Car key programmers are an important part of any mechanic’s tool set, whether you’re a professional or a DIY repairman. But, there are a lot of key programmer options on the market. Some key programmers are single-purpose, focused exclusively on generating new keys. Others include a range of diagnostic and service functions so they’re helpful all-in-one tools for any garage.
Let’s discuss why a car key programmer is so important and the top 7 products currently on the market for mechanics.
What is a Car Key Programmer?
Car key programmers allow mechanics to program an electronic key to work with your car. While keys can be obtained from a locksmith, mechanic, or dealership, they will need to be programmed either way. Having one in your repair kit can help save you the time and hassle of getting a new key from a locksmith if yours is lost or broken.
How We Evaluated Our Top Car Key Programmers
To create this list, we reviewed each key programmer with a set of 5 criteria. Using this method, we found 7 high-value key programmers with a range of functionalities perfect for repairmen across all levels.
This criteria includes:
Key programming efficiency – Programming speed and capability is the most important feature of key programmers. We made sure to evaluate every programmer on this list for overall speed and ability.
Diagnostic ability – Diagnostics are a useful feature for repairmen at any skill level. Many OBD diagnostic scan tools have key programming capabilities, but these tend to be pricey. We made sure to include a range of key programmers, from advanced obd scanners to stand-alone key programmers, to help you find the right programmer for your needs.
User-friendliness – We know user-friendliness adds significant value to any tool in a repairman’s toolbox. We evaluated each key programmer for overall ease-of-use and convenience.
Compatibility – Most car key programmers have limited compatibility and only work within certain systems. We made sure to feature key programmers with a range of compatibility levels.
Strength and weaknesses – For full transparency about the best and worst parts of each programmer, we’ve included a ‘drawbacks’ section within each review.
7 Best Car Key Programmers of 2022
With the sheer number of car key programmers on the market, it is important to discuss which ones are the best. After all, key programmers come in a wide variety of price ranges and have individual features. Our top 7 key programmers currently on the market include:
- Autool Xtool X100 PAD Tablet
- Autel MaxilM IM508
- XTOOL X100 Pad2 Pro (New Version With Special Functions)
- FICBOX 4D Chip Keymaker/Programmer
- Autel MP808K
- Autel MaxilM IM608
- Carrfan CK-100
Let’s explore the key features and drawbacks of each of these key programming transponders.
1. Autool Xtool X100 PAD Tablet
The Autool XTool X100 PAD Tablet is a great car key programmer for both professionals and home mechanics. It offers an affordable price range and a wide number of features including:
- Fast Key Programming: The functions on the Autool Xtool X100 PAD have a faster processing speed than in past models. This lets you quickly reprogram new keys. You can also perform adapter features, like reading PIN codes, chip programming, and initializing the ECU.
- Remote Key Programming: This tool offers remote programming for car keys, so you don’t actually need the key to program it. This is especially useful for professional mechanics and car dealerships.
- Includes Diagnostic Capabilities: All OBD2 diagnostic functions are supported by the Autool Xtool X100. This allows you to read and clear any trouble codes illuminating your check engine light. In addition, you can look at freeze frame and live data, and view helpful emissions test data.
- Reset Functions: The X100 PAD has an array of special functions that let you perform repairs beyond new keys. These include resetting the oil service and timing belt service lights, along with EPB reset, battery reset, and TPMS reset. You can also calibrate the steering angle and throttle body and adjust the DPF system with this powerful tool.
- Intuitive Navigation: The 7-inch touchscreen on the Xtool X100 uses an Android operating system and a 1.6 GHz quad core processor. That gives you both top notch performance and an easy to read screen. The menu layout is intuitive, too, even for less experienced mechanics.
- Free Updates: For updates, you just have to go to the company website through the on-board Wi-Fi. You’ll get two years of free updates included in the price.
The Xtool X100 PAD is a versatile and efficient key programmer, and also supports a range of diagnostic and service functions. Overall, it’s a fantastic all-in-one tool for home or professional garages.
