discuss problems and solutions. And just know this: If you are having a bad day, we can relate because we have one every once in a while, too. Call us at 618-466-9347, and we’ll get your lock problems taken care of and head your day in a better direction.
#121 – AROUND THE BENZ – TWO MERCEDES
Jobs Tend to Run in Bunches.
I’ve talked about it before, how things tend to run in bunches. Jobs will come in for a fairly tight geographical area and then move on to another town or area the next week. Some of that is due to “word of mouth” (the best kind of advertising available!), where one happy customer immediately tells family or friends and then I get a call from them.
From a locksmith point of view, this is a perfect world, where it is not necessary to shell out huge amounts for yellow page or newspaper advertising. Oh, you shell out a little for business cards, but let’s not get too tight with the money!
I Don’t Get Many Calls for Mercedes-Benz.
Back to things in bunches—I can easily go several months without a request to do anything with a Mercedes-Benz. Most Benz owners know, from being schooled by the dealer and maybe the school of “hard knocks” also, that the dealer pretty well has a monopoly on their own keys and consequently their replacements. So, most of the calls I get are for really old MBs for keys, or opening one with the keys locked inside.
Two Mercedes in three days is a headline in this one man outfit’s book. Both were missing key situations, but of much different stripes. Both were handled in a similar way.
Recent Encounter: Lost Keys for an Old 300 Series Mercedes
The old one was first: a 300 series from around 1985 or so. The customer, who is a regular by virtue of his outstanding ability to lose keys, lost his only key to this vehicle and was in a hurry to get it replaced. He called me, and I told him I would see what I could do.
I wasn’t sure of the key system until I got on site and checked out the car. It was a very well preserved old MB. The key system was one of the oldest high security systems in Mercedes cars.
Designated by key manufacturers as the HU39 key and lock system, it has split tumblers in the various tumbler positions on both sides of the side-milled keys. But let’s back the truck up just a smidge.
The car was locked, and I needed not only to get it open but also to decode the locks and cut a key. But in checking, I could not find a key blank for that old system on my truck. I told the owner I could order it, but that was not good enough. I told him I would head the direction of ordering the key, and he could check with a Benz dealer about their making a key.
Well, I got halfway there. It is much easier to pick many high security locks to the locked position, and this was no exception. I picked it and carefully decoded the lock. Since I did not have the blank, I left it locked, since it was being stubborn picking to the unlocked position.
I told the owner I would get the appropriate key blanks in, but the next day, he called and said that MB in St. Louis could cut him a key immediately, so he got one there. I did get the appropriate key blanks in, so I have them on hand for a future situation. The dealer is not always able to supply the correct key. Keys on an older vehicle may have been changed or the key from the dealer just might not work for whatever reason.
Another Recent Encounter: a Newer Locked Up Mercedes with a Dead Battery
The second Benz was just today: a 2007 ML350 with a much different two-track system. When the customer bought the car used, he was given just one key and had not seen fit to get a second one. But his really big, “Major League” problem was that the electronic key did not have a mechanical emergency key enclosed as it is supposed to, and his car battery died. Oops, that is a problem. You need to get to the hood inside the vehicle, and it was locked.
This customer was also a previous customer, but clear back in the day when I still worked on residential locks. He called me this time hoping that I could at least get him in the vehicle.
And I did. The door lock suffered from inattention, and I lubricated it two different times before I got all the tumblers working freely. Even with a gummed up lock, it only took about 15 minutes from start to finish to pick it. As a side note, this is one of MB’s odd situations where once the lock is picked or unlocked with a key, you must lift up on the handle several times, and the lock button will gradually come up to the unlocked position.
I’m glad it worked the way it was supposed to. The customer was headed to the dealer to get a second electronic key, so he decided he didn’t need me to make an emergency key for him. I did not have the emergency key blank that fit his fob, but I could have made a separate key that would do the same job.
There you have it. Now you know why Mercedes is not widely serviced by locksmiths.
Most Mercedes Key Issues Are Best Left to Dealers.
To summarize, Mercedes-Benz dealers control their keys, especially on the newer models. The mechanical lock systems are difficult at best, and transponder key origination is best left to those who control their keys. I just don’t see enough of Mercedes to justify the HUGE outlay of cash for equipment, and yes, the technical training to do it right. Some of my locksmith friends in Europe, where MB is found everywhere, almost have to become mini-dealer-level MB shops, just to handle the key origination.
Yep, Benz is one that I don’t do much with. So few of them cross my path, and I stay so busy with the other “40+” brands of cars that it just isn’t for me.
But We May Be Able to Help in an Emergency.
