How to Start a Car Without Key – Auto & Manual

One major problem car owners face with their cars is related to the car keys. Car keys have a very wide range of shapes, technologies, options, and problems. In this article, we shall learn more about car key types, technologies, and evolution. We shall also learn car key parts names, techniques on how to start a car without a key, problems related to the car keys, and how to fix them the right way.

Types of Car Key

Car keys have been developed severally through the journey of automotive development, making them more practical and more secure. They also come in a variety giving the driver freedom to choose their desired key type. The idea of securing the car with a key started with the cars’ invention to minimize vehicle robbery.

types of car keys

1. Traditional Key

It all started with a traditional key, which is more common to the older models. It is a piece of metal with a certain shape cut. They do not have any encoding or security encryption. This makes traditional keys easy to be copied, thus providing very low security to the vehicle.

2. Remote-Controlled Traditional Key

After using the traditional way of accessing vehicles for years, another way of people accessing their vehicles by unlocking the doors from a distance using the remote control was developed. These remote controls use infrared signals to enable/disable the alarm system.

3. Transponder Key (Chip Key)

Starting from 90’s the need for a more secure way to access the car increased, leading to the invention of transponder keys. It resembles a traditional key but has a built-in signal-emitting chip, which combines with the ignition coil’s receiver.

These two parts, the transmitter in the key and the receiver in the car, have a similar code transmitted every time you need to access or turn the car on. If the car’s code is the same as that of the key, the ECU will turn on the vehicle, but if otherwise, the car will not startup.

4. Rolling Codes Transponder Key (Chip Key)

These are the advanced transponder keys. These keys generate a new code every time the user press the unlock button or tries to run the key into the ignition. This gives the vehicle more secure because no one can predict the code that the key will generate, and thus it cannot be copied in any way. On top of it all, you cannot start a car without a key chip.

5. Smart Key (Keyless Start)

In 1998, Mercedes-Benz introduced the new S Class with a smart key feature, which was a breakthrough in the development of car keys. Smart keys were incented to make the driver more comfortable. When using the smart key, there is no need to take it out of your pocket. The car unlocks automatically when it senses the presence of the key around. When the driver gets near the car, all he is required to do is press a button in the door handle.

The car will unlock, and the immobilizer deactivates. More settings will be applied, such as chair settings, AC activating, and many more options depending on the car model. When turning on the vehicle, the driver doesn’t need to take the key out of his pocket. To start the vehicle, press the start engine button while the key is in the car.

6. Digital Key

In 2020, BMW introduced the digital key technology. The digital key depends on your mobile phone to lock, unlock, and start/stop the engine. You can share the scar key with your trusted persons using the BMW smartphone app. This feature is based on NFC technology.

What Situation You Need to Start Car Without a Key:

There are many situations in which you may need to start your vehicle without a key. Car manufacturers make it harder to start the car without its original key to limit car robberies and give the owner the full security level needed. However, there is always a way to bypass the manufacturer’s security, access the car, and use it without its key. We will list some situations which you may need to know how to start a car without a key.

Lost Key

One of the most common reasons people search for a way to start their car without the key is when they lose their vehicle keys. There is nothing as inconveniencing as losing your car keys when away from home, and you have no access to a spare key. In this situation, you will need to understand how to start your vehicle without keys.

Bad Ignition Switch

The ignition switch is where you put the key and turn it to start the engine. It is not only a place of the key but also the main activator for the electrical systems in the car. It allows the flow of electrical pulses needed for the starter to give the first revolution in the engine.

It also gives the required electricity for ignition systems such as Electronic Control Unit and ignition coil, which gives sufficient voltages to the spark plugs through the high-tension wire in the correct firing order. All this ensures perfect ignition timing. When the ignition switch has gone bad, the electricity will not flow through the systems of your car, and it cannot be turned on.

