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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      • Joe says:

        because you can use them as numbchucks.

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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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  9. Jeff says:

    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!

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  10. Eliseo says:

    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.

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  11. Michael Larsen says:

    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.

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  12. Michael Larsen says:

    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.

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  13. Eric P says:

    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.

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  14. Shehzad H says:

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

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  15. Michael Larsen says:

    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.

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    • josh says:

      And then they buy 400 dollars worth of keys and the car sits making no revenue while we wait for new keys… Wear a scam how dare them expect you to return the keys!

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  16. David Welguisz says:

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  17. Michael says:

    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.

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  18. christy says:

    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!

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    • Phil says:

      The one that doesn’t work on the trunk is the valet key. So that the valet can park your car, but not mess with the stuff in your trunk.

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    • josh says:

      You can’t rent a car when ur waiting for laser cut keys, the manufacturer bills the custom directly, cars can’t pay they’re lease and turn profit when it’s keyless

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  19. John-Paul says:

    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.

    an Avis/Budget employee

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  20. Semele Crable says:

    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

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  21. Rich says:

    Here’s my guess: All new cars come from the manufacturer with two sets of keys. It’s not worthwhile for the car rental company to store the second key in some central location in case the first gets lost or damaged, as the costs of storage, management and shipping would outweigh the cost of replacement. Thus, they give renters both sets in case one key (or FOB) breaks.

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  22. red says:

    got this answer from a guy that works at a car rental:
    “The reason is because the rental car companies keep the cars in their fleet for less than a year and then they are sent to auction. When they are sent to auction, they are required to have two keys and two remotes with the vehicle. If they don’t have the two keys and two remotes then the rental car company is charged for a new key and a new remote. This will cost them over $125 per vehicle.

    Since the rental car companies deal in tens of thousands of cars, the only easy way from them to keep up with the exact key and exact remote for a particular vehicle is to put the two keys and two remotes on the nondetachable key ring so they will not come apart and get lost.

    So the real answer is that they don’t have a better place to keep the extra key and remote and still be able to turn in two keys and two remotes when the car goes to auction.”

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  23. Michael Larsen says:

    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). Because nearly all companies interchange local and one way fleets the keys have to be portable and travel with the vehicles.

    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.

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  24. Forrest Smith says:

    My best guess is that often a car is not returned to the same location as it was originally rented. So if you pick up a car in Seattle, and drop it off in Portland, both sets of keys are with the car. If they only gave you one set, and kept the other, then they’d have to pay shipping costs of moving the keys to a new location, and ancillary costs of keeping track of two sets of keys which might be separated by hundreds of miles.

    As to why you can’t separate them, I would chalk that up to preventing them from becoming separated or lost by the driver, which would require the rental company to keep track of two separate keys. That being said, if you really did want to separate them, most wire cutters will cut through the keychain they give you.

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  25. Shehzad H says:

    The cost for a key replacement is $200. If you lose the 2 keys that you can’t separate, you owe the rental company $400. I don’t know if that’s to scare the consumer into not forgetting the keys ever, or to just capitalize on someone’s mistake.

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  26. Jason Petralia says:

    I always assumed it was because cars come with two keys, and it was the only way to ensure the keys stay with the vehicle. With the prevalence of one-way car renting it would be useless to keep the second key at the rental location, and costly to keep a national or regional key depository.

    A main source of revenue for these companies is the resale of the car, and customers expect to receive both keys when they buy a car.

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  27. Michael Larsen says:

    yikes, sorry for the duplicates.

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  28. Daniel says:

    So you can be sure no one else has an extra key for the car and you can feel safe.

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  29. Prateek Jain says:

    I don’t work for a car rental company, so by no means an authority on this subject. My curiosity propelled by your blog post, made me search for it on the web. Most people say it is for the convenience of car rental companies. When they send the cars to auctions/sale, they have both the keys/remotes in one place and do not have to search for them [1].

    My cynical side makes me wonder if they charge you for both the keys if you loose the bunch?

