#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. #122 was posted on 1-15-20. 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