I learned an interesting lesson yesterday: the DIY steps to programming Ford keys will not work if one of your two necessary keys is a clone of your other key. Here’s how I learned it:

One of our locksmiths received a call the other day from Elk, California, a tiny little town in the boondocks of Mendocino County. A client had recently purchaced a vehicle that came with a parent key which caps the vehicle’s speed and stereo’s volume. Being a grown-up human being, our customer wanted a different key to his car.

He explained he was running into an issue. What our caller did at first was use a cloner from a hardware store to get a second key to his vehicle. He then attempted to follow a series of DIY steps to program another key for his Ford, but not only did it not work, he some how accidentally erased the keys that he did have. Now his issue was bigger than not being able to turn up the stereo passed 30 decibels. Now he couldn’t even start his car.

So he called up an automotive locksmith from Laytonville (that’s us) to come down and give him a hand.

After passing through Ukiah and driving through some amazing, Mendocino scenery, I arrived at his house. I was confident in my plan. I knew that with Fords, owners have to have at least two transponder keys entered into the car’s computer to start the car and I knew he had those. I was simply going to “tell” his vehicle that all the car keys were lost, and reprogram his existing two keys back into the system…so it should be easy.

Well, I was wrong. What should have been a 20 minute job turned out to be a very technologically trying mystery and here’s why:

The “two” Ford keys our friend had were not technically two keys because one was a clone of the original.

When car-owners clone a key at the hardware store, they are not actually making a second key. In effect, they are making an identical copy of their one key. The electronics in the transponder chips are synced up and therefore, when the car computer reads the chips in each of the two keys, it recognizes literally no difference between them.

You might think of this issue in the same way we typically think of identical twins. If you’re like me, you know some twins, and if you don’t know them well, you will confuse them in your mind so that you don’t know who is who (no offense to you twins out there). In a childish way of speaking, to our minds, those twins are one person in two different bodies.

Basically, that is what was happening with our client’s car. I mistakenly believed that we physically had two keys, but what I saw as two distinct keys, the car’s computer saw as only one.

So in the case of our story, my presuppositions before coming to the job were wrong. Remember, Fords (and incidentally Mazdas too) must have two working keys in the system in order for a car to start. So as I was erasing and programming two keys into the car, I did not actually have two keys, I had only one — a key and a clone — and that is why I was having such problems with getting his car to start.

As I was working through this issue, my client and I were wondering together if there were a way to erase the content of the clone to help the car to see that we had two keys. And I talked about it with another locksmith buddy of mine, and neither he nor I know of any way to erase the clone. Perhaps there are certain tools or methods out there that can do that but even if there are, I didn’t have that tool and we were stuck with a key and a clone.

So what was the solution? I ended up having to make an entirely new chip key for our friend so that we could get him back on the road. I cut the key to code, and after a little goofin’ around with it, I had his actual two car keys for him.

So here is the application to the story. As you may know, Ford owners (and some Dodge owners) are capable of programming car keys without having to go to the dealer or calling an automotive locksmith. This is a really nice feature because it will save you a ton of money. All that is needed is two working keys and a procedure which is easily googled and followed. However, what this article means is that programming your own car keys will not work if one of your keys is a clone. Both keys must be electronically unique. If one of them is a clone, you gotta hit up a dealer or call up a car locksmith to program a new car key for you. So keep that bit of information in mind for the future. It might save you a headache.

Well, after I took care of our customer, I loaded up my tools and headed home. I passed through Elk onto Highway 1, drove into south Fort Bragg, cut over the mountains to Willits and up North on 101. It was a long trip, but I gotta say I learned a good lesson, and hopefully it helps you too.