We all misplace our car keys from time to time, but how will you start your car if you can’t find it? By learning how to start a car without the key, you ensure that you are never stranded again. It’s also important to figure out how to start the car when you lose the key fob or it breaks.
Modern cars are almost impossible to start without the right key. On older car models, you can often start the engine without a key with the help of a screwdriver and a hammer. It is also possible to hotwire the engine.
If you have a newer car model, you must either find the original key, or have it towed to a professional locksmith or an authorized dealer.
In this guide, I discuss the various options available so you can get the car engine started. I also look at what you should do if you don’t have a working key fob.
How to Start a Car Without a Key
Modern car models use an immobilizer, and in this case, you must have the original key near the ignition switch. If the immobilizer is not unlocked by the transponder in the key, it will not start no matter what you do, and therefore these techniques will not work. They work well with older cars without an immobilizer, though.
With the use of a screwdriver and hammer or a screwdriver and drill, you can get the engine running, but you must be careful. If you make a wrong move, you could damage the car’s ignition switch.
This common technique allows you to disable the lock pins. On the downside, it will damage the key mechanism, requiring the need to get it replaced. You need to gain access to where the inner flaps begin in the ignition. This requires you to get into the keyhole about 2/3 inches. Use your drill or hammer to access the area.
Once you have access, you can insert the screwdriver head and try to turn the ignition. If there’s no screwdriver handy, any metal piece that’s flat might work.
2. Hotwire Engine
You can’t hotwire a newer car, but it should work with most models to the 1990s. This method helps you bypass the ignition system.
Remove the steering wheel column plastic cover. You will find screws on either side. This should provide you access to the car’s ignition system.
Check a wiring diagram to be sure of the wirings before you try to hotwire it, though. Faulty wirings can destroy electric components completely.
Put on insulated or protective gloves before moving forward. Battery wires are often going to be red, while brown or yellow wires are ignition-related. Cut the end of the battery wires and the end of the power wires. If you connect the battery wire end to the power wire by twisting them, the engine should start.
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3. Red Coil Wire
If you are well-versed in the mechanics of the car, you might be able to use the red coil wire technique on your old car. To protect yourself, you want to get the wiring diagram for your car, as every model could be different. You don’t want to put power to anything that could be damaged.
Go under the car’s hood to find the red coil wire. Use a jump starter cable to connect the positive battery terminal to the red coil wire. It’s also called the positive side of the coil.
With this technique, you are going to apply 12 volts of power to the coil directly. You need to get into the steering wheel to locate the starter solenoid wire. Connect this to the positive battery terminal. Once power is applied to the solenoid wire, the engine should crank.
RELATED: Key Fob Dead? Here’s How to Unlock & Start it (6 Steps)
How to Start a Car Without the Keyless Key
If the key fob battery dies, you might be wondering how to get into the car and start the engine. Thankfully, there are some backup plans in place to ensure you can still use the vehicle.
For starters, you need to manually unlock the door. You want to first try the smart key by the door handle. Even if the battery is dead, it might still have enough juice to open the door. Hold it close to the handle to see if it works.
If that doesn’t work, your smart key should also contain a mechanical key for emergency use. It will be found within the key assembly. Pull out the traditional key and open the doors.
If the smart key’s battery dies, you might also be able to start the engine. Every fob has a radio frequency chip (RF chip) located inside. It doesn’t need a strong battery for the sensors and immobilizer circuit to read it.
Put the key fob close to the start engine button. If the RF chip is detected, the engine will still start.
However, if you lose the key fob, you won’t be able to operate your car at all unless the automaker allows you to operate the vehicle with a mobile app. Even with this technology, it’s often required that you have your key on you. It’s typically not possible to get moving without it.
RELATED: Key Fob Dead? Here’s How to Unlock & Start it (6 Steps)
Types of Car Keys & Cost to Replace
1. Traditional Key
All older vehicles come with a traditional type of key. It’s similar to what’s used for houses and other standard locks. There’s no feature included to open the trunk, doors or gas tank remotely.
The traditional key doesn’t offer a lot of security for your vehicle, considering it only costs a few dollars to have it copied. However, if you lose your key, you are in better shape with this type because it’s easy to get.
2. Remote-Controlled Key
You can have a traditional key that also contains a remote control. This remote doesn’t change how you start the car, but it can offer other functionality.
The remote is used to disable or arm the security system. It can also lock or unlock the doors. While the key is low-cost to replace, the remote can get a little pricey, depending on your car model.
3. Transponder Key
This type of key was first introduced back in the 1990s. It’s also known as a chip key. While it looks like a traditional key, it’s more secure because of the built-in chip that emits a signal to the ignition coil.
The codes between the receiver and transmitter are the same. The engine turns on when it sees that the codes match.
There’s also a rolling code transponder key model, which is more advanced. Every time it gets used, the key produces a new code. This system ensures it can’t be easily cloned. The transponder key might cost between $150 and $225 to replace.
4. Smart Key
This car features a keyless start. You can leave the key in your pocket and still start the engine. Once the key is in the area, the vehicle unlocks and activates the ignition system. You don’t stick a key in the ignition. Instead, you just push the button that starts the engine.
You must contact the dealership or locksmith to get a new key. Of course, this can be expensive. Expect to pay between $75 and $450 for a new smart key.
5. Digital Key
The digital key is brand-new technology and is only used by a few manufacturers, such as BMW. This technology allows you to unlock the car and start the ignition with the use of a mobile phone app.
This advanced technology ensures that the car doesn’t lock if your phone is still in the car. Otherwise, you would be unable to get back into the vehicle. However, there’s been some concern about how secure this system is and how easy it would be to hack.