While the XTool X100 PAD is a great tool to have in your repair shop, it does have its individual drawbacks. The two key drawbacks for this key programmer include:
- Doesn’t support all functions on all vehicles. While this tool can program keys for any car with the OBD-II system (manufactured after 1996), it does not perform all of the features on all vehicles. However, it is compatible with the following automotive brands: Renault, KIA, Peugeot, Jeep, Toyota, Lexus, Ford, BMW, Volvo, Mazda, Honda, Hyundai, Porsche, Nissan, Chrysler, Audi, Land Rover, VAG, and Mercedes-Benz
- Won’t perform non-OBD system diagnostics. If your car does not run on an OBD diagnostic system, this tool won’t be able to reprogram your keys.
2. Autel MaxilM IM508 Auto Key Programmer
The Autel MaxilM IM508 Auto Key Programmer is one of the most advanced systems on the market currently. If you’re looking for a comprehensive tool that is compatible with most car systems, this could be the tool for you. While it is on the more expensive side, it does come with a list of key features including:
- Comprehensive Key Programming: Not only does this tool make keys, it can also read keys, or the PIN if all your keys are lost. Its remote learning and ECU adaptation functions are helpful, as well. When it comes to the IMMO system, you can reset, code, or refresh it. Since it also supports writing to the ECU, it’s got all the functions a professional vehicle locksmith will need.
- Full Diagnostics: You don’t just get OBD2 diagnostic data from the MaxilM IM508. It quickly diagnoses all modules for 80+ manufacturers. That includes major systems like the ABS, SRS, and transmission. For most vehicles, you can even read and correct issues with electronic systems, like the seat controls and climate control.
- Service Functions: The Autel IM508 goes beyond reset functions for your dash lights. It also supports common service functions like ABS bleed, SAS calibration, and DPF regeneration. And it will reset those dash lights, too, including the oil light, battery light, and other annoying dash lights.
- Smart Modes: One of the reasons you can diagnose so quickly with the Autel MaxilM IM508 is its smart key programming. Its auto-VIN scan tool feature makes it much easier to access the full range of functions for your vehicle. There’s also a Smart Mode that guides you through IMMO functions, along with an Expert Mode that gives experienced technicians the control they need.
The Autel MaxilM IM508 is the best key programmer for professionals. It combines OE-level diagnostics with robust key programming capabilities on a wider range of vehicles than most similar devices.
While the Autel MaxilM IM508 has a wide range of key features useful in a repair shop, it also has drawbacks including:
- High cost: The price range of this product is upwards of $1,200. This is not a great option for home mechanics, but could be worth it in a professional setting.
Service and special functions not universally compatible: The special smart functions are not available on all car models. You may need a separate diagnostic tool and key programmer in your garage to make up for the gaps in compatibility.
3. XTOOL X100 Pad2 Pro (New Version With Special Functions)
The XTool X100 Pad2 Pro is an advanced key programmer with a mid-ranged price tag. Overall, the value and special features you get make this car key programming tool worthwhile. Some of those key features include:
Full Key Programming Power: Like the X100 above, the Xtool X100 Pad2 supports reading and making new keys, remote learning, key fob cloning, and IMMO reprogramming and reset. The biggest difference here is it supports these functions for more vehicles.
Diagnostic And Service Functions: The X100 Pad2 has the same 8 service functions found on the X100 Pad. Its main improvement from a diagnostic standpoint is the inclusion of 4-system diagnosis. This means you can read codes from the ABS, SRS, and transmissions systems, not just the engine.
Wider Compatibility: The biggest difference between the X100 Pad2 and the X100 Pad above is its range of compatibility. It includes a wider array of adapters, and its IMMO and service functions are supported by more manufacturers. This includes newer models, like the C-class and E-class Mercedes left behind by other versions of the device.
Personalized Interface: Not only is the X100 Pad2 easy to use, you can adjust it to satisfy your needs. It comes with a range of interactive interfaces, and can also give you detailed reminders of how to operate it. That makes it an easy device for anyone to navigate.