    [1] Source: Results which show up on Google.

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  30. Justin says:

    So they don’t lose the second set. If you separated the keys, you might as well throw the second set in the trash can, because that’s how they’d likely end up. It seems simple, but I worked for a small car rental agency and we would have had trouble keeping track of them, so it would be a nightmare for a large location with a huge fleet.

    Plus, cars are transferred all around all the time. When they’re really separated from “home” the different locations will sometimes just transfer ownership of the vehicles to square up, so keeping the keys connected ensures that the second key stays with the car for eventual resale.

    Also, never buy a former rental car, you would not believe the abuse those things receive!

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  31. Tali says:

    So all of the keys assigned to that particular car always remain with the vehicle. When the car is sold, there is less confusion.

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  32. Don Carpenter says:

    They do it just in case you return the car to a different location, so that location has everything that goes with the car.

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  33. Trevor says:

    I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine that with most national brands (Hertz, Avis, ect) that offer the ability to drop off the car at a location other than where it was rented, it ensures that the keys stay with the vehicle. However, I would just put the spare key in the glove box or something like that.

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  34. AJigger says:

    I was wondering the same thing last week when I had rented a car and was faced with the same dilemma… what to do right? First I thought, they must separate right? Why have two sets – one key chain? So, I called the rental car company and they answered the dilemma by explaining, “that is just how it is.” And, interesting fact, you are not permitted to separate the keys!!! No one tells you that, but its a fact of life, and that is just how it is.

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  35. Joseph Fairey says:

    I am in the car business and have recently seen where most new models feature key fobs that can be programmed to other cars that share the same key platform. Most rental cars we get from auction have only one fob and we are constanly buying fobs from Ebay. (most still cost $100+) Our reasoning is that the empolyees that have access to key fobs will take an extra fob home and sell it for extra cash. By keeping them together and attaching them with a metal ring that is extremely hard to break, it creates a situation where employees either have to steal both fobs (which is much harder to do discretely since the company would then have no fobs) or not take them at all.

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  36. Cole says:

    I believe it is for one way rentals. They want to make sure the keys travel with the car. I’d guess it also minimizes the amount of times a set goes missing since they can’t be separated.

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  37. Bridget says:

    I just noticed this the last time I rented a car, too. My thought was maybe if the remote lock on one of the keys go out, you have a backup?

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  38. Zsick says:

    That has not been my experience.

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  39. Chris says:

    I think it’s because most keys nowadays have a battery-powered transmitter to remotely lock and unlock the doors. By giving you both keys, you’re protected in case the battery in one key dies.

    I could also be that they’d just rather not have to separately keep track of the ‘second’ key.

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  40. pedro says:

    If you lose the keys, they get to charge you for losing two key fobs.

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  41. Daniel J. Luke says:

    I’ve been told that it’s because you may not be returning the rental car to the location where you rented it. Instead of them having to keep track of all those second keys (and ship them around the country), they always stay with the car.

    When the time comes that they sell the car, they don’t have to worry about tracking down the second key.

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  42. Andrew says:

    Because two sets of lost keys are more expensive to replace than one set of lost keys ;)

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  43. Glen Kemp says:

    At a guess, so that if you do a one-way rental all the keys always go with the vehicle? So if I Rent a car from Depot A, drop off at Depot B and someone rents the car and drops it at Depot C, the keys have no opportunity to get lost “in the system”. Given modern keys cost IRO £250 to replace, it wouldn’t surprise me..

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  44. John says:

    I figure the cost of losing one key isn’t too much less than the cost of losing two keys once you factor in all of the employee time it’ll take to resolve. So they keep them together with the car to minimize the chance of losing even one key.

    Otherwise they have to have some kind of tracking system for the second key, which would even worse once you figure in one-way rentals.

