B.C. couple employs hacker, spends thousands to replace minivan key
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, August 10, 2017 12:52PM EDT
After countless sleepless nights, thousands of dollars and the help of a hacker, a B.C. family finally heard the engine of their Toyota Estima minivan roaring to life for the first time in more than two months.
During a trip to Victoria, B.C. in early June, Maria and John Higgins lost the one key to their used hybrid vehicle imported from Japan they had purchased a month earlier at a Burnaby dealership.
“It was a wonderful family vacation and then, in one second, it turned into a nightmare,” Maria told CTV Vancouver in June.
Figuring they could obtain another key from the dealership back home, the Surrey, B.C. couple left their minivan in a parking lot in Victoria where it languished for weeks.
The Higgins’ lost Toyota key was equipped with a unique transponder chip.
That meant they couldn’t just get a new key from Toyota because the company requires the vehicle to be in Japan for the reset, John explained. Toyota in Canada couldn’t assist them either, they explained, because the hybrid was manufactured 15 years ago for the Japanese market only.
Unwilling to give up on their $10,000 purchase, the Higgins took another approach to start their minivan.
The dealership that sold them the vehicle, Velocity Cars, put them in touch with a mechanic, Sergei Nafikov, who works with a “hacker,” who wished to remain anonymous.
Despite the couple’s anxiety, the mechanic successfully removed the minivan’s dashboard and disconnected the immobilizer box, which stops the engine from running unless the correct key chip is inserted. The hacker then deleted the data for the old keys and reprogrammed it for new ones.
The elaborate workaround wasn’t without a cost, however. The total bill for towing the vehicle from Victoria, programming the new keys and the labour fees came out to a whopping $4,530. Luckily, the dealership agreed to pay for approximately half of the expenses.
Although the dealership’s general manager, Serge Mozgovoy, admitted they were surprised by how complicated the process became, he said all he can do is caution customers against losing their keys.
As the mechanic handed John three new sets of keys, he gratefully hugged him and told him how he planned to heed the dealership’s advice in the future.
“I will put one of these in a bank vault,” John said with a laugh.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's David Molko