Get Keys Cut From A Photograph In An Emergency

Get Keys Cut From A Photograph In An Emergency

Losing your car keys is a nuisance, but leaving them behind in Europe is potentially worse. That was the experience for Lifehacker reader Mark, but the story turned out to have a happy ending, as he recounts:

I recently came back from Europe after a three-week holiday. When I got home, I realised that I hadn’t brought my car keys with me and instead had left them overseas with my girlfriend. As my girlfriend doesn’t return for another week, I considered my options (taxi/public transport everywhere/hire a car). Recalling a story that I read recently that keys just represent number codes and can be cloned from a photo (after reconstruction with a computer); I asked my girlfriend to email me a scan of the car key to see if I could get someone to cut it. I rang a few locksmiths, most of who confidently told me that what I was asking for was impossible and that I would need to replace the locks. One guy, however, said to bring the image and he would see. I took my laptop along and showed the guy the image. To my satisfaction, he was able to read all but one of the numbers from the key ridges/dips with confidence. He then asked the make and model of the car and was able to cross-reference the number he had generated off the image with a database of known keys ( I didn’t know such a thing existed). As one of the numbers was uncertain, he tried a few options and one of them came up as a match. He was then able to cut a key from the computer which worked first try. The cost? $29 dollars. A good life hack I think! Obviously, this applies to older model cars that have a simple key with no specialised electronics.

If you have found yourself in this scenario, and have the patience to find a co-operative locksmith, this could well get you out of trouble. Thanks Mark!


  • One of my favorite tricks is to produce a copy of an automobile key to rescue a standed motorist by simply observing the actual key for the vehicle when it is laying on the seat or otherwise visable through the windows. One thing to remember in the age of free access to information on the internet is that there are those who might develop and use these skills for less than nobel purposes. Remember that before you leave your keyring sitting in plain sight in public. Someone with these skills could be talking with you at a bar one minute and ransacking your house the next.

  • It’s a shame that, as in another comment, “that kind of service is hard to come by” – In reality? Any locksmith worth his or her salt should be able to do this without batting an eye or even thinking it over. It is a standard skill, reading cuts, and one that should be amongst the first learned.

    Just as an FYI, there are legal ramifications for some locksmiths which may prevent some from performing this service, particularly by mail. For example, if you have a physical key in hand, possession is 9 points of the law, eh? We can make a duplicate for you. If you have only a photo or a key code, ownership is harder to prove. We run into situations all the time where ex’s, or family, or thieves are trying to make off with something not theirs (like a car), and this service without proving ownership would essentially be putting the ability to drive the vehicle off into possibly the wrong hands. So we have to be cautious.

    Another FYI, the “database of known keys” mentioned is not actually that. 🙂 It is a database of known key codes used for specific year, makes, and models. It gives us from one to 6 or so choices for the correct cut depth in any given cut. It’s then up to us to determine which one is correct. 🙂

    Hope this helps clarify a bit.



  • Like Kim said a good locksmith should be able to complete this task with his hands behind his back. The problem is many people learning the trade in todays world are skipping important steps and lessons for a quick payout. Here in sunny england people are trying to abuse the locksmith trade for a quick buck. Your locksmith found is worth his weight in gold like someone else mentioned they should be name dropped for others to benifit good luck ATB chris

  • Hopefully locksmiths who stumble upon this post will take the time to refresh their skills in this area and forward onto other locksmiths as it is obvious such ability is beneficial for good customer service.

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