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:

    One perk of bulky keys is that you are less likely to bring them with you and have them stolen.

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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:

        We charge $60 bucks if you detach them at my store, one cuz that’s how the keys come and we don’t have the cable to reattatch them, that’s how they are when we get the cars, we are would never give renters two keys separate, what if a dishonest person “loses” one? Now they have a key to are car! Plus it happens very often that a car is rented at one location and returned, towed, abandoned in another location unplanned, both keys should stay together, people that cut the cable are dumb, its not your to take apart, ur renting it…

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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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  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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