A Rental Car Puzzle

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall via Compfight cc

Have you ever noticed that whenever you rent a car, when they give you the keys to the vehicle, there are always two sets of keys?  But the two sets of keys are attached to the same key chain, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I have never figured out a way to detach one set of keys from the other.

What could possibly be the point of giving customers two sets of keys that can’t be separated?  The downside is that if the keys get lost, two sets of keys are gone.  Also, the keys are much bulkier in my pocket than otherwise would be the case.

The only possible explanation I can see is that since no one carries around two attached sets of keys to the vehicle they own, people are less likely to confuse their own car keys with those of the rental vehicle.  It just doesn’t seem like that could be the logic, however.

So can anyone explain to me the real reason rental car companies do this?


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  1. Kristoffer Nolgren says:

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    • Nam says:

      Maybe they didn’t intentionally make this. But it makes sense: bulky keys are easier to be spotted. I chained all major little things along with my car key: USB, charm, house key, etc.

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  2. Brian says:

    So they can sell the car.

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    • Dave says:

      This is what I’ve always thought. They don’t want to have store the extra key apart from the car/main key. So they make you and all other renters carry it around with them so when they go to sell the car, they still have two keys.

      I, on the other hand, do not appreciate being their “microwarehouse” storing this extra key and have been known to cut/break apart the key ring for my convenience but still returning both with the car.

      If everyone did this, I could see them responding in one of two ways: (1) Stop forcing you to carry both on the same ring or more likely (2) charge you a fee if you return them unattached.

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    • also Brian says:

      I think this is it. Later buyers want both keys. Rather than store one key and give the other to renters, it’s easier to attach them.

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      • Josh says:

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    • Matt says:

      I used to work for a car rental company, I wont name it but it went something like E-r-a-c . Biscailly imagine you own “literally” a million cars, how would you hold onto and keep track of the extra keys when your car is literally being sent all over the country. it could start in Chicago and spend it’s entire “life” there (which is about 1 year to a year in a half in a car renal company, depends on how fast that specific vehicle depreciates) then you are going to sell it at a local action or dealership when it hits zero value for you. thus you need both sets of keys with the vehicle when you sell it because about 80% of the time the car will be bought in Cali, driven to Texas, spend a month there then go to NYC, for a day get transferred to Florida then end up in Chicago where it will hit is “delete” millage and will be “pulled” from the fleet to be sold. much easier in terms of logistics and cost to just keep =ALL the keys together with the car.

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      • Adam says:

        This practice always mystified me, but this answer does make sense from a company’s point of view. Still, it is pretty inconvenient for renters.

        I traveled recently and the car had 2 keys that were separated into 4 parts; the key was supposed to fit inside the fob, but it was removed and attached separately. They were so bulky that they did not fit in any of the pockets of any of my clothes, so I decided to cut them. The wire wouldn’t cut with scissors, so I took them to a Target and cut the cord with some wire cutters in the hardware section.

        They did not charge me for returning the keys separately.

        As a side note, if I use wire cutters at the store without buying them, does that constitute theft? Or is it just the equivalent of a test drive?

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      • Joe says:

        because you can use them as numbchucks.

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      • Jd says:

        You are obviously a “yes” man to your company. How about you carry a bulky key chain in your pocket all day before you answer with an idiotic answer. How about this, provide both keys on a normal key chain and charge if one is lost. You rape renters as it is, im sure you would love for people to lose keys so your company could charge twice, or three times the amount of replacement.

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  3. Udi Ledergor says:

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  4. Paul C says:

    Is it possible that the keys become a profit center for the rental agencies? When I’ve rented vehicles, they often print a disclaimer that say “replacement fee for a lost key is $250″. If you lost those keys, they can earn a hefty fee. Also, some of today’s vehicles wont work correctly or activate an alarm if a key fob battery runs out. An extra key may prevent this situation from happening.

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    • ChrisO says:

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  5. Michelle says:

    I asked about this once and the rental agent said it’s because they sell the cars after some number of miles and the cars are worth more if they have both sets of keys (especially in this age when they’re chipped)–keeping them tied together guarantees that you end up with both sets.

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  6. Loudmouth Matt says:

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  7. Justin says:

    It makes sense if they are keys with integrated electronics. Rental companies do not want to have to send someone out with a new key every time the battery in a key dies and a car won’t start, so they give customers a backup key.

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    • Philo Pharynx says:

      Given that the lifespan of rental cars is 12-18 months, it’s unlikely the battery will die often enough that this would be a primary reason.

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  8. Matt says:

    I’ve always thought the rental company acquired the cars from manufacturers with two sets of keys, and this was the rental company’s lazy way of ensuring that all keys were accounted for. (And if they were to give renters two keychains instead, I imagine this would exponentially increase the odds that one set would be lost.)

    Notably, if they kept one set of keys, reuniting that set with the car later on might be costly if the car was a one-way rental.

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    • Cole says:

      There are a few reasons..for the company I worked for we used to keep one key at our state admin office and keep the other in the branch. This office housed all the spare keys for all the vehicles in the state outside of airport offices.. You can imagine how many keys there were. The point never actually had anything to do with the customer getting locked out or any customer service issue…Strictly a business decision to keep track of extra keys when it came time to sell the car. The customer always just got one key. We stopped doing this once the company allowed vehicles to go one way at the local branches. The car may first originate in Virginia and end up in New York. By keeping the keys together there was a lot less cost/work associated with lost keys, matching keys to vehicles, shipping keys etc..therefore the customer still is essentially getting one key for use it just has another on the ring..it really isn’t a spare or anything like that. It’s funny how a complaint can come out of something that didn’t exist before. We gave one key and that was fine but we put two keys on the ring and people say why do I put both on the same ring. Just imagine I gave you one key. I have been asked many times about the bulk and I always say I don’t mind if u cut them as long as they all come back. I can replace the 3 cent wire. You would be surprised how many responsible renters forget the other key when they return…then what happens when I need to rent that car before the other key gets to my office..and then the person that rented it hits a deer two states awAy and has to exchange cars..I have a key to a vehicle and no vehicle….hope that helps

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