Giammalvo Files
Mark Giammalvo

Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.   

Mark, who has been with the business for over 20 years, is an ASE  Master Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE L1 certification, and has an associates degree in business management.
Mark is also a writer for Motor Age Magazine and is the past secretary of the Alliance of Automotive Service Professionals, (AASP).

Learning Key

(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP) 

Recently a customer with a 1996 Acura RL Premium asked us to research how to correctly make spare keys for their car. It seems that this customer had a department store make a key only to realize that it would turn the ignition switch on but the engine would not start. At the same time the customer reported that their was a warning light shaped like a key that flashed on the dash. When the customer told the department store manager about the problem key he advised that the vehicle may have a special security system and they would most likely have to go to the dealer for spare keys. We promised the customer we would investigate the situation. After researching the Acura service bulletins we found one that explained that all Acura RL models are equipped with the "Immobilizer System". This system uses special keys with electronic coded transponders hidden in the head of the key. The vehicle's starter will not engage and the fuel injectors will not deliver fuel to the engine if an authorized key is not used. This is why the car would not start for the customer. When the new key was inserted, the ignition lock did not receive an authorized code from the new key. We called the Acura dealer and asked them to make two keys for the vehicle. The first thing the parts manager at the dealership stated was: "You'd better hope the customer has the learning key." "Learning key" we said. "What's a learning key?" When we pressed the manager for more details we were in disbelief with what he said. The Acura parts manager went on to explain that each Acura RL comes with a special red colored key called a "learning key". This key is placed in a small case which is marked: "Do not misplace & never insert in ignition switch" This learning key is specially coded to the immobilizer computer hidden in the dash of the vehicle and is necessary in order to make new authorized coded keys. The dealer needs this learning key and a special Acura lap top computer to program new keys. The dealer advised us that without the learning key spare keys could not be made. We contacted the customer and inquired about the learning key. The customer stated that they did not have the learning key. We called the dealer back to advise them of the situation. The dealer stated that there was only one way to make spare keys for the vehicle. A new immobilizer computer with a matching learning key must be purchased from Acura and installed in the car. The total cost installed with an extra set of spare keys?  Bet you can't guess. How's a whopping $527.00 sound? As these vehicle's progress over the years through layers of ownership there is likely to be more upset owners wishing they had a learning key. Well, you might say, it is a lesson learned.