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  45. Rajat says:

    May be attaching two keys to the same key chain makes the customer more careful about the keys. As he is aware that I have both the keys of the car and losing them will mean a lot of trouble. While if he is given one key or two keys in different key chains he is ought to be less careful about the key as he knows there is a spare key. And I am pretty sure that car rental people will be keeping a duplicate key for themselves in case of loss of the keys by customer.

    And if customer losses the pair of keys then they get to charge surplus since both the keys are lost.

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  46. Custer says:

    So you will buy their lock out insurance! FYI, I have actually located a wire cutter and cut them apart so we could each have a set and nothing was said. Otherwise it’s like caring a land crab around in your purse!

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  47. Rajiv Khanna says:

    So that in the event of loss of car , Car rental companies or their employees are beyond suspicion. Insurance claims become easier when both the car keys are with the same person.

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  48. Jordan says:

    Because they come from the manufacturer that way and when it goes to auction they want all the keys together. If they let you separate them then people would loose at least on of them and the company would loose money on only having one key when it goes to be sold. – from Gina, owner of Avis rent a car on west broad street, Columbus Ohio

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  49. Travis says:

    I figured it was to (1) offload the risk of losing a key to the renter rather than the current office—at least, I thought it appropriate that a huge fine was associated with losing a key while they handed me one I couldn’t possible need to keep track of as well, and (2) to keep all of the keys for the vehicle WITH the vehicle. Cars are often one-way rented, and if the keys didn’t go with the car a separate logistic infrastructure would be necessary to get the keys back together with the car—like luggage and passengers on airlines.

    If they stored the extra in/on the car somewhere, it would probably be a point of failure and lead to theft.

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  50. Miguel says:

    I’ve been renting cars in Europe for more than 10 years and never got a duplicate set of keys. One copy is handed to me, the other stays with the rental company (in case I lose the first set).

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  51. Dawson says:

    They give you both because:
    They then have no liability for the car – technically, if they have a set they may be able to access the car
    If the keys are lost, the whole locking system is replaced, saving people from having stolen cars by someone taking the spare key and the rental company replacing one

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  52. TK says:

    because, the keys are for the valet!
    One key opens the car’s trunk, the other does not.
    They are usually identified by their colour.

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  53. Brian says:

    As a frequent traveller, I’ve often wondered the same. I’ve tried to reason that it’s so if there’s an incident like vehicle robbery, the owner can’t point the finger at an employee at rental location. But why not just toss them in a safe only manager can access?

    Best I’ve come up with so far: Most rental chains permit 1-way rentals, by including both, the keys stay with the vehicle which makes it easier to sell eventually. Otherwise locations would just have buckets of keys and sorting them down eventually would be a pain.

    Also, is that pic the preferred booth at ORD?

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  54. keith says:

    to indemnify themselves in the event that b&e happens?

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  55. Meara says:

    According to my brother who works for Enterprise, it’s because they cars can be returned to different branches and they get moved around the country. Not really sure how that answers the question, but that’s the answer I got when I asked. Hope this helps!

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  56. LabHandyman says:

    I would think that if you separate the two sets of keys, you are now doubling the number of keys to track. This separation would especially become problematic if the renter doesn’t return the car to the original location. The rental company would have to spend time/money to keep that second set moving with the car (or have to keep a central repository of keys, etc.)

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  57. Rich Brown says:

    I always thought it was so the car company doesn’t have to keep track of two sets of keys for the same car. Have them both or lose them both. It would help to have two keys when trying to sell the car later.

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  58. Paul R Harrison says:

    Perhaps it is less expensive to recode the car for a different set of keys than to replace a lost set.

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  59. Erin says:

    So if you lose them they can charge you for two keys.

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  60. Paul Fish says:

    Maybe, in case you break a key in the lock, or case of a transponder, in case the battery goes flat…?

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  61. Lori says:

    So if you lose them, you’ve lost both sets and they can overcharge you for having to get car re-keyed? Perhaps I’m just too cynical.

