Locksmith Pricing FAQ

  1. What can I expect to pay for locksmith services?
  2. What should I ask when I get a price quote to make sure there are no "hidden fees?"
  3. How can I find a reputable locksmith with the most affordable prices in my area?
  4. I need a transponder (aka "electronic chip") key made. Why should I go to a locksmith instead of my car dealer?
  5. My car's locks and/or ignition were damaged. Should I call a locksmith?
  6. Why doesn't my duplicate key work?
  7. How frequently do locks have to be drilled to open them?


1. What can I expect to pay for locksmith services?

Locksmith prices vary widely from region to region in the United States, but Hawaii is a tight market with lots of competition. One thing to keep in mind is that locksmiths are professionals that must be highly trained in a specific skill set. The total fee locksmiths charge customers are a combination of the following: service, labor, time spent, and materials.

Service: For mobile service (when the locksmith comes to you), you can expect to pay for the travel time or mileage. Each locksmith charges the "service call" fee differently. They may charge based on mileage, driving time, zip code, or neighborhood.

Labor: Locksmiths are highly trained, skilled laborers with varying levels of expertise. They can charge for labor based on what the job is or how long the job takes. Labor can include specialized skills such as programming transponder keys, changing pins in a cylinder, replacing deadbolts, creating master key systems, and so on.

Time Spent: Time spent can be charged as a function of labor charges. Experienced locksmiths can usually do a better job in a faster time frame than beginners. For instance, a master locksmith might be able to pick a lock in 30 seconds. A two-month locksmith might take forty-five minutes to pick the same lock (we have seen this happen). Both locksmiths might charge the same price for labor, the difference is how long you, the client, have to wait outside your door. Which would you rather hire?

Materials: Materials include hardware to be installed in your home, office, or vehicle such as doorknobs, deadbolts, cylinders, intercom systems, and alarms.

Finally, every locksmith's rates fluctuate depending on the time of day you call. If you are locked out of your house at 3:00 a.m., a locksmith will charge more to open your door than if you called the same locksmith at 3:00 p.m.

2. What should I ask when I get a price quote to make sure there are no "hidden fees?"

Beware of low advertised prices. When you ask for a price estimate, make sure to ask if the price includes all services, labor, materials, etc. Sometimes, unscrupulous locksmiths will advertise low prices, then charge three or four times their advertised price for the "service call fee" or "labor fee" once they arrive. Disreputable locksmiths practice at least two pricing scams:

  1. You're quoted $29 over the phone, only to be told when the locksmith arrives: "I said $229, you must not have heard the two."
  2. You're quoted $29 over the phone, or perhaps they say, "$29 for the service." After the locksmith arrives, he charges $29 for service and $100 for labor.

If a price sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

Related: See what can happen when a locksmith says he needs to drill your lock.

3. How can I find a reputable locksmith with the most affordable prices in my area?

There are many disreputable locksmith companies out there who take advantage of people who just call 411 or choose the one with the biggest ad in the phone book. These people are usually in stressful situations (eg locked out) and need a locksmith, fast.

Most of the companies in Hawaii with enough advertising dollars to take out a full-page ad in the phone book or flood 411 with listings are actually based on the mainland. When you call them, you are re-routed to a call center on the mainland, who then calls a subcontractor locksmith in Hawaii. The mainland company can take up to 70% of the money from the final sale, forcing the local subcontractor to charge sky-high prices to get a decent cut for himself.

How do you protect yourself from locksmith price-gouging?

  1. Ask for recommendations from friends, relatives and colleages. It is important to hire a locksmith you trust, since they are manipulating your home, office, or vehicle security devices. A friend or relative can recommend a locksmith who charged them fair prices in the past.
  2. Read online reviews. Look up the locksmith you are using online. There are many user review sites such as Yelp!, Google Maps Reviews, and the Magic Yellow Pages where customers share their good or bad experiences with various locksmith companies.
  3. Ask for a quote over the phone. Any reputable locksmith will give you a price estimate over the phone before he comes. If you don't get a quote, once he arrives, you are stuck paying whatever prices he decides.
  4. Ask for company name and address. Disreputable locksmiths will be reluctant to give the name and physical location of their company. Many price-gougers do not have a physical location in Hawaii. Look them up online to make sure they have a physical location near you.
  5. It is safest to deal with local locksmiths. You know where to find them in case something goes wrong. Plus, they care about their reputation among locals. An unaffiliated locksmith can just disappear after he rips you off.
  6. Get a business card. Protect yourself in case something goes wrong with the locksmith's work. Leave your locksmith a review online to help your fellow consumers.

