Don't Farm Out Key Work—Sell It

June 1, 2021
If your customer can’t start their car, they don’t have a car.

Push-button starts; keyless ignitions; pocket fob entry to the vehicle. In a way, what’s old is new again—while push-button starts have been around for almost 100 years, keyless locking mechanisms and key fob proximity starts are relatively new technology to the contemporary automobile.

What has changed, however, is that the average driver’s key or key fob is also an integral part of the car’s security system. That’s what the latest course from The Group Training Academy (TGTA) makes clear; according to Vance Ledford, Production Supervisor at Automotive Video Innovations, it’s also what can create headaches (and revenue bottlenecks) for shop owners.

“Different security systems work differently depending upon the manufacturer,” Ledford says. He’s been with AVI for several decades and has seen the change from manual twist-start to the key fob and digital and stresses that today, many people carry a crucial part of their car’s security system around in their pocket.

“That’s what the course is really about,” Ledford says, “security.”

Key cutting, car access and vehicular security used to be mutually exclusive subjects for the common driver. Today, they’re often bundled together and can create headaches for the common shop owner.

Like any bottleneck, however, there’s opportunity to be had.

Key Reprogramming Can Be Easy Money

Ledford posits that becoming proficient in key cutting and fob reprogramming is a swift means to fast ROI for your team and your shop.

“It’s a twofold venture for the shop owner,” Ledford says. “You have the technical aspects of the technician working in the shop in how to address the security issue; the shop owner doesn’t know much less care about the system of the car. Nonetheless, he or she is responsible for moving forward with the latest and greatest technology, and that includes the security systems, which are often embedded in the key.

“You need to be up to snuff.”

Ledford says that the new course from TGTA doesn’t go into great detail about specific issues with specific vehicles and manufacturers; instead, it covers the broad base of how these systems work.

“The basic technician needs that knowledge,” he says, “and they can get it in the course and take it to the shop. And that’s good for everyone, including the shop owner.”

In addition to that, Ledford says the course really lays out the programming side of it in addition to simple key cutting.

“When you have to program a new key and go in there with the immobilizer system, you may be able to use that key again. You may also have to reset everything, buy a new key and/or provide one or two new ones to the customer. From a revenue stream, it’s similar to hybrid repair because you’ll get a customer you’ve had for ten years or more bringing in their late-model vehicle with a common ignition problem—it could be as simple as the battery in the key fob—but you need to be prepared for it to keep that customer.”

Ledford notes that much of that work often gets farmed out, especially reprogramming. Farming out that work, though, can create security issues from data corruption from shop to shop, and now you’re responsible for that.

Shop owners need to strongly consider getting the proper equipment to diagnose and reprogram the system and also invest in a key-cutting machine.

“Don’t farm that out,” Ledford says. “You’ll gain an additional revenue stream and the ROI is quick and efficient. You have to have certifications to mess with some of this stuff, but at some point in time you’ll lose money because you didn’t certify your team with NASTF.”

And unless a team member stole a car or committed a felony, the road to key reprogramming certification should be clear.

How Vehicular Data Theft Works

There’s more at stake than just the vehicle if the customer’s keys are corrupted or fall into the wrong hands. Not so long ago, the worst thing that could happen was a stolen car; now, however, ancillary vehicle and personal data can be obtained from all the devices drivers link to their vehicles (most notably their mobile phones). It’s a relatively simple process for a determined data thief to corrupt your key and, to a greater extent, your life and identity. 

Technicians do not have a great defense against this and are liable for data corruption and possibly identity theft; if the wrong software or hack corrupts their scan tools, they could unknowingly do the same to any number of vehicles in and out of the shop every day. Manufacturers combat this using secure gateway modules but it requires additional legwork by the shop to ensure the DLC ports they plug into are the real ones. It’s more imperative than ever to verify the vehicle’s security systems class and understand that you’re looking at the proper gateway modules (fortunately, The Group Training Academy has classes that can help). 

In the past, everything from ignition lock cylinders and locking steering wheels to vehicle alarms and transponder key systems constituted opportunities for data thieves; today, the threat is much more dire, subtle and accessed via the keys or vehicle’s embedded data from other devices. Many vehicles feature their own wi-fi networks, hosting passengers’ personal information as they access their favorite websites (or do a bit of online banking!). 

Some hackers have evolved sophisticated ways of duping technicians by wiring secondary DLC ports in place of the primary ones, either hiding them or moving them altogether. When the technician plugs into the car, they could unknowingly participate in the theft of their customers’ data. 

The good news is that aftermarket professionals can continue to educate themselves and rest assured that they have the ability to protect themselves, their shops and their customers’ data. AVI’s new course on cyber security covers everything shops need to know to keep their data safe (and provide the highest quality repairs). 


What Do You Call A Car That Doesn’t Start?

Ledford says key reprogramming is a relevant and timely subject. He knows from an owner standpoint that the subject isn’t as glossy or maybe as top-of-mind as other repair dilemmas, but as customers struggle to start their cars, one of the reasons could easily be key programming and ignition issues.

“Some vehicles have built-in anti-theft programs that present as intermittent starting issues; maybe they’ll start with the key fob three feet from the ignition module, and maybe they won’t. Sometimes a dealership won’t even be able to start it, and a higher-level shop should say, ‘this is a money-making opportunity.’ ”

Key reprogramming and security doesn’t have as many flashy bells or whistles as other contemporary repairs, but as Ledford says, most customers want to get in their cars and have them start 100 percent of the time.

“If you have problems starting your car, you don’t have a car,” he laughs, “you have a 5,000-pound liability of metal and glass!”

Ensure your customers (and your shop) don't have that liability. To learn more, check out what The Group Training Academy has to offer here.

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The views and opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of 10 Missions Media and its associated brands.

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