Answer Man

Security features fueled massive rise in price of keys

Q. A friend of mine recently lost the key to her 2014 SUV. Both she and I were dumbfounded when the dealer gave her an estimate of maybe $150 to $200 to replace it depending on the model. Are they making keys out of gold these days?

— R.P., of O’Fallon

A. Sometimes the good old days look mighty good, don’t they. Gas was 30 cents a gallon, air for your tires was free and duplicate keys were almost as cheap as a nickle ice-cream cone. Any hardware store worth its salt could grind one out in seconds for a buck or two, so you’d usually buy two or three just to have one handy.

But, car experts argue, the same primitive keys that made life easy for you also made it a relative snap for thieves to steal your wheels. So just as engines have become increasingly more complicated with modern electronics, keys have been turned into technological marvels as well. The result can be sticker shock if you need a new one.

Until the mid- to late-1990s, the basic car key had no added security features. Like the common house key, it merely had a long metal shank with cuts and grooves. If they matched up with the tumblers found in the ignition, the key turned and the car started. Of course, this meant that anyone who had access to your key could easily duplicate it for next to nothing. Even if someone didn’t have a key, it apparently made your car easier to pilfer as you’ll see in a minute.

Perhaps the first advance came when new car buyers (like me in 1999) were given a key or fob that could lock and unlock your doors remotely. This made life more convenient, but it still had nothing to do with starting your engine. Even if the battery in the fob died, you could still manually unlock your car and be on your way.

The big change came with the introduction of what’s known as a transponder key. In the plastic head of these keys, you’ll find an electronic chip that sends a signal to a receiver in the ignition. If the wrong signal is detected, the car either will not start or it will die immediately. According to Charles Sanville, who writes thehumblemechanic.com blog, such a system also can prevent hot-wiring, another common theft technique.

“(The transponder chip) looks like a glass Tic Tac,” said Sanville, who is also a VW technician. “When you put the key into the ignition, the ‘reader coil’ will energize the transponder in the key. Then the transponder will send a code back to the coil and on to the evaluation unit. If everything matches, the evaluation unit will authorize the vehicle to start. If not, the car will not start or it will not stay running.”

Of course, all of those extra gizmos come at a price. So not only do you have to pay for the keys and chips, but they have to be individually programmed for your car, which likely will entail labor costs.

“When I program keys, I have to hook up the VW scan tool,” Sanville writes. “Then we go online and retrieve the proper coding for the car. I don’t get to see the code anymore. It is loaded right into the car. But each key for the vehicle will need to be programmed to work properly.”

You can almost see the dollar signs piling up if you lose a key with all those features. If you go on line, you’ll find claims that some locksmiths may be equipped to make them below dealer cost but others warn you to thoroughly investigate any claims and to get any promises in writing so it doesn’t become a key to more problems.

Q. Was there ever a trampoline jump site in Belleville? Someone said there was around 1962, but I did not live here at that time.

— M.N., of Belleville

A. Andrew and Margaret Lucido decided to jump on the trampoline craze in about 1962. They ran the old Dairy Queen at 4130 W. Main St., so they opened L&W Jump Land Amusements next door at 4128. As I recall, it was just a small lot with a dozen or so ground-level trampolines that I suppose you could use at so much per hour. But the business may have had more downs than ups because it was gone by 1966. I don’t know of any readily available photos.

Today’s trivia

In the history of Major League Baseball, only seven players have hit two home runs in extra innings in one game. How many can you name — and who is the only St. Louis Cardinal on the list?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: In 1916, Cumberland College canceled its football program before the new school year began, but Georgia Tech insisted the tiny Lebanon, Ky., Presbyterian school live up to its contracted promise to play or face a $3,000 penalty. As it turned out Georgia Tech offered its foe an extra $500 incentive, so Cumberland student manager George E. Allen rounded up a dozen or so friends and, on Oct. 7, 1916, headed to Atlanta.

The results were not just predictable but also historic. Still smarting over a 22-0 loss to the Cumberland baseball team the previous spring, Georgia Tech scored 63 points in both the first and second quarters en route to a 222-0 victory, the most lopsided score in college football history. The Engineers piled up 978 yards of rushing (none passing) and recovered nine fumbles while Cumberland wound up with minus-28 net yards (although these are estimates).

And who coached the winning team? None other than John Heisman, whose name is now synonymous with the greatest individual honor a college football player can earn. At halftime, Heisman reportedly said, “You’re doing all right, team, we’re ahead. But you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise.” Still, out of mercy, Heisman reportedly shortened the last two quarters by five minutes each while his team racked up another 96 points. How sporting of him.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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