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  62. Abigail says:

    It’s not for your benefit, it’s for the rental companies benefit. It would be a nightmare to keep track of the second key, specially when cars get dropped off on location they weren’t rented. But, if after a a few years (a year? how long do rentals keep their cars?) they want to sell the car, a car with two keys sells easier than a car with just one.

    Now, what would happen if you just cut the loop that holds the keys together, and rejoin the key with a standard ring before returning the car?

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  63. Mickie says:

    The car is delivered with 2 sets of keys. Storing one set so they are available to retreive when they ultimately sell the car would create an inventory nightmare. Putting them on 2 key chains or one that separates would increase the chance that one set would get lost or not returned.

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  64. Greg says:

    They keep the keys together cause the cars do not always go back to the same location they started. That way when its time to retire and sell the car both sets of keys are with the car no matter where the car is located.

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  65. Josh says:

    I think it’s all about convenience for the rental company. Having the two keys together at all times makes it easier to sell later, since they keep the car for only 1-2 years and deal with a large volume of cars at one time. It would likely be a mess if they resorted to matching up keys after a rental or before a sale since many keys/remotes all look similar.

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  66. RIck says:

    So they can charge you for two sets of keys if you lose them. Sneaky revenue.

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  67. Peter says:

    One reason could be that keys might get bent out of shape or damaged in some other way. If every customer gets two keys, this will reduce the probability that someone gets stuck somewhere with no way to get the car back. This would require two people to retrieve the car (the second to drive the retrieval vehicle back), so it might be an expensive operation.

    In this case it makes sense to fasten the two keys together securely, to stop people from thinking that the second one is a spare to be kept in a separate place (and forgotten when returning the car).

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  68. Yuan says:

    so that when u lose the keys, u will be charged twice for replacing them.

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  69. John says:

    I had always guessed that there is a law requiring them to give you two keys. But they circumvent the annoyances that come with that by attaching them permanently.

    PS. You can take them apart, even without tools, by twisting the keys in opposite directions and using the leverage to snap the wire connector.

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  70. MSA says:

    I just rented a car last week and asked the same question. Because people don’t necessarily return the vehicle to the same location, they need to keep both sets of keys with the car wherever the car goes (so as Brian said, they can sell it). My guess is that if they gave 2 keys that could be separated, one would get lost a lot more often than people lose both.

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  71. Ryan says:

    You don’t always drop off your car at the same place that you picked it up – giving you both sets of keys is the easiest way for them to keep all the keys in one place.

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  72. Jason says:

    When the rental car goes to resell the car at the end of its life, it’s easier to find both sets of keys if they stay attached.

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  73. Chad Troutwine says:

    I always assumed that keys arrive as an attached pair at the rental car location to keep them from getting separated (like folding one sock into another). That would allow one set for the customer and another for the company in case the customer loses a set. In practice, the locations get busy and they routinely fail to separate the sets.

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  74. Neil B says:

    Don’t think of if from the perspective of the renter. Think of it from the perspective of the rental company.
    Where would the rental company put the second key? It is not like any given car has a permanent home store (they are constantly being swapped within regions). To give you only one key, the company would have to have a central “key library” for second keys and would have to staff and understand it.
    Their benefit for this expense? They get more responsibility because they can no longer justify charging you the full lost key fee because they technically would be able to cut a new one from the existing key in their key library. If you lose both, you are fully culpable and the company has no option other than to make you pay the dealer for new ones.

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  75. James says:

    I always assumed it was because rentals don’t always return to the same location. The car is probably delivered to the rental agency with two keys, but if both keys aren’t attached then pretty soon the keys will be separated, and there be an abundance of single keys with no cars as the cars will end up at other agenecies.

    I guess they could simply toss one of the keys, but include both in case one key has an issue then there is a back-up.

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  76. Chris says:

    When my team was working on an out of town project, we would share cars and give the keys to different people so they could use it with out having to bother the other person for their key. Another scenario would be to give one key to the valet at a hotel or restaurant so you are always sure you have a spare.

