Auto Locksmiths blog

Pros and Cons of Using Aftermarket Car Keys

By May 4, 2023 June 6th, 2023 No Comments

Nowadays, car keys come in sorts of designs and offer all sorts of functionality that was quite rare even a decade ago. By far and large, the most popular types of keys used for most vehicles in America today are key fobs, featuring remote entry, the ability to pop the trunk, sound the alarm, and much more.

Although it’s always good advice to try to keep your keys safe at all times, they do tend to get lost or misplaced or perhaps even stolen. Losing your car keys or your key fobs can be quite stressful, but there are solutions out there to secure your vehicle if ever you’ve lost your car keys.

Naturally, the first thing that often comes to mind is to either call your dealership or an automotive locksmith near you to request a replacement car key for your for your specific vehicle’s make and model. There are pros and cons to using a dealership, just as there are pros and cons to using OEM or aftermarket replacement keys. This blog post will outline the pros and cons of buying an aftermarket car key:

Aftermarket car keys

Aftermarket vs OEM car keys: what’s the difference?

Before listing out the pros and cons of aftermarket car keys, it’s first important to understand what they are and how they differ from OEM car keys. All car keys and key fobs in the United States are made by a couple of handfuls of major manufacturers and suppliers such as Keyless2Go (Key Innovations), iKeyless, and American Key Supply to name a few.

Briefly, the main difference between OEM and aftermarket car keys is that OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) keys and other vehicle components are manufactured by the vehicle manufacturer, or as is often the case, approved and authorized manufacturers of OEM-grade keys and vehicle components. Aftermarket, on the other hand, denotes products that are not manufactured by authorized manufacturers.

Pros of aftermarket car keys

Why buy an aftermarket car key? Here are a few reasons:

Affordable & cost-effective

How much does a replacement car key cost? Well, that answer can vary quite widely. A standard physical key might cost a few bucks, but realistically most vehicle owners today need replacement key fobs which can run well into the hundreds (or even $1,000 or more) to replace, depending on the make and model of the vehicle.

Generally, aftermarket keys cost substantially less than OEM keys for two important reasons. Firstly, aftermarket keys often cost around $15 to $50 or so for most commonly-owned vehicles in the United States whereas OEM keys might cost around $30 to well into the hundreds for the same vehicle model. Secondly, OEM keys usually need to be procured from a specific supplier and must normally be programmed through your dealership, which can cost substantially more than going to an automotive locksmith to perform the exact same job.

If you plan to order a replacement key fob and program it yourself, you could end up saving hundreds of dollars when you purchase an aftermarket key, but please keep in mind that programming key fobs can be quite frustrating and time-consuming so it’s often best left to an automotive locksmith.

Widely available

Since OEM keys tend to be exclusively made and sold by a select group of manufacturers and suppliers whereas aftermarket keys do not, it’s often a heck of a lot easier to find compatible aftermarket car keys for your vehicle. By shopping for aftermarket car keys online, you’ll be able to bypass having to buy your keys from exclusive manufacturers and suppliers.

Nowadays, it’s possible to purchase all sorts of aftermarket keys on Amazon or through online retailers that carry a wide stock of keys for all sorts of makes and models. This gives you, the customer, plenty of choice in terms of functionality, price and design for your replacement car keys.

Functionality and features

Along with all of the choices available for aftermarket car keys, you’ll also find plenty of choices in terms of features and functions. Some functions on aftermarket keys may have already existed on your original key fob, such as remote locking/unlocking, trunk popping, or sounding the car alarm. Some keys may be lacking certain features while others may have additional features which may or may not be compatible with your vehicle, so it’s worth inspecting every product carefully before buying.

In addition to functionality, some aftermarket keys may be made of better (or worse) quality materials, have a cooler design or different color than your original set, or they might be a little more compact or bigger.

Cons of aftermarket car keys

What potential downsides are there to buying an aftermarket car key? Here are a few:

Inconsistent quality

Depending on the manufacturer and supplier, the quality of aftermarket keys can vary from poor to very good (even on par or arguably even better than OEM keys). Generally, aftermarket keys tend to be as good and as reliable as OEM keys or slightly worse in terms of durability, but the significant cost savings might outweigh these factors.

One important thing to look for is the quality of materials used and the reputability of the key manufacturer. Poor-quality materials can lead to your key fob cracking or breaking, and extreme temperature can damage your keys and locks so always shop for keys made of quality materials. This can happen with OEM car keys, but the risk of failure due to slight damage or from exposure to extreme heat or cold can be more pronounced for some aftermarket keys.

Compatibility issues

As mentioned previously in the pros for aftermarket car keys, added features and functionality can be great – provided that they work, of course. Unfortunately, many aftermarket key fobs come with features that are incompatible with your vehicle make and model (sometimes even if the product description for the key says that it’s compatible).

Third-party car key manufacturers generally produce keys that are compatible with the given vehicle make and model, but in some circumstances the key simply doesn’t work properly or at the very least one or more features do not work properly. Very often, these sorts of problems have to do with programming the key rather than faults with the keys themselves, which can be highly complex for vehicle owners to do on their own.

For this reason, we recommend that you find a qualified auto locksmith near you to help program the car key and to ensure that it works properly. This is especially important for transponder keys, which most key fobs use since the 90s, since an incorrectly programmed transponder key simply won’t be able to start your vehicle and bypass the immobilizer. This is rarely a problem with OEM keys, and for OEM keys you’ll usually need to have the dealership program the key for you which can be substantially more expensive than letting an automotive locksmith perform this important task.

Limited warranty

Generally, OEM keys come with a fairly good warranty in the event of accidental damage or a faulty battery, for example. With aftermarket keys, warranties can vary from one supplier to another. Some reputable online marketplaces for aftermarket keys come with one-year warranties whereas some merchants (e.g. purchasing through Amazon) may not offer any warranty at all. Sometimes, you get what you pay for.

What’s more is that some vehicle manufacturers may even void your vehicle’s warranty if it’s found that you’re using an aftermarket key. This tends to be the case for extremely inexpensive keys found on Amazon, for example, so try to purchase from reputable suppliers.

Lastly, it’s important to consider that many aftermarket key suppliers generally don’t ship single units to private customers but instead exclusively supply keys in bulk quantities to professional automotive locksmiths. These keys tend to be high-quality products that locksmiths trust for their customers, so if you simply leave the job of duplicating a key fob to an automotive locksmith near you, you can rest assured that they’re using quality keys.

Is it worth buying an aftermarket car key?

Buying an aftermarket car key can be a lot more affordable than going to your dealership and ordering a replacement OEM car key, but always make sure that you check the compatibility of the key and ensure that it’s made of high-quality materials and offers the features you want.

While it’s gotten easier than ever for vehicle owners to buy aftermarket car keys online, actually using the car key correctly still remains quite a frustrating experience for many. Many replacement car keys come with instructions on how to program the key to be compatible with your vehicle, and the method depends on the make and model of your vehicle. Keep in mind that car key programming can be a major hurdle preventing you from using your vehicle, but simply having the appropriate key is already a good effort.

To have your keys programmed to your vehicle, including transponder key programming and ensuring that your key fob’s functions all work as intended, it’s often best to simply leave the job to a qualified and experienced automotive locksmith.