Steel vs. Brass Keys

There's not much of the way of controversies in the world of keys. Still, I have gotten some heated emails on the subject of steel vs. brass keys. One guy was entirely convinced that I was somehow ripping him off by shipping a steel key. He calmed down a bit when I offered a refund and further when I pointed out that the manufacturer of his car, Porsche, originally shipped the vehicle with a steel key. 

The majority of aftermarket keys available today are brass. Some are plain brass and have the classic brass color. Most of the shiny bright silvery keys you see are actually nickel-plated brass. Once these are cut, you'll see the brass color on the inside.

However, I run into a lot of original keys and a few aftermarket that are steel -- these are usually nickel-plated too. This is particularly common in German marques like BMW and Porsche. 

So which is better? 

All else being equal:
  • Steel keys are stronger and more resistant to bending. 
  • Steel keys can be hidden on the frame of a motorcycle or car with a small rare-earth magnet. 
  • Steel can rust, particularly in the cut area, where brass may simply discolor.
  • Over the years, steel keys can wear the internals of their locks more so than brass keys. 
The biggest difference, however, is that some locksmiths will simply refuse to work on steel keys, due to concerns about it prematurely wearing their equipment. I've even heard some say things like "you can't cut steel with steel," which is ridiculous to anyone who has ever used a hacksaw. A complicating factor is the nickel coating on many brass keys is itself magnetic, particularly if the plating is thick.   Some locksmiths or hardware stores who don't want to cut steel will test the key with a magnet, and if there's the slightest attraction, will refuse to cut. You may need to educate the person cutting the key blank that a slight magnetic attraction does not mean the key is steel. A steel key will have a strong attraction to a magnet.

So keep this in mind when buying key blanks. When unspecified, you can assume keys from Motokeys are brass. We try to identify steel keys in our listings, but don't always catch that. We've even seen production runs from the same manufacturer, under the same part number, made in different metals. At our shop, we cut steel all the time. If you accidentally buy a steel key and don't want it, we always take returns.