An enhanced version of the Xtool X100 Pad above, the X100 Pad2 supports more special functions and vehicles, and is a better choice for professionals.
While this key programming tool has a wide range of special features and benefits, it still has it’s individual drawbacks including:
- Won’t diagnose all engine modules: While it will diagnose a large amount of engine models, it does have its limitations. Professional mechanics will want to have a separate diagnostics tool on hand just in case. Home mechanics should ensure that this will tool will be compatible with their current cars.
ECU programming compatibility is still limited: This is an OBD2 tool, so it won’t work with other car systems.
4. FICBOX 4D Chip Keymaker/Programmer
The FICBOX 4D Chip Keymaker/Programmer is one of the most affordable on the market, so it makes a great tool for home mechanics that don’t mind the limited features. Some of the key features to this tool include:
- Affordable Key Programming: If the models above are outside your budget, consider the FICBOX 4D Smart Key Maker. It can program new keys for Toyota and Lexus vehicles in about 20 seconds. Best of all, it does so without an immobilizer disrupting the car’s anti-theft protocols.
- Great for Home Mechanics: While this tool won’t necessarily help you in a professional setting, it is the perfect key programmer for a home mechanic with Toyota or Lexus vehicles.
The FIXBOX Keymaker also doesn’t have any service, diagnostic, or programming functions. That’s not surprising for the price, but it’s something to keep in mind. For making new keys, this is a fast and functional device, but don’t expect it to do anything beyond that.
With its limited features, this key programmer does have it’s own individual drawbacks including:
- Limited compatibility (Toyota/Lexus with 4D chip): This tool will only be compatible with Toyota and Lexus vehicles made with a 4D chip. Traditionally, these cars were manufactured between 1996-2008.
No IMMO or ECU programming functions: The low price point means that this tool will have limited features. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to perform ECU or IMMO programming functions.
5. Autel MP808K Key Programmer
The Autel MP808K is efficient and works quickly. It also has a mid-ranged price tag and a list of key features. This could benefit both professionals or experienced home mechanics. Some of the key features include:
- Efficient Key Programming: The Autel MP808K can effectively program key fobs for a wide range of vehicles. It also supports ECU coding. Having said that, though, it’s more a diagnostic scanner with key making abilities than it is a dedicated key programmer. Its IMMO functionality is a bit limited, and on some vehicles more than others.
- OEM-Level Diagnostics: Along with full OBD2 support, the MP808K can perform bi-directional tests of components. This is very useful for diagnosing mechanical issues and very helpful when it’s time to make repairs.
- Full Service Functions: The capabilities of the MP808K go beyond any other scanner you’ll find at the price. It’s the best key programmer for all-in-one functionality. Among its 23 service functions are DPF regeneration, ABS bleeding, transmission or throttle adaptation, and injector coding.
The Autel MP808K is the best diagnostic scanner with key programming abilities, but it’s not a dedicated key maker. Because of that, it’s missing some functions you’ll get from other professional key programmers.
The fast and efficient processing speed of this model is impressive (especially for the price point). However, it does have its own drawbacks including:
- IMMO functions aren’t as robust: While the IMMO functions are not as comprehensive as some of the other models, the Autel MP808K offers an affordable price range for home mechanics.
- Service and key programming functions not supported on all vehicles: You may find that this tool does not perform key programming functions for all vehicle manufacturers. However, it will work well for the following car types: Dodge, Toyota, Suzuki, Acura, Honda and Nissan.
6. Autel MaxilM IM608 Key Programmer
The Autel MaxiIM IM608 is a great tool to use for professionals. While it does have a higher price tag (upwards of $3,000), it does come with a wide range of features including:
- Guided Key Programming: The Autel MaxilM IM608 gives users full access to key programming and IMMO functions. Not only can you read and write to the ECU, it also has a Smart Mode for guided key making. This takes the guesswork out of making keys or resetting the anti-theft protocols, making sure you get the job done quickly and effectively.