But if you have a Benz, give us a call. We may be able to do something in the key line such as cut an emergency key or open your car if the keys are locked in. Call 618-466-9347, and if we can’t help you personally, we’ll make sure you know what you have to do to get back on the road again.
Again, call 618-466-9347, and remember that we also open and repair safes.
#120 – WOW, 2019 IS GONE, or What I Learned in (Locksmith) School This Year
A Year Whizzes By Quickly.
It certainly doesn’t seem to take very long for the earth to make one loop around the sun, at least when you’re old and getting older. It’s a long way to travel, and for those of you who are math whizzes, the earth is 93 million miles from the sun. Circumference is equal to Pi (π=3.1415926) times diameter. I’ll leave it to you to do the math. Just let it be said that in one year we travel a long way, but we do it at a very fast speed.
But what does that have to do with locksmithing? A lot, actually.
Auto Lock Technology Changes Just as Quickly.
The flood of technology coming at us is going as fast as the earth around the sun. With just one new model year, you have 50 car companies with 10-15 new models or revised models to deal with. New keyblanks, transponders, remotes, proximity keys, programming tools, key cutting machines: all have to be upgraded for a new model year.
Chrysler’s New Technology Has Its Own Issues.
Chrysler is a wonderful example of new technology falling all over itself. In 2018, Chrysler made a big push to block outside or after-market programmers by upgrading the access security through the OBDII port that is on all new cars for the last 20+ years. But someone found a weakness in the system, and voila, a new tool with new software was on the market to defeat the new security.
Now Chrysler has changed the type of pin number used, and they are unable to issue a correct pin number on some of their own models. This is still sorting itself out as we speak, but 2019 Chrysler models are hard, if not impossible, to originate and program keys for at this time with current aftermarket equipment.
New Picking and Decoding Tools Are Available From Mr. Li (Original Lishi).
One of my favorite tools companies, Mr. Li—Original Lishi, has really expanded the scope of their picking and decoding tools. They have come out with a set of picks that allow for picking and decoding residential and light commercial locks with the KW1 (Kwikset) or SCI (Schlage) keyway. This has made a big difference in the ability to open a lock and originate keys without disassembly, consequently saving much time. For the locksmith with skills honed through practice, Mr. Li has cut way down on the number of headache variety of lockouts.
The “Black Box™” Aids in Opening Electronic Safe Locks.
The “Black Box™”, a tool for opening electronic safe locks, has really leveled the playing field when it comes to dealing with these types of locks on safes. The biggest increase in electronic locks has been on gun safes, and it is hard to buy one anywhere that has an “old style” mechanical lock with a dial. It used to be the other way around.
The “Black Box™” has the ability to connect with the safe lock from the “push” pad wiring on the outside of the safe, saving huge amounts of time and money on opening and repair. But at this time, the tool is also very expensive and does not always work when the electronic lock has failed for some reason.
I have not purchased one yet. I will continue to evaluate my need for it versus price and go from there. Perhaps this year, if there is any drop in price on the tool.
Proximities Are Rampant on New Cars and Trucks.
Proximity is the name of the game for all new cars and trucks. It is unusual for a 2019 or a 2020 not to have push-button start. The biggest problem with these, from the locksmith standpoint, is expense. They cost so durned much, and there are a variety for each car maker. Inventory costs are through the roof, but people frequently cannot wait even overnight to get a new proximity key, especially if they have lost all of theirs. So, if the locksmith is going to sell a proximity, he has to have it on hand.
It makes me grimace when I’ve gone to the trouble of stocking all I can afford, and a new one pops up that I need for the current job. For example, Ford now has at least 3 different frequencies on their proximities and different setups for remote start, tailgate lower and lift on F150s, different setups for Canadian-made vehicles. . . you get the idea. And that’s just Ford.
I try to keep up with the big 3 American automakers but beyond that with Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc., my proximity inventory is a bit spotty, and I may have to order the specific one needed by a customer if it’s not one I have on hand.
Another problem with proximities is that car owners, wanting to save money, buy their own on Amazon and eBay and don’t always get the exact one needed for their vehicle. I have related before about how Honda has one remote head key for a 2-door Civic and a completely different one for the 4-door model of the same year.
My own opinion is that it is bordering on insanity. But you play the hand you are dealt.
Call Us About Your Automotive Key, Remote or Proximity Need.
If you need keys, remotes, or proximity keys, or need to have one of yours programmed, we’ll do our best to take care of those needs.
As this blue marble seems to go faster and faster around the yellow one, the technology just keeps coming at an astronomical pace. Bear with us if we do not have yours in stock. We’ll do our best to get it in for you in a timely fashion.
