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It’s been a long day. You’re tired and just want to change out of your work clothes into your favorite sweats, eat the pizza you just picked up and binge your favorite show. You make one last stop and return to your car, only to realize you have no idea where your keys are. Now your delicious pizza is getting cold and your perfect night is ruined. After the initial panic dies down and your rational brain takes over, you’ll start to wonder what to do when you lose your car keys.

AAA has been helping people who lose their car keys for generations, although it’s a bit more complicated than it used to be thanks to technological advances. Read on to find out what to do before you call "roadside assistance" or a locksmith.

(AAA Image)

When you reach into your bag or pocket and don’t feel your keys, it’s normal to feel your heart drop into your stomach and your mind start racing with all the ways this experience is absolutely terrible.

But panicking doesn’t help anyone. To get your emotions under control, give yourself to the count of five to panic, then take a deep breath and rein it in. Once your rational side is back in charge, work through the following steps.

1. Retrace Your Steps

Your first act is to retrace your steps. When did you last have your keys in your hand? What did you do next? Chances are, your keys aren’t actually lost, they’re just not where they usually are, and a bit of thorough searching will have them back in your hand in no time.

If you’re at home, check the pockets of the jacket and pants you wore the last time you drove. Check the bag you used the last time you left the house. Even check places you wouldn’t usually put your key, like in your shoe if you went running. Finally, look around where you normally put your keys when you come inside; maybe they fell on the floor behind the entryway table.

If you aren’t at home, check every pocket and take everything out of any bags you have on you to make sure your keys aren’t hiding under something. Once you’ve emptied your pockets and bags, check under the car. If your car is unlocked, check the inside thoroughly, especially the driver’s side floor.

If you still can’t find your keys, walk back through your day. Maybe you set them on a counter somewhere or reached into your bag to pull out your phone, knocking your keys out of the bag.

If you’ve had a good look around and still haven’t located your keys, it’s time to move on to the next step.

(AAA Image)

2. Know What Type of Car Key You Need

Once you’re sure you can’t locate your keys, it’s time to think about what kind of key you need, as that will determine how to get it replaced.

If you have a traditional key, a locksmith can make you a replacement key without the original on the spot. If you have a more technologically advanced key, you’ll probably need to get a tow to a dealership and order a replacement from them. If that’s the case, be prepared to provide proof that you are the car’s owner, like the registration, title or purchase paperwork.

Traditional Car Keys

You probably have a traditional key if your car was made before the ‘90s. These are standard keys without any special features. You simply put them in the ignition and turn the key to start the car.

An automotive locksmith can make you a new key while you wait.

Key Fob

Key fobs became popular in the ‘90s as an extra feature to allow keyless entry into the vehicle. These plastic casings are often rectangular or oval with battery-operated buttons that unlock and lock your car and, in some cases, set off an alarm or open the trunk.

Since these key fobs don’t turn the car on, you’ll still have a traditional key. In that case, you don’t need to replace the fob, but if you want to, you can purchase a key fob online and program it yourself. While you can order aftermarket key fobs, be aware that some models may not be compatible, and you’ll need to order directly from the dealer.

Switchblade Key

A key fob with switchblade key has all the elements of the key fob plus a key that is tucked into the fob itself. You pull the key out to put it in the ignition, and then tuck it back into the casing like a switchblade when you aren’t using it. This key style became popular because it’s more compact than the key fob and traditional car key combination.

In this case, losing the key fob means losing the key, so you’ll need to get a replacement. If you want a key fob and switchblade key, you’ll need to get your car to the dealership and order a replacement directly from them. If you don’t care about the switchblade key feature, an automotive locksmith might be able to make you a replacement key, and you can order a separate key fob later.

Transponder Key

Transponder keys have an element that wirelessly connects to your car, and the engine will only start if that connection is established and the key is in the ignition like a traditional key.

While this feature keeps your car safe from theft, an automotive locksmith will not be able to help you if you lose your keys. Instead, you’ll need to tow your car to the dealership.

Smart Key

Smart keys are the most popular keys for new vehicles today. This type of key activates a proximity sensor in the car, allowing keyless entry and keyless ignition. It’s the most convenient key, except when you lose it. Like the transponder key, only a dealership can replace a smart key.

3. Call a Locksmith or Roadside Assistance

Once you know what kind of key you need, you’ll want to gather a few more pieces of information:

• Your vehicle identification number (VIN)

• The year, make and model of your car

• Car registration, title or purchase paperwork to prove ownership of the vehicle

If you need a traditional key replaced, call an automotive locksmith. They will drive to you and make a car key on the spot, even if you don’t have the original.

If you need a more technologically advanced key, like a key fob, key fob with switchblade key, transponder key or smart key, call roadside assistance instead of a locksmith. They will tow your car to the dealership for you.

A dealer may not have the type of key you need on hand, in which case they’ll need to order it, so you may be without your car for a few days.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Car Key?

Replacing a car key can vary in price depending on what type of key you’re replacing, the locksmith you call, the make and model of your car, whether or not you require a tow to the dealership (if you’re a AAA member and your dealership is within a certain distance, your tow may be free) and any associated labor fees.

Traditional keys cost about $10 if you have them made from the original at the hardware store. An automotive locksmith may charge a little more for driving out to you and making the key on the spot.

Key fobs range in price from $50-$100 depending on whether you order an aftermarket product or a model-specific version. If you need a model-specific version, ask the dealership if you can program it yourself to save a few bucks.

Transponder keys will cost about $200, plus the cost of the tow to the dealership.

Switchblade keys run about $300, plus the towing fee.

Smart keys range from $200-$500 depending on your location, dealership and the make and model of your car, plus the towing fee.

4 Tips To Avoid Losing Your Keys in the Future

Once you’ve found your keys or gotten a replacement, you’ll probably want to do whatever you can to keep it from happening again. Here are four tips to help you keep track of your keys so you don’t have to call a locksmith or a tow truck in the future.

1. Always Leave Them in the Same Spot

When you get home, always put your keys in the same spot. Whether it’s in a bowl on an entry table or on a hook by the door, putting keys in a designated place makes finding them in the future easier. Habit research says you’ll need to do this every day for about a month, but then you won’t even have to think about it when you come home.

2. Have a Spare in a Safe Location

You’ll want to get a spare key made if you don’t already have one. Leave it somewhere separate from your keychain, like in a drawer in your kitchen. You can also leave it with a friend or family member, who can drive it to you if you need it.

3. Make It a Habit to Check Your Pockets

One of the most common places people find their lost keys is in their pocket. When the weather shifts and you start wearing a coat, it can be hard to remember to take the keys out. Make it part of your routine to empty your pockets when you get home and put your keys in their designated spot.

4. Invest in a Bluetooth Key Tracker

Bluetooth key trackers are small devices you attach to your keyring. They emit a unique signature that you can connect to an app on your phone. If you can’t find your keys, open the app and it’ll show you where your keys are so you don’t have to waste time looking for them.

There’s no way to tell when you’ll lose your car keys, but it’s safe to say that, like a dead battery, it will probably happen when it’s least convenient. AAA can help you get back on the road quickly with our lockout service and roadside assistance.

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