Merc spares not always so dear

Key replacement can be expensive. Merc can be much cheaper than others.,,22750-2198658_1,00.html
In the printed version in yesterday's newspaper there was a table showing
prices by brand. A Merc C from 03 was bottom of the list at GBP 120.00
Also, a very complicated and expensive Volvo key seems to do only a bit more that the Merc key does, re closing windows.
Lost the keys? It'll cost you By Emma Smith of The Sunday Times
The novelist whose car keys were stolen thought he had got off lightly - until the garage sent him the bill
Rankin was relieved his cars had not been stolen, but it might have cost him less if they had (KATIE LEE)
When Ian Rankin returned to his Edinburgh home to find it broken into and the car keys missing, he was relieved to discover his two cars still in the drive, the thieves' getaway blocked by the remote-controlled gates. The bestselling detective novelist presumed that replacing the keys would require no more than a trip to a locksmith and a few pounds. But what should have been merely a minor inconvenience escalated into a frustrating 10-day wait and a bill for more than 600.
Rankin, who owns a two-year-old Volvo XC90 and a four-year-old VW Beetle, discovered that losing car keys is an expensive business. "I was shocked," said Rankin last week. "The cost of replacing them wasn't covered by the car or home contents insurance so it almost makes you wish they'd stolen the cars instead - it would probably have cost less money."
Advances in technology and security systems mean replacement keys can now cost several hundred pounds. In calls to franchised dealers last week, we found prices for replacement keys ranging from 71 for an X-reg Aston Martin DB7 to 900-1,000 for a 1999 Alfa Romeo 146, with waiting times of anything up to 10 days during which the owner may be unable to use the car.
Whereas a key used to be simply a piece of cut metal, modern car keys come in many forms and with an expanding number of functions beyond opening the door and starting the engine. Today's keys can do everything from enabling and disabling a car's security systems to activating the driver's preferred seat position or climate control settings. Some new Mercedes keys give off an infrared signal that can open windows or a roof and close them when the driver leaves the car.
In the case of Volvo's personal car communicator key (a 500 option on the new S80), the key is a telemetric device that relays information about the car, including whether the alarm has been activated in your absence and even if there is an intruder in the car (detected by a heartbeat monitor).
"You used to be able to go to the locksmith's and get another key cut for no more than a few pounds," said Tim Shallcross, technical expert for the AA Motoring Trust. "Now keys do everything under the sun and the least important bit of the key is probably the metal bit."
Most modern keys use a battery-powered transmitter to work the central locking so doors can be opened from several yards away.
They also contain a transponder (a contraction of the words "transmitter" and "responder") - a microchip inside the key or fob that reacts to a signal given by a transmitter in one of the car's electronic control units (ECUs). The unit is usually just behind the dashboard or in the steering wheel column or is built into the main engine management system. Corresponding codes are stored on the responder (the bit in the key) and in the ECU, and provided they match the immobiliser is deactivated, allowing the car to start.
Replacing a key almost invariably means at least reprogramming the ECU. The ECU on Rankin's Beetle had to be given a code to match the new key sent from Germany, resulting in a bill for more than 500.
In some cases losing the master keys (there are usually two) means replacing the ECU or even the engine management system at a cost of anything from 500 to more than 1,000. This applies to some Alfa Romeos and Fiats and some Toyota and Lexus models.
Peter Byrne, 62, of Co Wicklow, Ireland, found this out when he lost the keys to his 2003 Toyota Avensis and was quoted ?1,200-?1,400 (818-955) for a replacement set. "I was told the whole electronic management system would need replacing as well as the keys," said Byrne. "I just can't believe how expensive a key can be. You used to be able to get a new one cut at the locksmith's for under a tenner."
If you lose one master key and want to have a spare one cut using information on the remaining master key, you can try going to a locksmith. But it is becoming difficult for locksmiths to make duplicates.
John Thackeray, owner of Trade In Post, a mail-order car key cutting business in Shropshire, said locksmiths often can't access the transponder codes for new car keys. "It used to be possible to put one key into a reader to get the code and then simply duplicate it but now manufacturers are making keys with rolling codes."
This means that codes are selected in a sequence and although a reader may be able to detect the last code that was used it will not be able to predict the next one without the right diagnostic equipment. "Car manufacturers say it's about security but it's also another way to make money," said Thackeray. Some new car keys do not even resemble keys in the traditional sense. Many Renaults come with a keyless card entry system. The card containing the transponder can be kept in the driver's pocket or handbag and the car is started by the push of a button on the central console. We were quoted 140 by a franchised dealer to replace such a key on a Renault Laguna 2001 51-plate.
Manufacturers argue that keeping codes secret protects owners, as only those who present the proper ownership documents are able to get a new key cut. But inaccessible key codes can also cause problems for breakdown companies, which are unable to restart cars if keys are lost and have no alternative but to tow them to the nearest dealer.
"Lockout - a lost or broken key or a faulty immobiliser - is now the third biggest reason for calling out the AA," said Bert Morris, director of the AA Motoring Trust. "Increasingly these problems are hard to fix at the roadside. One way to remedy this would be to allow bona-fide rescue organisations like the AA and RAC to have access to the data they need to effect an immediate repair."
There is also doubt about whether stolen car keys are covered by motor insurance policies. A spokesman for the Financial Ombudsman Service, an independent body that handles disputes between consumers and finance/insurance companies, said: "In general we would expect the motor insurer to meet the cost of changing the locks unless there were exclusions laid down in the policy wording. We will determine what is 'fair and reasonable' in the individual circumstances of the case."
CarLand, a used-car supermarket based in Surrey, has spotted the gap in the market. It offers an insurance policy against loss of keys, including a payout of up to 1,000.
"Insurance can protect drivers against that awful sinking feeling when they realise their keys are lost and it's going to cost them next year's holiday to replace them," a spokesman said.
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