I’ve learned to live with certain idiosyncrasies on my 2004 Chevy Malibu. The “check battery” indicator light flashes and dings at 50 mph, the gear shift light burned out, and my key fob will no longer lock or unlock the doors, despite replacing the fob’s battery.

A nonfunctioning key fob was the last straw. Not to get a new car — the Malibu is only halfway to 200,000 miles. It was time for a new fob.

The Chevy dealer wanted about $220 to replace it — $149 for the part and $71 in labor to re-program it. So I searched online for “key fob replacement 2004 Chevy Malibu.” Half a dozen sellers came up, including,, and Prices ranged from $10 to $25 online compared to $128 to $149 at three Twin Cities Chevy dealers.

I chose NorthCoast for about $25, including shipping, because its parts are original equipment manufacturer instead of a knockoff replacement. The knockoffs cost half as much ($10 to $15), but may not last as long, according to Carrington Dillon, the e-commerce director at NorthCoast in Erie, Pa.

“The knockoff replacements still work, but a lot of people say they only last for a week or a month,” he said. “There are differences in the circuit boards.”

I took the OEM fob I purchased to a local Chevy dealer to have it programmed. The labor was $70, but I paid $50 with a $20 coupon. It pays to call around. Labor costs varied from $50 to $75 at three local dealers. FYI, my new fob has worked fine for two months.

You can save more money by trying to program it yourself from directions provided by the online seller or from YouTube videos. “It’s a lot of turning the key in the ignition and pushing a few buttons, but it only takes a few minutes,” Dillon said. I didn’t attempt it, but it’s worth a shot if you want to try to save $50.

Some dealerships may not be willing to program a fob not purchased from them. Chris Schugg, service manager at Luther Chevrolet in Brooklyn Center, Minn., said his dealership will program a fob purchased on the internet but there are risks. “If the remote doesn’t work after it’s programmed, you may be out of luck depending on the warranty from the online company,” he said. “Before you buy, check the warranty terms and try to buy original equipment manufacturer parts.”

If you have a newer car with a keyless fob that died, a replacement can cost up to $500 for the part and $75 for the labor.

Start your search by knowing exactly which fob your vehicle needs. The parts department at a dealer can quickly identify which model is required based on the vehicle identification number (VIN).

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