Duplicating keys and grasping locks seems like a somewhat straightforward and automatic process in the movies. But in reality, it’s a very complex process with a lot of moving parts (no pun intended). There are many different kinds of locks, keys, access systems and their combinations that determine how a locksmith helps you regain access to your car.
One of the variables is what kind of key you have, and by far, the most common keys are laser-cut and traditional. The two primarily differ in how they’re cut, but there are other differences between them.
Here’s what you need to know about them.
These keys are also known as sidewinder or internal keys (the former because of the winding cut on the key’s shank). The keys are cut with a constant depth through the middle of the metal, leading to fewer grooves and a thick shank. Additionally, the key is symmetrically cut, so you can insert the key in any direction to start the car.
Making the keys requires a specialized machine that’s noticeably more expensive than a traditional key-cutting machine. That’s also the reason they’re more secure: they’re very difficult to duplicate. Some higher-end vehicles have laser-cut keys that come with transponder chip systems to further bolster cars against theft. Duplicating these keys involves programming the transponder chip, as the vehicle won’t start without the correctly programmed chip.
These keys are also known as mechanical keys, and they’re made using a traditional key-cutting machine. Relative to laser-cut keys, these don’t have a symmetrical cut (an easy way to tell if you have one is if the insertion direction matters). The grooves will typically be biased to one side, and the cut will be thinner.
Traditional keys are much more common than laser-cut keys, and that’s mainly because they’re cheaper to make and replace. Unlike the expensive and rare machine needed to make a laser-cut key, traditional key-cutting machines are cheap and more common. In fact, pretty much any hardware store or locksmith could duplicate a traditional car key.
However, this low replacement and duplication cost comes with a caveat: traditional keys aren’t as secure as laser-cut keys. Since it’s easier to duplicate them, their associated cars are more prone to theft.