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Ford Keying Systems - How They Work

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There have been two keying systems used on Tauruses and Sables through the years. The first was used in generations I and II, and the other from III through at least part of VI (at the time of this writing, Ford plans to phase in the European side-cut keys across their North American model lines over the next few years in order to increase dealer revenues).

The keying system used from 1986-1995 uses two keys. The square-head 10-bit key operates the ignition and door locks, and the oval-head 5-bit key operates the trunk or liftgate, glovebox lock, and interior trunk release lock. (Except police cars with 1-key locking, where they are all 10-bit.)

The ignition locks used with this system are prone to failure, and it is not uncommon to find Fords with separate ignition and door keys. One way around this is to have a locksmith cut the ignition key pattern on one side of the key and the door pattern on the other. The ignition lock's tumblers are on top and the door locks have the tumblers on the bottom, so the key will be facing the same direction for either use.

There is a more elegant solution as well, and it's the one Ford designed this system around. 10 pins sounds like a lot for a lock, right? But the locks don't use all 10.


The ignition and door locks share only one cut on the key. According to TSB 87-24-2, the ignition lock uses positions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, while the door locks use 5 through 10.

As originally intended, if the ignition lock needed replacement, one would only have to match the #6 key position of the new lock to the old. The keys for the new lock would then be cut on the remaining positions to match the door locks.

A good locksmith will be able to do this, so you don't need to go to the dealer. A hardware store will not (nor will they cut a new key differently on both sides without a fight, in many cases).

The codes for these keys are in the format of 123A456, where "A" is the common bit. I believe the first three digits are the ignition code and the last three are the door code.

I'm not sure what OEM parts availability is these days. Here's the cut depths from the diagram above in English measurements:
A = 0.211
B = 0.185
C = 0.159
D = 0.134
E = 0.108

A few other details: The ignition lock used from 1986-89 did not have the "ears" that the 1990-95 had. These early cars originally came with a wider head on the key instead.

They switched over to a slightly different style in 1994. The body-colored door handles require a body-colored lock assembly, as the black ones will not fit properly. The key got a plastic-coated head at this time and the aftermarket key blank, even without the plastic head, is a different one even though the business end appears identical. (A plastic-coated key won't fit in the earlier ignition locks, as the slot is too narrow.)

The trunk/glovebox key is the conventional 5-bit one used since 1965. The glovebox lock only has three pins, but there's nothing special about these.

Ford switched over to a single 8-bit key for all locks in 1996. The locks don't use all 8 bits on the keys. This B&S/Strattec bulletin describes the setup: http://aftermarket.strattec.com/docs/Service%20Bulletins/1996%20Ford%208%20Cut%20Tumbler%20Charts.pdf

For this setup if a lock goes bad you either have to have the replacement lock rekeyed, or replace all the locks if you want to maintain one-key operation. (If you prefer two-key operation, Strattec offers an oval-head key with the current keyway (P/N 322789) that you could use for the secondary locks.)

On that note, often when an exterior lock is stuck it doesn't need to be replaced. Sometimes it's in need of lubrication with a good aerosol lock lubricant that contains graphite.

Sometimes, it's just that your key is worn out. My dad had a Ranger where his key would only operate the ignition and unlock the driver's door. Wouldn't lock the driver's door or do anything to the passenger side. The other key, which rarely got used, worked fine all around.

One last piece of advice: When I buy a car, the second thing I do to it is have the keys duplicated so I have three sets. One original (or as close as possible), one for my pocket, and one spare. I've never owned a car with PATS, but if you do, this is crucial. Two existing keys are required to program a new key yourself. If you have two keys and lose one, you're in for a walletectomy from the dealer.

Never let a dealership sell you a PATS-equipped car without at least two keys, and if there's just two, swing by the locksmith on the way home. Spare keys are cheap insurance against PATS programming costs (not to mention needing to have the locksmith break into your car when you've locked your only set inside).

Moderators, feel free to pin this or place it whereever it's best needed if you feel it's worthwhile.

Edited by Stocker
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Very good to know! Thanks for this write up :)

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Thanks Andy for the writeup, good info!!!

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Stellar write-up. please pin or add to topic finder. Also, his advice at the end is golden.

Edited by thesavo

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I updated the first post with more details about the later cars.


A corollary for those interested in such esoterica:


Key codes - with the old system, new cars came with aluminum tags that had the key codes stamped on them. It's rare to see these, my dad is the only person I've ever known to keep them, plus whoever owned the Tempo I got these from.




The trunk key codes are FB0000 through FB1863 (yes, it starts with zero). These match the "FA" codes that the 5-pin ignition locks used.


The ignition side of the square-head key is the first three digits in the code, going from 101 to 344. The door side is the last three digits, from 501 to 624. The letter, as mentioned above, denotes the one common tumbler between the two.


1996 and up, they just had a paper tag with the number and a barcode on it. With a mid-1997 or newer vehicle (last I heard, anyway) you can get the code from a Ford dealer if you bring the title. The codes are 0001X through 1706X.


I was at a hardware store a couple weeks ago and overheard a customer trying to explain to an employee that the new key they cut wasn't working properly in their ignition. This brings to mind another piece of advice: Don't have Home Depot or Wal-Mart or any other retailer with one of those Axxess+ key cutting systems cut your car keys (or any key, for that matter). Every Ford key I've ever seen from one of those outfits was cut wrong - often times they cut one side too high and the other too low. To make matters worse, the key blanks are very low quality. One of the ones I got with the Sable even had a crack going lengthwise across the teeth, and if that key had gotten used regularly I could see a chunk of it breaking off in the lock, which would probably ruin someone's day. Trust the locksmith - when keys and locks are someone's only source of income, they have a greater tendency to do them right. And if they don't, they know how to make it right.

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