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9 Different Types Of Car Keys Explained

types of car keys

In 1910, the world’s first car key was used. However, this original car key could only be used to lock the ignition of the vehicle. More than a century later, many strides have been made in the technology used in car keys and the different types available today. If you’re speculating about all the different kinds of car keys that are used today, we’ll break down all the different types.

While older vehicles utilize mechanically cut keys, modern cars now use car keys with remotes and transponder chips. With a remote key, a driver can unlock their vehicle from a nearby distance. With a smart car key, drivers can unlock and start their car without inserting a key into the ignition.

From car keys that are mechanically cut to modern keyless variants, many types of car keys are used today. If you’re wondering about these different types of keys, we’ll break down everything you want to know about these varying vehicle key technologies.

1. Flip Style Car Key

flip car key

Also commonly referred to as switchblade car keys, flip-style car keys are commonly used by many car manufacturers today. As the name suggests, the actual key is designed to fold away into the key fob when not in use.

Due to the compact nature of this type of key, flip keys are widely used. In fact, the compact design of switchblade keys is so popular that people even convert other types of car keys into folding keys. There are many services today that can transform your car key into a flip-style car key.

2. Laser Cut Car Key

First utilized in the 1990s, laser-cut keys were commonly used for luxury car brands to reduce the risk of car theft. Typically, laser-cut car keys are thicker than other types of car keys. On both sides of a laser-cut vehicle key, the same laser groove is made on both sides. This allows the key to be inserted into the ignition in any direction and makes the car key more difficult to replicate.

Many car keys that are laser cut will also have a remote section to which the physical metal key is attached. Due to this, this type of car key will also utilize a transponder chip. With these chips, vehicle manufacturers are able to add an additional layer of security to their vehicles.

3. Master Car Key

As the name suggests, a master car key has the ability to unlock the doors and start up the ignitions of numerous different vehicles. Due to the diverse functionality of these keys, some laws govern the use of master car keys. In fact, any person illegally in possession of a master car key can face serious consequences.

In general, the use of master car keys is reserved for locksmiths and automobile professionals. However, these car keys are often sought out by criminals due to their sheer versatility. Usually, there are methods for criminals to obtain or create master car keys illegally.

4. Mechanically Cut Car Key

Mechanically cut car keys are among the older types of car keys discussed on this list. Also known as a traditional car key, this is the most basic type of car key used today. Generally, these keys are used by older vehicles that do not have any security encoding.

However, given that these keys are the most basic variant, they’re not the most secure. Typically, these keys are predominantly made from metal. This means that copies of the key can be made using various methods. Standard blank keys can be used to make copies of mechanically cut car keys.

5. Remote Car Key

remote car key

Remote car keys closely resemble laser-cut car keys. However, whereas laser cut car keys typically only utilize a transponder chip, a remote car key has more functionality. Powered by a battery, a remote car key will feature buttons that can unlock the vehicle and deactivate the alarm.

With a remote car key, users will be able to lock or unlock their car key at a nearby distance. Unlike smart keys, which can also be used to unlock the vehicle without physical contact, a remote key will need to be inserted into the ignition to start the vehicle.

6. Smart Car Key

Mercedes Benz smart key
A Mercedes Benz SmartKey.

Smart car keys are one of the latest types of car keys to be utilized by vehicle manufacturers. Also known as keyless car keys, smart keys are detected by your vehicle when you’re nearby. This type of key also allows users to start their cars with a press of a button. While driving, these car keys do not need to be inserted into the ignition.

While there are many advantages to these modern smart keys for vehicles, these keys can be costly to replace. Furthermore, if you lose your smart key, it may even be necessary for you to replace the entire locking system in your vehicle due to the associated security risk.

7. Tibbe Car Key

Introduced in the early 1980s, tibbe car keys are a highly secure type of key commonly used by Ford and Jaguar. This type of key, which has a cylindrical shape, is challenging to duplicate. Standard hardware stores that generally duplicate keys will not be able to clone these keys, leading to their popularity.

When a tibbe car key needs to be replaced, the replacement process is twofold. Firstly, a new tibbe key will need to be ordered. Following this, a mechanic will need to program the new tibbe key to your vehicle. While this isn’t the most commonly used car key today, it’s a highly secure option!

8. Transponder Car Key

Transponder car keys come in different shapes and sizes. From the previously discussed types of car keys, it’s clear that different types of car keys utilize these secure transponder chips. The practice of fitting vehicle keys with transponder chips started in the 1990s.

In the three decades since, transponder chips have become a staple in vehicular safety and anti-theft measures. As a rule of thumb, most vehicles that were manufactured within the last two decades will utilize a transponder chip for additional security

9. Valet Car Key

valet car key

As the name suggests, valet car keys are designed to be used by valet services. With a spare valet key, vehicle owners will be able to hand over a specialized key with limited functionality when using these convenient services. Ultimately, this is a more secure way for drivers to use valet services.

With a specialized valet car key, the key will only be able to lock or unlock the doors and start the ignition. However, a valet key will not be able to unlock a glove box or trunk that the owner has locked. Many drivers keep valet keys handy in the event that they are locked out of their car or misplace their keys.


Since the first car key was used in 1910, many technological advancements have been made where car keys are concerned. Over time, transponder chips were included in keys to increase safety. Following this, remote keys and smart keys have further revolutionized vehicle security. With the list above, you’ll be able to identify the type of car key you currently use.

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