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  77. Chris says:

    I was told by a rental car desk employee that it was because the car comes with two keys, and that while you might think they would keep one set and only give you one, cars are frequently rented for one-way trips, which would make the logistics of keeping a spare set in the office a nightmare, so they keep both sets with the car, so that whichever office the car winds up at, the keys are with it, making it easier when as Brian says, they want to sell the car at the end of it’s rental life.

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  78. Max says:

    Is because they can make additional money. Here is my logic, the same way with everything else they sell. If they give you two keys and it get lost. Who is responsible for the lost keys? The Renter? I am assuming, so a) they either charge you a fee to get a new one, charge you are fee to tow the car, charge you are fee for loss of usage of the vehicle because it is not making money for them, or charge you a fee to get a new key which they may already have or pay less than what the renter would have paid

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  79. Patrick says:

    Brian is right – it’s because rental car companies keep the vehicles for a year, then send the cars to auction to be sold. Since they’re required to have two sets of keys in order to do this, and they have no good place to store them all without getting them mixed up, they keep them together on a single key loop.

    Apparently, there’s a wikiHow on detaching the keys from the loop (http://www.wikihow.com/Disassemble-the-Cable-Loop-Key-Ring-Used-by-Rental-Car-Companies), but I haven’t tried this, so I don’t know if I can give it a recommendation.

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  80. John Jacobsen says:

    I would assume that consumers would be less likely to expend time and effort looking for 1 set of keys if they knew they had another set, and could just turn the car in and pay a fee (whereas if you lose both sets, you can’t drive the car and you are much more likely to not lose them or find them).

    I can imagine that dealing with the loss of 1 set of keys would be almost as costly as losing both for the rental car company (in terms of keeping records, re-ordering, and the possible safety concerns of having multiple key sets out there – people could steal their cars more easily).

    And it wouldn’t work for the rental car company to keep the second set with them, because the logistics and cost of keeping track of different keys would be very high (last time I picked my car up downtown, and returned it at the airport – are they going to send keys all around the world following the cars?).

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  81. Walter Wimberly says:

    I asked if I could cut the ring last time, so I could have one, and my wife the other. That would have been a $250 mistake I found out.

    They do it so they can sell the cars later, and want to keep the keys together. They don’t keep one at the dealership because they are not always returned where they are picked up.

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  82. Harry says:

    The cars are moved around the country and are often sold within less than a year of purchase depending on the used car market and the value of the vehicle. This way if the car starts in New York and ends up in California, the branch that sells the car does not have to hunt for the keys and can sell it as quickly as possible before the used car market changes.

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  83. Matthew Kubic says:

    So that when rental cars are returned to other locations, both sets of keys are with the car. For example, I may rent a car in dallas, drive to okc and return it there. If I only had 1 set of keys, then when I returned the car in okc the set of keys in dallas would be lost.

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  84. Daniel says:

    Brian has it right. They eventually sell the car and it’s easier to keep the correct keys with the car if they are together.

    The real mystery is why they ask you for a vehicle preference when they never give you the vehicle class you reserved!

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  85. Peter says:

    It’s for THEIR own convenience. When they eventually sell the car both keys are in the same place.

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  86. Christopher Ashbee says:

    It is so that the keys will be together if the car is returned to a different location than the one from which it was picked up. In order for the car to be auctioned (usually the rental car companies keep a car for less than one year), two keys must be included. This is (I guess) the cheapest/best way that they have for making sure that the keys stay together and do not get lost.

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  87. Daniel Dower says:

    I am guessing that, initially, rental car companies started handing out two sets of keys because people occasionally have multiple drivers for rental cars (or they might occasionally lose a set of keys, and be stranded if they only had one set of keys). After a while, someone in corporate noticed that, occasionally, one of the two keys would be forgotten somewhere along the line, either by the person behind the counter giving the keys out or by the person who rented the car (and forgot that he had been given two sets of keys for the rental). In an effort to save money by minimizing loss, they started connecting the two sets by an nondetachable cable or a similar method, effectively forgetting the entire point of the second set of keys, making it a bigger hassle than if they just gave out one set.

