How Car Keypad Locks Work

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Pioneered by Ford, keypads let you lock, unlock without keys

Pioneered by Ford, keypad door systems began appearing on high-end car and SUV products in the early 1980s. Ford took advantage of the then-new digital computer revolution – the automaker was one of the first to adopt digital technology for car/engine control – to add the keypad feature. Keypads may be located on the bottom of the driver’s side window from or along the driver’s side pillar. Keypads illuminate when you touch them so that you can enter codes.

How keypads work

Keypads work by generating digital code sequences. The codes are sent to the security control module, the computer that controls things like locking the doors, locking the trunk, setting and arming the alarm system and such.

The security control module accepts the code sequences, decodes them and generates the proper voltages for the door lock actuators. In turn, the voltages activate door locking and unlocking. The keypad also produces codes that will:

  • Activate memory seat features
  • Unlock the trunk
  • Activate the liftgate on an SUV
  • Lock all doors
  • Unlock all doors

Every car’s code is unique

Every car manufactured has a unique, factory-programmed code. It is stored in permanent memory so it cannot be erased or overwritten. If, however, you want to program a unique code, the keypad also allows you to set aside the factory-programmed sequence and enter your own. Once you enter the new code – the procedure is spelled out in the owner’s manual as well as online – you’re all set. If there comes a time when you need to get into your car’s lock and the customized code isn’t available, you can still use the original code. Just follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to use it.

Common keypad problems

Because of their location on the window frame or on a panel on one of your car’s body surfaces, keypads can suffer from a number of issues including:

  • Dirt contamination
  • Dust
  • Leakage
  • Short circuits
  • Open circuits
  • Sticking pushbuttons

Suffice it to say, each of the problems can cause the keypad to fail. Dirt and dust can disrupt pusbutton closure over time. At first, keypads work well because they of their complete sealing against the weather and contaminants. Over time, though, as keypad protection breaks down, dirt and dust can get into individual keys, preventing their closure. By the same token, water leaks in, around any protective shielding. Shorts and opens, while they have the same result in preventing keypad function, are different electrical failures. Short circuits can result from chafed wires touching screws or body metal while opens are non-working parts of a circuit. A circuit can go open if a part such as a diode fails. Sticking pushbuttons can fail because they stick. They are usually the result of wear.

Repairing a keypad and costs

If keypads are made correctly and properly shielded, they should last for at least 100,000 miles. If you have to replace a keypad, ask your mechanic to find you the best possible replacement for your available budget. Repairing the keypad usually involves replacing the keypad as a unit, not individual keys. It may also involve replacing a wiring loom and connectors. It could also involve swapping out various relays, solenoids and, possibly, the control module itself.


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Rigoberto

9 years of experience
706 reviews
Rigoberto
9 years of experience
Chevrolet Equinox - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Niles, Illinois
Rigo was great! He got there early, finished the job early, left everything clean. He changed my rear pads and rotors. The original quoted time was 90 minutes, he was done in about 60. He knows what he is doing and I am recommending him to all my friends and coworkers.
Mercedes-Benz C250 - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Chicago, Illinois
Rigo is a maverick hands down. Don’t take your car for work elsewhere. Especially great at Mercedes—this guy knows his profession! I will be using him for everything related to my car going forward.

Arturo

25 years of experience
35 reviews
Arturo
25 years of experience
Kia Forte - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - San Diego, California
ARTURO is great! very professional , fast, replaced my front brake pads and oil an filter change. everything now works and works well. Brakes have much improved stopping power and engine is smooth and quiet.Arturo is also kind and thoughtful. "Your mechanic" is very fortunate to have Arturo Lopez represent your company. I enthusiastically recommend him and "Your mechanic> as a fine operation Best regards to the Team Peter Marto
Nissan Maxima - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - San Diego, California
Arturo was prompt and completed my brake repair, including new rotors in a very efficient manner. I am very pleased with the quality of the work and the parts and will definitely look to have him service our other car in the near future.

Scott

32 years of experience
345 reviews
Scott
32 years of experience
Lexus IS250 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Denver, Colorado
Always on time, speedy, professional, and pleasant to interact with. The work is always consistent and we'll done. I can't reccomend Scott highly enough!

Michael

10 years of experience
15 reviews
Michael
10 years of experience
Nissan Sentra - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Conyers, Georgia
He was promptly on time and got the job done efficiently in a timely manner. I really appreciate the rapid respone on getting the job done! I would most definitely use this service again.

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