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How to Start a Car Without a Key

As we have seen in the above sections, you can get yourself in a desperate situation of wanting to start your vehicle, but your keys are either damaged or lost. How to start a vehicle without keys is almost similar to how to start a car with a bad ignition switch. The techniques we shall discuss here will mostly work for older model vehicles. These methods will work for you temporarily until you get your spare or get a locksmith to make you a new pair of keys.

Method 1: This step explains how to start a car with a screwdriver and hammer. It is the easiest technique but, be careful not to damage the vehicle’s ignition switch. This method is effective for disabling lock pins, but it damages the vehicle’s mechanism permanently. Drill the keyhole from where the inner flaps begin for about 2/3 inches.

After drilling, remove the drills and remove the locking bits to get back in place. You can continue drilling until the locking bits get into position. You can now start the vehicle by inserting a screwdriver head, flat piece of metal, or any key to start the vehicle. With this easy step, you will be able to start your vehicle normally.

In case you don’t have a drill to carry out the method, use a hammer for breaking the locking pins. Insert the screwdriver on the keyhole and keep hammering. This will help to break the locking pins in the ignition.

Method 2: Hotwiring is a great method for starting a vehicle without keys. It is the process of bypassing the ignition system. In most cases, it works for cars that were manufactured by the mid-90s. Go to the steering wheel column and get rid of its plastic cover. When removing the steering column cover, ensure that you have removed the screws on both sides. This will give you access to the ignition system.

To continue to this next step, ensure you have your protective or insulated gloves on. Take some time to identify the starter and battery wires. In most cases, the red wire is the battery wire while the brown and yellow wires are for ignition. Cut a little insulating of the battery wires at the end. Cut the power wires coming from the cylinder using a cutter. Twist the battery wire end with the power wires.

If you are through with the above process, the lights, radio, and ignition of the vehicle should turn on. The next thing now is getting the wire connecting the starter motor and cutting the insulation slightly. Always remember that these wires a life, and you should not twist them. Just it to the connected wires and pull it apart as soon as the vehicle starts. Tape the end of that wire to protect yourself from shock.

Method 3: This other method answers the question of how to start a car without a key or hotwiring. This step is for people who know more about under-the-hood components. Get to the underwood and search for the red coil wire. Take the jump starter cable and run in from the positive terminal of the battery to either the red wire going to the coil or the positive side of the coil. At this point, the dashboard will get some power.

The next step is to open the steering wheel and locate the starter solenoid. Connect the solenoid to the positive car battery terminal. Take out the wire of the ignition switch from the solenoid Switch. Using a screwdriver, short the positive post of the solenoid to where the ignition switch is connected.

When you use this technique, you will have applied 12V directly to the battery. This will activate the solenoid making the starter crank the vehicle. You can get more details on this process in our article on starting a car with a bad ignition switch.

Read Also: 7 Best Jump Starters for Diesel Reviews

How to Start a Keyless Car without the Key:

Nowadays, keyless cars are everywhere, and many drivers may experience a big challenge when their smart key battery dies or is lost. Let us now learn how to bypass the ignition switch to start a car and how to start a car without a key fob.

how to start a keyless car without key

Unlock The Door Manually: Try holding your smart key and make it touch the door handle. The battery may have some energy enough to open the door. If this fails, it is important to understand that every smart key has a mechanical key for emergencies. Get this mechanical key out of the key assembly and use it to turn the keyhole in the door lock handle and open up the doors.

Start the car with a Dead Battery Smart Key: When designing the smart keys, they kept in mind the emergency condition and how to get the car run if the key fob was damaged or the battery died. Therefore, the driver is given key fobs with a passive RF chip, which does not require any energy to get detected by the immobilizer circuit and sensors. To use the key, put it close to the start engine button. The start engine will detect the passive RF chip, and the car will start.

Key Lost: If you lost your smart key, it will be hard to turn and run the vehicle. In this case, contact the nearest dealership to make a new copy of the smart key using your car’s VIN.

How to Fix the Car Key Problems

Car Key Battery Dead: The car key uses the battery as its main source of electricity. The battery powers up and sends signals to lock/unlock the car. If the battery has low energy, then the key will not work.

