'Van' do spirit: Surrey family replaces lost one-of-a-kind van key with help of hacker

'Van' do spirit: Surrey family replaces lost one-of-a-kind van key with help of hacker

It took nine weeks, a tow from Victoria to Surrey, many stressful days and, finally, the services of both a mechanic and a computer hacker, but the Higgens family's minivan is back on the road.

The Surrey family lost the vehicle's one-of-a-kind-chipped key in June while on a trip to Victoria and later discovered they would not be able to get a new one anywhere in North America.

The lost key has a chip matched to the Toyota van's internal electronics and any replacement would have to be programmed with a code at the original dealership — which happened to be in Japan.

The imported 15-year-old hybrid Toyota van was not intended for the North American market and Toyota Canada told the Higgens shipping it to Japan was their only option.

The saga began when John Higgens set his keys down on a set of stairs on Wharf street to take a family photo. When he came back to the spot after getting ice cream, he realized the keys were missing, nowhere to be found.

"Nothing turned out at first. We sadly left the Island without our van, left it behind, had no idea what was going to happen next," his wife Maria Higgens told All Points West host Jason D'Souza.

"John was doing so much researching and YouTubing and contacting different mechanics … we were just waiting every day and had no idea what was going to happen."

Mechanic, programmer both called in

Finally, the dealer who initially sold them the van — whom Maria says had previously promised an extra key — suggested a mechanic who could help.

The mechanic took the entire dash apart, which Maria described as "kind of terrifying," but necessary.

That was because a computer hacker had to write new code for the engine control unit so it would accept a new key that was shipped in from New Zealand.

Fortunately, it worked.

"We got a text message and I freaked out, man," John said. "I didn't believe it. … We had our hopes dashed so many times."

Now, the van is running again, and the Higgens are back on the road.

They both say they'll never take for granted again the simplicity of walking out the front door, keying the ignition of their van and driving to work.

And for the record, they now have three copies of the key.

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With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West