- Comprehensive OEM-Level Diagnostics: Along with all 10 modes of OBD2, the IM608 can read trouble codes from most electronic systems. You can diagnose systems like the airbags or anti-lock brakes quickly and easily. In addition, auto-VIN and Auto Scan functions are an efficient way to diagnose any vehicle.
- Robust Special Functions: Advanced maintenance services of the MaxilM IM608 include oil reset, battery and TPMS relearn, and maintenance of the EPB, SAS, and DPF systems. These functions are available for most vehicles, too, unlike most hand-held scanners which are limited by manufacturer.
- Intuitive Design: The 10.1” touchscreen on the Autel IM608 is larger than you’ll find on most diagnostic scanners. This gives you more room to view diagnostic data and a clearer picture of your vehicle’s health. It includes both Smart and Expert modes, too, and has other helpful extras, like a built-in camera and flashlight.
The Autel MaxilM IM608 is an advanced key programmer and diagnostic scanner with all the functions a professional needs, though it’s likely outside the budget of hobbyists and DIY-ers.
While the list of special features of the Autel MaxiIm IM608 is comprehensive, it does have it’s drawbacks including:
- High price: The price of this tool is usually between $3,000-$3,500. While the long list of features can justify the price for some repairmen, this is not a tool for the casual home mechanic.
- Unit is bulkier and requires more power: The bulky nature of this key programming tool makes it difficult to store. Additionally, the amount of power that it requires is much higher compared to the other key programming tools on the market.
7. Carrfan CK-100 Car Key Programmer
The Carrfan CK-100 is a simple tool – it’s only purpose is car key programming and deactivating. While it’s missing some of the diagnostic features of the other models, it does have some key features including:
- Efficient Key Programming: The Carrfan CK-100 is a single-purpose unit, aimed exclusively at programming new keys. You can also deactivate keys you’ve lost and read key data from the IMMO system. Its guided process allows even non-experts to quickly create new keys for their vehicle.
- Portable Design: Most diagnostic scanners with key programmers are bulky. The CK-100 is slim, lightweight, and easy to take with you anywhere. You’ll also find the button navigation on the screen intuitive, regardless of your level of expertise.
- Compatibility: The only thing to be aware of before you buy the Carrfan CK-100 is that its compatibility is limited. While it supports key programming on more than 25 manufacturers, it won’t read PIN data from all of them. Make sure you check that your vehicle is supported on their website before you purchase.
The Carrfan CK-100 is the best car key programmer for home garages, thanks to its affordable price and guided key programming features, though it lacks the advanced functions you’ll find on other models.
While this tool is really great for simple key programming and deactivating, it does have it’s own drawbacks:
No diagnostic or service functions: Compared to most key programmer models, this tool does not offer any diagnostic or service functions outside of programming keys. This would not be a great fit for a home mechanic or professional, but could work well for a locksmith.
PIN code reader abilities limited (7 manufacturers): This key programmer does have a limit when it comes to compatible car manufacturers. The 7 this tool is compatible with include: Ford, Chrysler, VAG, GM, Kia, Nissan and Hyundai.
Key Programmer FAQs
Can I Program A Key Myself?
Anybody with a car key programmer can program a key fob, as long as the programmer is compatible with the make and model of your car.
What Does A Key Programmer Do?
A car key programmer can program your car transponder key to lock and unlock your car, open your trunk, and even start your engine. To do this, a key programmer recodes the chip in a car key transponder to work specifically for your vehicle.
How Do You Know If Your Keys Need To Be Reprogrammed?
If your car stops responding to your key, that is a sign your car key needs to be reprogrammed. A car key can stop working after enduring water damage or other types of damage, or simply because of age.
Get Reliable Reviews on Key Programmers and Other Mechanic Tools with OBD Station
Most key programmers are pretty costly, but you can find a great deal if you look. The higher the cost, the more diagnostic and programming functions it will offer. Our top 7 car key programmers offer a wide variety of price ranges, features and benefits. With so many tools on the market, it is important to know which ones are worth buying. Luckily, OBD Station offers comprehensive and reliable product reviews for a variety of tools including key programmers, OBD scanners and more. Check out our blog for more top products on the market.