Fix: Change the car key battery to the same size as the old one.

Damaged Car Key Transmitter: The car key operates using wireless communication protocol at a certain speed and channel. It uses this protocol to send and receive signals to and from the car, such as lock/unlock the door signals, close/open windows signals, etc. When the vehicle key transmitter is damaged, the car will not start since there is no sufficient communication with the car’s receiver.

Fix: Visit the nearest key store or your car dealership to get your car key repaired or changed if necessary.

Lost Programming: Car keys are paired devices that can only work with one car. There is, therefore, some programming and encryption between a certain car key identifier and a certain remote. If this programming gets lost, the car key will stop functioning.

Fix: Take your car into any specialized garage or dealership to get the key programmed into your car’s central lock system. This process can be done using advanced machines and techniques.

Steering Wheel Binding: The steering wheel is mechanically connected to the ignition cylinder. When you slide the key out of the keyhole and try to move the steering wheel, the steering will lock, and you can’t move the key into the ignition cylinder.

Fix: Turn the steering wheel back and forth and, at the same time, turn the key in the ignition cylinder until it is freed.

Worn Key/Ignition Cylinder: The ignition cylinder/key gets worn and fails to work as required as the car ages due to the high number of keys used. You may then start experiencing a problem, such as difficulty when turning the key.

Fix: The best solution for this problem is to get a new key set. The set should include keys, ignition cylinder doors, and trunk locks.

Bad Ignition Switch: The ignition cylinder is connected to the ignition switch by a lever shaft. This gives you the freedom to select the position you need, such as “OFF” will shut everything, “ACC” will connect the radio and other accessories, “RUN” to connect electricity to the engine control module, and finally, “start” to engage the starter relay and run the engine. With time and usage, these contacts, which differentiate between the profiles, are worn, and you start facing problems when starting your car or switching between these settings.

Fix: Make sure that all other electrical components are in good condition, then consider replacing the ignition switch as soon as possible.

Can You Drive a Keyless Car Without the Key?

Yes, you can drive a keyless car without the key in it after starting the vehicle. However, when it shuts down, then it will never start again without the key inside the car.

Do You Need a Key for Push to Start?

Sure, the smart key should be inside the car when using a push to start. The immobilizer system starts the scan for the key, and when it finds the right key, it starts the car. In some cases, when the battery of the smart key is dead, you will need to push the start engine by the key itself using passive RF technology.

What Is the Advantage of Push-Button Start?

The major advantage of the push-button start is it increases the comfort of a driver. This is because he doesn’t keep searching for the key in his bag or pocket. As soon as the car detects the smart key in the area, the car will unlock when you push the button on the door handle. The engine will start immediately after pressing the start engine button.

What Happens If a Push-Button Start Fails?

Try to push the start engine button using the smart key. If this fails, then you need to take your car to the authorized dealer to get the problem checked.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Push-to-Start Key?

It depends on the brand and how complicated programming the key is. However, generally, it costs from $50 to $400

Can you manually start a push-button start car?

Yes. In some cases, when the battery of the smart key is dead, you’ll need to push the start engine by the key itself using passive RF technology.

Final Words:

It is not surprising for you as a driver to experience challenges with car keys and problems related to key fobs and ignition cylinders and switches. The information above should help you diagnose your car’s fault, ranging from a simple battery problem that you can handle personally to more complicated problems that need advanced machines and expertise. If you are not sure about exactly how to start your vehicle and what might be causing it not to start, consult an expert or authorized dealer to get your problem fixed.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

3 thoughts on “How to Start a Car Without Key – Auto & Manual

  1. Hi,

    My Toyota Mark II has a Transponder Key, but I lost my key. Trying to start the engine with the new key I got from nearby locksmith but the engine can’t start because of not signal ignition is receiving from the key (chip).

    Please advise how I can fix this.

    Thank you very much in Advance,

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