Toyota Sienna: Key Wear

And it came to pass in the Christmas Season that our ignition keys began jamming in the lock, rather than just starting the van. It seems Toyota used split wafers in their locks up through the early part of this millennium, with the result that the delicate wafer edges tend to wear out both themselves and the edges of the keys.

I can’t vouch for the wafers, but the keys definitely aren’t in good shape:

Ignition keys - worn vs new
Ignition keys – worn vs new

Given that picture, someone can probably conjure up a shiny new key and drive away with our 14-year-old Sienna van. It just rolled over 90 k miles and is in pretty good condition. New battery and hood prop pivot, too.

Being that type of guy, the first thing I did with the new van was to get duplicate keys and drop the OEM keys into the “2000 Sienna” file folder. The middle key in that photo has had maybe a dozen uses and is in pristine condition.

Rumor has it that one can cannibalize a set of split wafers from the glove box lock:

Glove box latch
Glove box latch

Or, according to different sources, you can simply discard the split wafers and be done with it.

The trick to removing the lock cylinder lies in turning the key to the Accessory position, then poking a pointy object into a small hole to depress an internal spring-loaded pin. Of course, one must disable the air bags, dismantle the steering wheel, and remove half a dozen trim panels to reveal the small hole.

Fortunately, the two “new” keys from the file folder work perfectly and we’ll run with them for a while. I suppose I should get another set of duplicates, but …

10 thoughts on “Toyota Sienna: Key Wear

  1. As long as the fresh keys behave, you’re good, but if they start to misbehave too, you’ll want to do something about those split wafers. The site explains that if you let them get so worn the cylinder won’t turn, then the only way to get it out is drill it, which you want to avoid. It’s true you can just remove the split wafers, the locks will still work, just less secure (big deal). Since you have to take the cylinders out to remove them anyway, you could just replace them at that point (they don’t cost much, but you’ll have to get the correct ones for your keys). As for the keys, you can always get new keys “code cut” and they’ll be just like the OEM keys, crisp and accurate (the OEM keys were probably cut the same way). And you’re right, it is possible for someone to get a key code cut from a picture of a key, but likelihood of someone doing this to steal your 14-year-old van is negligible. Also the angle of that picture makes it much trickier than a profile shot would be.

    1. if they start to misbehave

      I’m hoping the rest of the van will crap out slightly before a key becomes one with the ignition lock. Having replaced some cheap bits-and-pieces over the last few months, maybe it’ll survive for another few years before doing the Deacon’s Shay thing.

      the angle of that picture makes it much trickier

      Heh, heh…

      If anybody out there is up for it, let me know: when your keys work, I’ll give you the van as a consolation prize.

      1. I actually did this once, from a screenshot of a prop key from Zoey 101:

        Those Kwikset (AKA “quick-pick”) keys don’t have a lot of positions (or tumblers), and you can eyeball ’em from a blurry picture. Looks like your key isn’t quite so primitive. Alas, I never got to try the Zoey key, but it sure looks alike after code-cutting.

  2. I had to go through the same routine for the 2003 Chevy pickup. I wore the key by using it on a rig with all the other household keys. I now take it off and there’s minimal weight for the ignition–key, canopy key, and a lightweight ID fob. The other vehicles are much the same, though they use radio fobs. A recoded key (I didn’t do a safety key–too many other things were going on in our life, like the move to Oregon) cost $20.00 and a spare a few bucks more.

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t have to remove the steering wheel to get at the cylinder. It might have been easier, but the ignition lock shroud had enough give to come off by sliding it down the shaft a centimeter or so. Another note is that GM likes to change things around a bit, so the means shown in the manual wasn’t quite what I had to do to open the shroud. I don’t have current experience with Toyotas.

  3. The ignition lock on our Sienna (also a 2000, with 200K+ miles) is also worn. The key will happily come out in any position, although you have to have the key inserted in order to turn it from position to position.

    By the way, your keys look PRISTINE compared to my original Toyota key that has been in daily use for 14 years:

    1. original Toyota key that has been in daily use for 14 years

      I kiss your feet: that’s a perfect example of using it up and wearing it out!

  4. So, they’re wafer-thin? :)

    I’d be tempted to just wire in a toggle switch and a pushbutton and ignore the ignition cylinder entirely, especially if I lived where you do…

    1. wire in a toggle switch and a pushbutton

      That might actually work, as we just barely missed having the immobilizer gimcrackery. I’d leave the key in RUN, snap off the part that sticks out, and move on…

      Thanks for the idea!

      1. On the third hand, I might not do it after talking about it on a blog linked to my callsign. :)

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