A New Year’s Prediction and a Resolution
If you want my New Year’s prediction, here it is: The rate at which new lock technology comes out will increase, making it go past like slats on a picket fence at 90 miles an hour.
And my closing New Year’s resolution is this: to do the best I can to keep up with that technology and provide you with the locks, keys, and services you may need in the coming year. Call us at 618-466-9347, and remember, we not only do automotive lock work, but we also open and repair safes.
Happy New Year to all!
[Visit the "2020 Articles by Al" page for Al's most recent articles. #127 was posted on 2-19-20. Below are some "classic" articles from the archives.]
#4 - THE SAFE - WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Just what is a safe? If you take the dictionary definition in its simplest form, it is a box with a lock on it. Its purpose is to limit access to whatever is stored inside to those who have the means to open the lock. A book could be (and may have been) written about the types and brands of safes and the various locks that keep the wrong people out. But to keep it simple, we will limit the scope of this article to the most common safes in use today.
Residential Fire Safes Offer Little Beyond Fire Resistance.
Most of the low-end, Big Box store type safes are designed to be fire resistant. The protection offered by safes such as Brinks, Sentry, and a plethora of Korean made safes with various names is adequate fire protection. But fire protection (or resistance) is all you can expect from the low-end safes. Most do not take any imagination to force open the door, no matter what kind of lock they have. It should be a crime to advertise low-end fire safes as a means of protecting cash and valuables.
Gun Safes Offer A Little More Security.
Gun safes are generally a small step up in security from residential fire safes. The better gun safes, such as those made by AMSEC and other long established companies, offer good storage protection for weapons. The better safes also offer some fire resistance, but not a lot. Most gun safes still do not provide adequate protection for storing high value items and large amounts of cash.
Money Safes Provide Both Fire and Burglar Resistance.
Money safes or money chests come in many shapes and sizes, but there is a standard rating system (Baby Bear, Mama Bear, Papa Bear) that will guide you to the type of burglar protection you need. Typically they are designed not just to resist against standard burglar attacks, but also against a knowledgeable person with access to professional tools. Many have composite barrier materials that allow for fire protection as well as burglary protection. Expect to pay in the thousands for this kind of security.
Older Safes May Not Be as Protective as You Think.
Older safes (pre-WWII) that were used for fire protection did not contain modern-type fire protection materials – often just concrete and possibly asbestos. Over time, older safes turn from fire protectors to “kilns” that have a tendency to cook the contents, rather than protect them. So, older safes should be avoided unless you can fit a modern fire resistant box inside them to combine both fire and burglar resistance.
You Get What You Pay For.
In summary, you get the protection you pay for in buying safes. Residential fire safes are good for fire protection, but if you want to store cash, gold, silver, or other valuables, go with the big rating and the peace of mind that solid engineering brings to the table.
#3 - CAR LOCKOUTS
The Ultimate Buzz Killer: Locking Your Keys In Your Car!
Talk about a buzz killer! Nothing can wreck your day more than your keys being on the other side of a locked door. What a downer! If you are locked out of your house, at least you may have a hidden key or can find an unlocked window. The worst lockout for most people, though, is a car lockout. More often than not, it happens away from home, and a hopeless feeling can even turn to fear if you are in the wrong neighborhood or around the wrong people.
A “Slim Jim” Is Not a Good Solution.
Back in the 70s and 80s, it seemed that everybody and his brother had a popular car opening tool generally called a “slim jim.” For a few years, this tool would open quite a few cars with a minimum of knowledge and skill. Of course, some cars were easily damaged by disconnecting the lock from the latch by people who had more good intentions than knowledge and skill.
Almost all modern cars (since 1980 and up) have been engineered to deny entry by a "slim jim." If someone offers to open your car with one, the proper (and wise!) response would be to politely say, "No, thank you."
Calling the Police May Not Be Your Best Bet.
In some communities, the local police or sheriff’s department will come out and open your vehicle “for free.” If you decide to take this route, there are a few things you need to know:
1. Most departments offering this service do not have a training program to teach proper entry of a locked vehicle.
2. The tools used by most police are designed to force an opening between the door and frame, and considerable damage can result, which leads us to. . .
3. You will not be able to hold the police responsible for damages because you were probably required to sign a waiver.
4. And lastly, yes, you are paying for it, through taxes that pay for them to protect and serve.
We Offer A Damage-Free Solution Which May Be Paid by Insurance.
It’s your choice – but what I offer is a professional, damage-free opening, and since most car openings are covered under “road service” on car insurance policies, you won’t be paying out of pocket if you have this coverage.
Call Us At 618-466-9347 For Prompt Service.
