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?


Kristoffer Nolgren

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

Brian

So they can sell the car.

Udi Ledergor

I'm pretty sure they provide 2 sets of keys in the first place for 2 reasons:
1. In case there are actually 2 designated drivers, each needing a key.
2. Most car keys have internal batteries to power the immobilizer. If one of the batteries dies, you can't start the car and it's a bummer to look for a new battery and replace it for a rental, so the second key acts as a convenient spare.

As to the question of why the 2 sets of keys are on the same key-chain: I believe that only a small number of people will ever have use for the second set of keys (because most rentals have a single driver and the batteries don't die that often) so most people will only use one key. The rental companies are afraid the renters will lose the second set of keys, because it isn't in use, so the best way they found of ensuring both sets get returned are bundling them together.

Makes sense?

Paul C

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.

Michelle

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.

Loudmouth Matt

Possibly a valet key?

Justin

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.

Matt

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.

Jeff

Two random, under-developed thoughts...
1) If bulky keys are harder to lose, maybe they should attach the keys to a big stick like they do for the gas station bathroom keys.
2) Lost keys are very expensive to replace... maybe they are doubling down on the replacement fee!

Eliseo

Another reason can be that eventually one set of keys might fail or got broken in a distant place. So you could avoid a big problem using the spare keys, without losing them.

Michael Larsen

When you take delivery of a new vehicle it comes with two sets of keys. When the rental companies remarket the cars its done (generally) close to its last drop location as is economically possible (auctions bearing significantly better results are sought out and if transporting the vehicles to said auction will bear a better price they will do so).

When wholesalers purchase there is a deduction for missing equipment (spare tires etc...) so the rental companies affix both keys to a braided cable that's nearly impossible to break. The rental companies remarket hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year so even a marginal deduction from the price would result in a very measurable loss.

Michael Larsen

When you take delivery of a new vehicle it comes with two sets of keys. When the rental companies remarket the cars its done (generally) close to its last drop location as is economically possible (auctions bearing significantly better results are sought out and if transporting the vehicles to said auction will bear a better price they will do so).

When wholesalers purchase there is a deduction for missing equipment (spare tires etc...) so the rental companies affix both keys to a braided cable that's nearly impossible to break. The rental companies remarket hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year so even a marginal deduction from the price would result in a very measurable loss.

Eric P

I think the answer is two fold, most new cards have laser cut keys which make it very expensive to replace and also the logistics of getting the keys replaced is a pain to the rental car companies. Also, most rental car companies today have a segment of their business that sells the rental cars to customers after a few years. Knowing that customers have the ability to rent a car in one location and return it to another you would never be able to keep both sets of keys together so the solution was to always keep the two sets attached.

Shehzad H

Average key replacement is $200. If you lose two keys, you owe the rental companies $400 as opposed to $200.

Michael Larsen

When you take delivery of a new vehicle it comes with two sets of keys. When the rental companies remarket the cars its done (generally) close to its last drop location as is economically possible (auctions bearing significantly better results are sought out and if transporting the vehicles to said auction will bear a better price they will do so).

When wholesalers purchase there is a deduction for missing equipment (spare tires etc...) so the rental companies affix both keys to a braided cable that's nearly impossible to break. The rental companies remarket hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year so even a marginal deduction from the price would result in a very measurable loss.

David Welguisz

They are assuming that your spouse is going to drive the car at some point or give a key to a valet to park. Assume that you drive home, park right behind your wife. She needs to go somewhere and is blocked by your rental car. If you have the only key, then your wife will be unable to move your car. But now your wife has a key and will be able to move the car and get to her appointment in a timely manner. Just be prepared when you get home that she will have to talk about you being so forgetful/lazy for not moving the car.

Michael

I think you might be looking at it the wrong way. The car, when new, comes with two keys. They also resell the cars later. If they separated the keys and gave a renter only one, they would need to store a large number of spare keys that are not in service.
What about when the keychain is lost? Both keys are gone, right? They don't bear the cost of that, the renter pays to replace them. I suspect it's probably even profitable for them.
So they have no incentive to separate the keys and perhaps a narrow incentive to keep them together.

christy

a guess from someone who rents quite a few rental cars: one way drop offs. if the keys don't move with the car from location to location (example nashville to memphis), they are useless. oddly, i have three pairs of keys that work on my car doors, but one of them doesn't work on the trunk, so maybe having two keys could help in an odd situation like that as well. thanks for proposing this question by the way. now i will always wonder!

John-Paul

Rental companies keep the keys attached because they prefer having both keys when reselling the vehicles after their rental life is over. And with some vehicles being rented only one way it would be nearly impossible to keep track of the two sets of keys if each one is in a different location.

Sincerely,
an Avis/Budget employee

Semele Crable

I believe it may be that way do that you can't keep a set of keys for yourself saying it was lost then come back for the car later. and if you lose both sets they are forced to get two sets completely reprogrammed