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  88. Nathan says:

    Right after high school I got a job inspecting rental car fleet lease returns for Chrysler. Basically the rental car companies would lease the cars, rent them out for several months, then turn them in at an auto auction where we’d inspect for damage before Chrysler sold them as “Pre Owned”.

    Along with damage/excessive wear we’d also look for missing equipment – including keys. If the car didn’t have two keys the rental car company who leased the car would be charged for replacements as necessary.

    Perhaps they tether the keys together so a minimum of two would always be with the vehicle even if it were to go through several one-way rentals. Once the lease was up the current location holding the vehicle could turn it in without needing to track down an additional key (or pay the fee for turning it in with only one key).

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  89. John Skowlund says:

    I am always amused by the double key keychain and often ask the rental car rep why. (I enjoy the puzzled look they give me.) One time I did get a logical reason. The rental companies want to keep the keys together so when a car is past its rental life, it can be resold with both keys included. It makes it easier for them, but what about us and our bulging pockets? There has got to be a better way. Thanks Steven, keep up the great work.

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  90. Richard Price says:

    It’s possible that the car is given to them by the manufacturer like this and the simple reason is that no one knows what to do with the spare key. Rather than an employee givin’ a crap about this weird practice, everyone just lets it slide.

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  91. urbaneddie says:

    I use rental cars somewhat regularly & noticed the change recently. The agency said it was easier for them to keep track of both sets of keys together vs. keeping one in the office. The renter can choose to remove one set, but be mindful of that lost key charge if you fail to return both!

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  92. Sandeep says:

    hmm…strange….i rented a car @ Hertz in US last year and I did get a single key for the Chevvy Malibu…the single key was itself big, would have been like nunchucks if it were two keys…

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  93. Logan says:

    Here is what I have after a complaint to Avis customer service. They don’t do this in the UK, but only in the US in my experience.

    @logich Our cars move around a lot (duh!) :-) &having the keys together allows us to avoid mailing keys around the country multiple times.— Avis Car Rental (@Avis) June 22, 2012

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  94. Bob Cruz says:

    Alas, I have a chance to out logic the master. My carefully reasoned conclusion (aka: guess) is that this is a cost cutting strategy. At some point the rental car company will be selling the car and will want to have both keys for the new buyer of this slightly used prize that never left the city limits (of NYC). To keep track of the extra key, the rental car company had to build a secure storage facility and hire a team of key archivists. But when you realized how much trouble we have keeping track of our own keys, you realize there is not a company in the world that is smart enough or has the technology in place to keep track of thousands of car keys. You might think that the solution of attaching the two keys together could have been included in the action items of a six figure consulting report, but this action is much too simple and practical for that. The idea probably came from some entry level, part timer that got a 10% raise and the promise of benefits at some uncertain time in the future as a reward for saving the company millions.

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  95. AMP says:

    Rental companies have many locations, and cars from their fleet are certainly not always returned to the same location. They also turn over their fleet quite frequently — it’s much easier to keep both sets of keys together so you’ll have two intact sets when you sell the car.

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  96. Nathan Mathews says:

    I do not know for sure, but my guess is because the rental doesn’t have to be returned to the same location that it is rented there is no incentive for the rental agency to hold on to the extra set up keys.

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  97. Steven Slezak says:

    At Enterprise, where I rent a lot, they don’t want to bother to keep the extra set of keys around. They get separated, lose their fobs, and the agency ends up not knowing which keys go with which cars. So they let the renter carry both sets.

    I separate them pretty easily and keep the extra key and the fob in the glove box.

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  98. Jon Green says:

    Why not give them separated if it’s going to be a round-trip rental and together if it’s going to be a one-way rental. If someone screws up and takes the car somewhere else, well then you’re charging more anyways and that can cover a simple key shipment.