There is nothing better than having something done right. We open almost all vehicles by opening (picking) the lock on the door, which does no damage because it duplicates the action of the key. Yes, we charge a professional fee, but your insurance will cover it in most cases. So give us a call at 618-466-9347 to retrieve your keys the proper (and damage-free) way.
#2 - CLICKER DISEASE
Remotes Are Great!
Unless you are possibly as old as I am, you may not remember a day when cars did not come with remotes. They (the remotes) were created to provide ultimate convenience—security without having to use keys to open a mechanical lock. Just press a button and zap, your car door is unlocked. Wonderful indeed!
Always Using the Remote Can Cause Door Lock Problems
But what about the poor mechanical lock that isn’t used for weeks, months, or even years? Most certainly, things happen, and all are bad.
Most auto locks are assembled with a large amount of white lithium grease to lubricate and resist corrosion. That’s great as long as you use the lock, so the grease stays fluid and loose. But with continual non-use and no periodic lubrication, the grease that helps in the beginning eventually becomes very hard. After 2-3 years it can be hard enough to solidify around the tumblers and freeze them in place.
“Clicker Disease” Can Result.
Of course, there is no problem as long as remotes work, and the battery on the car never dies. But if the remote fails and the car owners even remember they have a mechanical lock, too many times the key does not operate the lock anymore. Even with a quick lube, many times the lock will not work because “Clicker Disease” has set in. “Clicker Disease” is my term for what happens when using the remote (or clicker) exclusively.
Prevent It by Lubing Your Locks and Using Your Key Occasionally.
The solution to avoid this calamity is obvious: lubricate your auto locks and use your key periodically in your vehicle’s door lock(s). An oil-based lubricant that contains silicone or Teflon works well for this purpose. The industry has come up with several good products in the last few years.
One product you should NOT use in modern wafer tumbler locks (such as in your car) is graphite. Graphite is a modern lock killer. It can stop a lock from working completely. Just don’t use it on car locks. Period.
With just some minor attention and use of your key periodically, you can avoid standing outside a dead car with a good key and a bad lock. And yes, you can avoid that call to me to get you underway by stamping out Clicker Disease.
Call Us at 618-466-9347 if You Need Help.
But if you are in this situation, give us a call (618-466-9347). We can set things right again in most situations.
#1 - "CHIP" KEYS
Most Newer Car Keys
Have a Chip in Them.
Properly known as transponder keys, “chip” keys do indeed contain an electrical element known as a transponder or “chip.” It’s a small device that stores a numeric code or identity that is unique to that transponder.
Not all car keys have them yet, but the vast majority do. Some companies such as Hyundai and Kia have been slower at adding chip keys to their new car offerings. Rental cars, fleet cars, and police cruisers typically do not have chip keys to ease replacement of keys.
You Can't Necessarily Tell By Looking That It's a Chip Key.
.Just because you can’t see a chip in your key doesn’t mean there isn’t one. A chip scanner/reader is needed to tell, much like a vet would need a chip reader to determine if an animal has been chipped.
Chip Keys Cost a Lot More Than Non-Chip Keys.
Chances are, however, that you do have a chip in your car, truck or SUV key. If you need an extra key – or worse, have lost all your keys – it’s going to cost a good deal more than what you may be used to. In fact, many of my customers have to be treated for “sticker shock,” even though I’m one of the more inexpensive locksmiths in our area.
Chip Keys May Cost 20-$200 & Up, Not Counting Programming Costs.
Expect a chip key to cost somewhere around $20 to 50 for a key without a remote on the head of the key or $50 to as much as $200 or more with a remote head on it. The key must be cut and then programmed to your car. Costs vary widely, with laser or side-milled keys costing much more to cut because special equipment is needed. The programming costs are also dependent on the car, and some cars such as BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo are just short of impossible to program with after-market equipment.
Expect to pay $70 to $120 or more for an extra key if your vehicle has a chip key and you still have a key. If you have lost ALL the keys, my price typically starts at $135 total (including service call, cutting the key, and programming it) and goes up from there.
We Keep Costs Low.
As a mobile locksmith, I come to you and can keep the costs on the lower side. Most times this will be much cheaper and quicker for you than having your car towed to a dealer for the work to be done there.
For Your Personalized Quote.
If you need an extra key for your vehicle or have lost all your keys to it, give us a call (618-466-9347). Once you give us the year, make and model of your car/truck/SUV and the town where it’s located, we can give you an estimate right over the phone. No one likes surprises, and we try to make a difficult time a little easier.
Copyright 2019 AL DAVENPORT CERTIFIED MASTER LOCKSMITH