Close this search box.

Key Programming, Immobilizer Systems – Jumping on the Complexity Train


As with almost every system in the modern vehicle, the key / ignition system has progressed considerably in the last twenty years, resulting in today’s sophisticated proximity communications that enable a vehicle to start, assuming everything is properly matched and communicating. It’s a far cry from the days of a key and a mechanical lock cylinder. But, what does this mean for your shop, both in terms of servicing vehicles and the opportunities that key diagnostics provides? This month, we are digging into this corner of the diagnostic world with a variety of useful resources for those currently involved in this service or considering adding it to their offering and, along the way, we will address some of the power issues involved when performing these services.


Key programming has evolved considerably and can now find its way into your repair tickets for a variety of reasons. As noted in this article by Andrew Markel on, there are three common reasons why you might need to perform key programming: “First, being able to diagnose and program keys can be a tool as part of some no-start diagnostics. Second, you may run into a situation where a key or fob needs to be reprogrammed to the vehicle if a module was replaced. Third, a customer might want an extra key or all the original keys were lost.”

Like most current vehicle systems, modern key / ignition systems have gone electronic, which inevitably means that repairs and/or updates of these systems involves a reprogramming event of some sort. Andrew breaks down the current state of key programming, noting that often you are programming the vehicle to match the key rather than the key to match the vehicle. He also breaks down the role PIN codes play within the system architecture of several OEs. He wraps thing up with a review of the general programming challenges of this service, but notes that key programming is now an essential shop capability that can spell higher revenues and profits. It’s a great introduction to this area of service.


This next article, by Josh Cable on, is written more from the perspective of today’s auto parts shop and how they can assist their customer with this area of service, but also provides great information for shops and vehicle owners alike. After breaking down the recent evolution from the mechanical key to today’s proximity keys, Josh first addresses new digital key systems being rolled out by the likes of Apple and Hyundai, noting how even these new systems are evolving rapidly through the deployment of cutting edge technology.

He then addresses the real value of these systems for vehicle owners, in terms of their improved theft protection, “The engine will start only if the code from the transponder chip inside the smart key matches the code in the vehicle’s immobilizer.” Of course, this is what makes things complicated (and expensive) when there are communication issues with existing keys or if a key is lost and a new one needs to be assigned to a vehicle. He finishes the article by noting the different approaches to electronic ignition systems, contrasting the key reprogramming process for Nissan (relatively simple) vs the “Europeans” (much more cumbersome), again stressing the opportunity these systems pose for today’s shops. “… [He] sees that as an opportunity, not a challenge, for repair shops, and he encourages technicians to consider obtaining their locksmith license.”

As a shop, you might be considering getting more involved in this service than you have been in the past. As the two above articles suggest, it could spell an opportunity to expand your service offering, improve your service effectiveness and drive additional shop revenue. But, where and how to start?

As laid out in this press release from last year, NASTF (National Automotive Service Task Force) provides numerous services related to accessing and servicing vehicle security systems, which key programming falls under/into, one of which is its Assisted Immobilizer Reprogramming Service. As the press release explains:
“To facilitate automaker approved methods for completion of these repairs, NASTF and automakers have created the Assisted Immobilizer Reprogramming Service. This service allows a background checked employee at a repair facility to request a secure, Assisted Immobilizer Reprogramming session with a NASTF Contracted Service Provider.”

The assisted service is just one level of access provided by NASTF. They also have a higher level access system called the VSP Registry, which provides a much more extensive level of access to security information. Since NASTF’s website is located behind a login, we won’t provide a link to it, but here is a summary of the VSP Registry from their site:

“The NASTF Vehicle Security Professional (VSP) Registry is a service created from the NASTF Secure Data Release Model (SDRM), a project of the NASTF Vehicle Security Team. SDRM is a data exchange system [that] allows the aftermarket to access security sensitive information related to automobiles, i.e. key codes, PIN numbers, immobilizer reset information, and similar types of information. The NASTF VSP Registry program allows access to security-related information while protecting the safety and security of consumers and the integrity of automobile security systems. USA and Canadian locksmiths and automotive technicians qualified in vehicle security system repairs can become credentialed by the NASTF VSP Registry in order to purchase security codes and VIN-specific computer files directly from the OEM/automaker.”

NASTF serves a unique role in the industry, serving as a “one-stop source for OE repair and tooling information.” A key aspect of this role is its service and information offering around vehicle security systems. If you are planning to add key programming to your service offering, NASTF provides essential services to allow you to be more effective and efficient in your processes.


tsb related to key programming

Too Many Keys? These systems are smart, but this TSB is a great example of the growing pains that ever evolving systems go through before they are fully bullet proof (if they ever truly are). Although this TSB is eight years old, it might still be a useful reminder for shops working on older VW models. It seems that having numerous electronic keys/transponders on a single key ring can cause a no start condition (who would have guessed?)

Jeep Says Key Not Detected
For some Jeep Grand Cherokee models, there are several situations where the vehicle can flash a message that the “Key [is] Not Detected” despite the fact that key functions appear to be working properly. In this TSB, Jeep provides a repair/recalibration procedure to clear the errant warning.

take one critical variable off the table

Key programming and related applications can be tricky and time consuming. And one thing that often isn’t factored for up front, but will need to be address as you begin to offer this service, is the need for power. As one industry case study article put it, “… But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s take this job one step at a time. The first step in this job was a stable battery supply. This [extensive key reprogramming situation] was going to take some time. Once I got the ignition on, the lights would be on, the doors would be open, and this vehicle would be putting a draw on the battery.

Our PRO-LOGIX battery charger and stable power supply offering can reduce the complexity of vehicle diagnosis and repair, including programming applications, including key programming. Our products lead the way when it comes to providing the vehicle with a stable electrical environment, with exceedingly low ripple in our energy delivery and rapid response to changes in load demand (exactly what the vehicle wants in a stable power supply).

For basic power supply functions (not involving a programming event), our PL2320 provides 0-20A, on demand, to support a wide variety of diagnostic, repair (including ADAS recalibrations) and maintenance applications. It is easy to use: just properly connect to the vehicle, place the unit into 12V power supply mode and press START. The PL2320 will bring the system to a set voltage level and provide current, as needed, to hold that voltage level until it is powered down, whether that’s five minutes or five hours.

For programming support, it is hard to beat our PL6100 12V Flashing Power Supply. The PL6100 provides 0-100A, on demand, to support a wide variety of diagnostic, repair (including ADAS recalibrations and module reprogramming) and maintenance applications. The target voltage can be adjusted by the operator to support system voltage from 13.1-14.9V (in 0.1V increments). Like the PL2320, it is easy to use, plus the PL6100 features 10’ cable reach to allow easy access to vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

Have you experienced a crazy diagnostic case involving electronic keys, the immobilizer system or another aspect of smart security systems? We love to hear about it in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Clore Story


Recharge alerts

Related News