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4 Different Types of Key Fobs for Cars

Driver holding remote door key fob on car.

Starting your car might not seem as simple as some people remember it being in the 1990s or earlier. If you feel frustrated about this, just think. 

Vehicle security has improved since earlier times, and this has happened for a reason.

Scroll further down this page to learn about types of key fobs for cars after the sections on why key fobs exist, how key fobs work, and new fob key issues come time to replace lost ones.

Why Key Fobs Exist

Many issues occur pertaining to car thieves trying to break into vehicles to take stereos or other valuables stored under your seat, the glove compartment, or other supposedly “secret” places.

What’s worse, they might commit “grand theft auto,” and you never see your “ride” again.  Key fobs came about to help prevent all that, and this comes with updates in security technology to prevent people from stealing your belongings and your transportation.

How Key Fobs Work

Not all key fobs have the same functions, but they do require similar features to keep you safe. A specific tag attached to a radio frequency linked to your vehicle opens or starts it.

This takes place using an electromagnetic field, but it has become specific enough that other people can’t (at least not easily) open or start your car from a crowded parking lot and steal your belongings.

They also have a hard time driving off with your vehicle if powered by a fob, especially for vehicles made after the 2000s.

Another way to put it: A key fob is supposed to provide you more safety and security than a vehicle steering wheel brace or tire lock. Meaning, thieves might not find a way to bypass fobs as easily as they would mechanical security devices.

Fobs don’t make it impossible to steal your vehicle, but fobs could prolong the time it takes for thieves to succeed and you to stop them.

New Fob Key Issues

Depending on your age, you might find that duplicating new key fobs doesn’t come as easily as making spare sets of standard car keys in earlier generations.

If you do need new car keys, you might have to pay at least $30 or more now instead of maybe two or three dollars for “older” vehicle keys.

Concerning this, you might find it difficult to pinpoint the time in which “chip keys” first existed. Some automobile manufacturers have developed them at least as early as the 1980s.

However, they became standard after about 2003. Fobs come in different types from basic to complex.

Even if you own a vehicle that requires a fob, you still need to take caution wherever you go. Try not to store your valuable belongings inside it for long and park your car in as safe of a spot as possible.

Using a fob won’t guarantee that you don’t have to deal with car theft, but it does make life harder for criminals. Now, you will learn about types of key fobs and how they keep you safe.

Types of Key Fobs

1. Basic Key With Chip

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This looks and functions like a standard, mechanical key. Even though it may not open doors or start a vehicle from a distance, the electromagnetic system that runs it decreases the chances of car theft.

An RFID verification system confirms that the key belongs to the car being operated. Most of them probably do open doors now too but not always. 

2. Transponder Keys

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This fob key example has similarities to the basic key with a chip. It requires a specific signal to open or operate a vehicle. If you’ve ever broke off the plastic head of your vehicle key and wondered why it wouldn’t start, this is why.

Many keys after the mid to late 1990s will not start if the top plastic part of the key has separated from the metal part.

Oftentimes, motorists find this inconvenient when realizing their vehicle won’t start even if the metal key portion fits into the ignition.

Vehicle owners who have not yet purchased a car, truck, SUV or another automobile may not have realized that transponders have become standard.

3. Remote Door Key

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This fob type opens doors from a distance but don’t start the vehicle. It also uses the same RFID security system to ensure that a person trying to access the vehicle has the key meant for it.

No one except the person who has the matching key can open the vehicle within range. The same key might start the ignition, or an extra key might operate the car.

4. Push-Button Start Fob

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Some key fobs do enable you to start your vehicle from a distance. You could even turn it on from an upper apartment or from at least 20-30 feet away when out shopping for groceries or inside a place visiting friends.

The push-button fob also comes in handy when at work, and you want to warm up your vehicle in winter before you leave the building.

The Future of Car Fob Technology

As of 2019, car fobs may involve the use of smart security like what people have installed at home. Business owners also might currently have smart security technology surveying their commercial properties.

This may include the ability to access a vehicle from a smartphone or other mobile device. It means that you maybe can open a car, truck, SUV or another transportation vessel from a phone app.

At some point, you may no longer see a metal key necessary for use in opening or operating your primary source of moving from one place to another.

Eventually, you might also have the power to start your vehicle using voice commands. This could include telling your car to turn corners, operate your windshield wipers, and more.

In the future, you might accomplish this without having to turn on a switch or text anyone. Just speak it, and it may happen. 

You don’t know what the future could bring and this point, but you need to pay attention. Stay updated on how vehicle operation relates to key fobs.

If this invokes quite a few questions in you, you’re not the only one. Few people have a clue about the outcome of fob technology. 


Why can’t I just replace my car key that I have?

If you tried to make a copy of a key you have and could not, it’s probably because that manufacturer no longer allows you to reproduce it without personal authentication. This may require that you prove your identity or ownership of the vehicle you operate. 

Why does trying to replace a car key have to be so hard?

It’s not like it used to be in former times when people could go to a discount or hardware store and copy a metal key. Now, you may not have the right to a duplicated key if you can’t verify authorization to operate the vehicle you have now. 

If your local key making department can’t replace your car key, it’s because they also have no means to duplicate it for you either. You need to have an exact match for your vehicle and a way to prove you own it.

Otherwise, you might have to request a duplicate key from the manufacturer instead of a retailer near you. 

What kind of fob do I need?

Make sure you look up the make and model of your vehicle. Then, order the fob that corresponds to it. Some local stores also may offer you the remakes you need if you lost the one you have. 

Can I program the fob I have?

It’s possible. You will have to consult your vehicle manual or key information to learn how. If you can’t figure out how to do it yourself, your dealership or other professional may help if you ask. 

Why won’t my fob start my vehicle?

Check the fob’s battery or make sure you have the correct one. Keep in mind, also, that not all key duplication providers have the right fob models. Sometimes, the only way to acquire a replacement is to get one directly from your dealer. 

Is my fob covered by my warranty?

That’s a question you should ask your dealer unless you purchased your vehicle from a private party. If you haven’t bought your car yet, ask questions about the fob to make sure. 

What else do fobs do besides open doors and start cars?

Your fob might assist you with adjusting your mirrors or your windows. You also may have the power to open or close your trunk. In addition, you perhaps can adjust your seats with your fob key device.

Vehicle manufacturers and dealers have more information concerning this. Contact whomever you bought your new or used vehicle from to find answers to your questions. 

What safety features do fobs provide?

A fob can prevent break-ins at your car like it can at your home. Keep it near where you sleep just in case you feel scared.

Fobs also block signals from other people near you who have a similar car make and model. No one should have access to your vehicle unless you let them. 

Do fobs help with parking? 

Not all the fob devices used to access and operate your vehicle will help you park. However, some automobile makes and models will enable you to park in tight spaces.

This will benefit you when trying to parallel park in a busy city metro area, for instance. 

Will cars always use metal keys?

Many cars still use them as of 2022. This includes keys that have security ships in them for identifying who opens and starts a vehicle. However, the time may come when metal keys will no longer work. They may become obsolete.