4. I need a transponder (aka "electronic chip") key made. Why should I go to a locksmith instead of my car dealer?

Specialty Expertise. Most of the time, if there is a lock involved in a job, a locksmith is your best bet for expertise and affordability. The locksmiths' specialty is locks, keys, and locking mechanisms, while technicians at the auto dealer work more generally on all the different parts of a car.

Towing vs Mobile Service. If you lost all copies of your key, a dealer requires that you tow your car to their shop. A mobile locksmith can come to you for a nominal service fee. Furthermore, many lockmiths work 24 hours, which means you can get the key made at an hour convenient for you.

Book Rate Charges. Dealers can charge "flat-book" for a job, which means if their book says it takes 3.0 hours to make a transponder key, they will charge for the full 3.0 hours. Locksmiths generally do not work by any book.

Laser Cut Keys. If you have a laser cut key, your key requires a very expensive piece of equipment to cut it ($5,000 to $20,000). To The Key Guy's current knowledge, there is not a single auto dealer in Hawaii that has a laser cutting machine. They will require you to wait one to two weeks while they have someone on the mainland cut your key. Read one client's testimonial.

5. My car's locks and/or the ignition was damaged. Should I call a locksmith?

Locksmiths specialize in locking mechanisms and keys. The technicians at car dealers usually carry more generalized automotive specialties. If the problem is with any of the locking mechanisms on your vehicle, it is usually best to call a mobile service. They will come to your location for much less than it costs to tow your car to a dealer. Locksmiths can also do fine work with the lock's cylinders that most technicians cannot do. Many locksmiths also work 24 hours a day. If yo are going to call a locksmith, it is recommended that you call one with automotive training, because vehicle locks are slightly different than house or commercial locks.

Real-Life Example: There was something wrong with a pickup truck ignition. The man's key wouldn't turn and he had no way of starting his truck. He towed his truck to the dealer for several hundred dollars. The auto technicians completely took apart the ignition before announcing that the entire steering column had to be replaced. And he would have to use a different key for his ignition and doors. Total cost: $900+

The man didn't want to pay that much, so he decided to eat the cost of towing and call a locksmith (he called Haleiwa North Shore Oahu Locksmith). When we arrived at the dealer and assessed the situation, we said we could have driven to the man's house and done the work there for mere tens of dollars instead of making him tow the truck for hundreds of dollars. We also could have simply replaced the cylinder in the ignition instead of replacing the entire steering column. He would have been able to keep his same original keys. We didn't charge him anything for driving out to the car dealer, and he said next time he would definitely call a locksmith first.

6. Why doesn't my duplicate key work?

When you bring a key into a hardware shop or other non-locksmith shop to make a duplicate, it often doesn't work when you go home to try it.

Too worn. Your key may be so worn that a duplicate made on a normal copying machine won't work. A locksmith can measure the key and cut a new one with the key as it originally measured.

Copies of copies. Other times, you may be making a copy of a copy. An unskilled technician will simply copy the copy without realizing it. It is best to make copies of the original key when possible. If you lost all your originals, it is best to see a locksmith rather than going to a hardware store only to be frustrated that your key doesn't work. Furthermore, Keys duplicated by a locksmith can last for seven generations or more, while keys duplicated in other shops typically last four generations.

Technician skill. The technician operating the machine in hardware stores and other shops is probably not a locksmith. The reason for having a key duplicating machine inside a larger store is often to draw customers inside, hoping they will buy something else from the store while they're already inside. The locksmith makes it his or her business to duplicate keys well--after all, locksmithing is his only business.

7. How frequently do locks have to be drilled to open them?

A good locksmith can open almost any locks without having to drill it. Professional Locksmith and The Key Guy owner Guy Tordjman says, "In my professional career, I have never had to drill a lock. I have always been able to open it some other way. Drilling is not even an option in my head when I arrive at the site. The only time I will drill a lock is if it is obviously broken."

Why would a locksmith unnecessarily drill locks? The charges for the "extra labor" of drilling. On top of the drilling cost, they ruined your doorknob or deadbolt, so now you have to buy a new lock from them. Then they charge you to install the new lock. Labor fees and extra time spent charges all add up to turn a simple lockout into a several-hundred dollar process.

Big companies with lots of advertising dollars can afford to drill many locks because they don't care about their reputation. They know that clients who call the first number in directory assistance did not do their research on the company. These locksmiths can afford to charge more because 1) they do not depend on a good reputation nor repeat clientele--they don't need to, because 2) they get plenty of gullible first-time callers from their big advertisements.

FYI on High-Security Locks. If you have a high-security lock, such as a Mul-T-Lock or Medeco, your lock cannot be picked, nor can it be drilled (the drilling will probably take over an hour). Good luck!


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