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Are You Keyed Up?

Last month I impressed upon you the importance of storing the winch controller near the driver’s seat. This month I offer an even more important reminder: Buy at least two additional copies of the ignition key. Carry an extra copy when you’re out. Whether four-wheeling or just enjoying the great outdoors, there are numerous ways to lose a key or lock yourself out. Without a spare, you’re up a creek of a different sort. Until you experience it, you can’t imagine the sense of helplessness.
Where to store the keys

Keep one copy at home. When in need, you can ask a friend to drive you home. Alternatively, he could fetch it himself, or have a good friend bring it to you. (If you’re uncomfortable allowing others to enter your home, consider leaving the key with a trusting neighbor.)

Another key is on you, of course.

Give a key to one of your passengers. If you’re incapacitated or have to leave, your passenger can drive your vehicle out.

Other times, that person just may need to access your vehicle to retrieve an item. You could be far away or preoccupied — no problem.

Another possibility is to hide a key on the vehicle. Here are some options.

Use a magnetic key holder. Easiest method, as it doesn’t require any tools, parts or drilling. But I don’t recommend them. The magnets aren’t that strong, and they tend to fall off. Ironically, you may lose your keys. And someone else could find them – possibly near or under your vehicle.
Attach behind a license plate. More secure than a magnet but requires some work. Remove the license plate and attach the key with one of the bolts. You may have to drill into the head of the key. (Be careful to avoid harming the chip. Actually this works best with a “flat” key) The license plate bolt should be a type that can be loosened with a common item like a coin.
Tape to wiring harness. Place the key in a small plastic bag or container. Tape it to the wiring harness using electrical tape. Choose a spot such that the package looks natural. Anyone looking at it would figure the object is part of the ignition system.  If your vehicle has inside hood release, consider a spot on the underside of the frame or engine compartment. Just make sure you can get to it easily.

Buy a real estate lock.  box Need a quick temporary way to store the key outside the vehicle? Buy a real estate lock box. You’ll run the clasp through the recovery eye on your bumper. Remove the lock before traveling, however. It’ll bang around the entire drive.

You may think of other methods. Just keep in mind that recovering the key has to be easy enough to do while in a bind, when you have limited tools, and are unable to pop the hood latch. Try to be more imaginative than the thief looking for your hidden key. What appears simple in the comfort of your garage may not be so while deep in a national forest.
 Hiding a push button (fob) key in the car

Many new vehicles use an RF (radio frequency) transmitter (key) in place of inserting a physical key. Have the transmitter in your pocket and just push the start button. In order to hide such a key in or on the vehicle, it is necessary to block the RF signal. A locksmith can sell you a special bag to place it in, or you can wrap it in tin foil.

Generally, the transmitter comes with a “flat” key (see definition below) to lock the trunk and glove box when turning it over to valet parking. That flat key will open the doors but may not shut off the car alarm.

You will need to refresh the battery in any stored transmitter from time to time. However, Jeep transmitters can start the vehicle even when the transmitter battery is dead. Simply touch the transmitter directly to the start button.
In other models, the start button pops out. The nose of the transmitter is inserted and is turned just like a key.

(To remove the button, insert the flat key under the button at the 6 o’clock positions and gently pry it out. You may need to support the top of the button. The first time is scary, since you don’t realize how easy it come out.  May sure the button is upright when you press it back in.)

  Key hole after Start Button is removed
Flat key on the left
– chip key on right

Flat key a good alternative at times

A flat key, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a like the old, non-chip style. It’s cut the same way, but because it doesn’t contain the chip, it won’t start your vehicle. You still have access to your vehicle, however. Once there, you can dig up the key you hid inside. (Just remember where you stashed it!)
A flat key fits in a wallet or other small pouch. They’re cheap, too. The average price is around $5. Compare that to $60 to $100 or more for a typical chip key.
“Locked out” isn’t always the case

We were congregating at the trail head just minutes from the start of the trip. One of the attendees came running from the gas station across the street. He was in a real panic. He locked his key in the car and was afraid he’d miss the trip.

I went over for a look think there was very little I could do. As I walked around the vehicle, I grabbed door handles. Aha! One was unlocked.

Isn’t that often the case? You think you always lock your doors. But sometimes you forget one.

Another time my group was at a gas station after an excursion. A young man at another pump had locked his key in the car and was looking for help.

The windows were cracked about an inch, and he had tried to pop a lock with a long wire. No luck. Turns out his car had the toggle-style door locks. Probably impossible to flip with a wire.

One of my guys suggested we try a dune flag. He’d insert it in one window and push the lock on the opposite side door. What an idea! The flag pole was narrow enough to fit through the window and stiff enough to push the lock button.

Check each door and hatchback (if so equipped). If you have a Jeep, try the lift gate. On older vehicles, you can sometimes pry over that to open that hatchback. Always fully assess the situation. You may not be locked out – or out of options.

“Hey, I never lose my keys!”

There’s always a first time, buddy. And once you do, you’ll be so glad you had a backup plan in place. Assuming you do.

Under what circumstances might you lose your keys?

– While surfing or swimming
– Canoeing or kayaking, and you tip over
– Bungee jumping or riding a roller coaster
– Too much partying around the campfire one night
– Or just lying on the beach soaking up the rays

You’ll notice that this issue isn’t confined to four-wheeling. Any time you’re away from home you should be mindful of your keys. Just as you are with your wallet.

Right now, while you’re thinking about it, create a back-up plan. If need be, have a spare key (or two) made at the next opportunity. Pack it for your next trip. That small object offers tremendous peace of mind.

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