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  99. Vikas says:

    I think one reason is incase one key runs out of batteries, they will always have a backup.
    Another is because most cars come with 2 sets of keys so if the car is returned to a different rental office the keys are always together.

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  100. Steve T says:

    The last time I rented a car, I was hours away from civilization (in Iceland) when my key broke off IN the trunk lock. I thrilled to have that second key.

    Looks like selling the car is the actual answer but there’s at least ONE unintended benefit.

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  101. A says:

    They resell the cars and need both keys. Because rentals move across the country, easier to keep the spare key with the primary key than in some storage location.

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  102. Pete says:

    How about redundancy for a failed battery in one? The probabity of both batteries/remotes failing at once is remote.

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  103. Bean says:

    Many of the cars you rent are leased from the manufacturer. These cars are required to be returned to the manufacturer after they have passed a certain mileage threshold;They also require the car be returned with both sets of keys. So they keep them together, that’s usually agreed to in the leasing contracts. The rental company knows you hate it but you should complain to car makers lawyers instead.

    Source: I worked for a rental car company.

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  104. Summit Rider says:

    I’ve wondered the same for years. Here’s my reasoning:

    They would never be able to keep track of the second key (cars don’t stay at the same location), they all have master keys so they don’t need one in the local office. So they “harass” you with two keys until one of the keys fails. THEN they throw one out and the lucky people afterward only have to deal with one key.

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  105. Gnissem says:

    Because the car may never come back to the same lot

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  106. Gregb says:

    What if their is a master key that the company keeps or a third one?

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  107. chris says:

    Frequent renter here: I believe they do it to keep track of the keys, and ensure they travel with the car. As they don’t actively manage which cars will stay at a given rental center, and which might end up in another state, they don’t want a locker full of keys for cars they’ll never see again.

    Those keys are easy to get off the ring with a wire cutter :)

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  108. Caleb B says:

    Someone should compile the number of repeat answers here. It’s been 6-7 hours since this article was posted and my first guess is 70/107 comments so far are repeats. I’m not sure what the excuse is for someone repeating and answer 7 hours after 40-70 people have already provided the same answer.

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  109. Joe says:

    One way rentals- if they pick car up at one location and drop it at another, they still have both keyd

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  110. Chris says:

    One is a valet key. It will only unlock the door and work in the ignition. The other key is the universal key. It will unlock the glove box and the trunk.

    I work in car rental. This is the reason there are 2 keys.

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  111. Scott says:

    Sort of off topic but hopefully helpful… you can separate the keys by cutting the cable they use to attach them. I do this all the time. Just keep the spare somewhere you won’t lose it and return both keys and you’ll be fine.

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  112. Tim says:

    Laziness is all it is.

    I worked at a small regional car rental company one summer during college and they kept one set of keys with the car and one set with the title and other paperwork for the car in a central location. You need to get the title to the car when you want to sell it anyway so if it wasn’t that much trouble to send the other set of keys with the title. Also, this really helped when people dropped off a car on our lot at night but didn’t night drop the keys!

    For all the comments about they “have” to have two sets of keys to sell them that’s just not true rental cars are missing all kinds of little things when they are retired and go through a mini rehab to get them back into top condition. Very seldom would you take one just returned and sell it. They go through a maintenance check, good cleaning, oil change, etc so they can get top dollar when sold.

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  113. Max says:

    Maybe in case one of them doesn’t work?

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  114. Melanie says:

    I used to work for Hertz and they did this in case the car was dropped off at a location other than the pick up location. The receiving location needs both sets in case the customer locks one in and/or for later sale of the car.

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  115. Larry Sheldon says:

    Easy. You probably will not return the car to the place you picked it from.

    Both sets of keys then stay with the car, where ever it goes.

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  116. jack says:

    Otherwise renters could loose one key with no consequence and just return the car with one set of keys. Car rental companies would then have to charge them for lost keys… Transaction costs? There is also the safety issue. If the previous renter keeps a set of keys, there is a remote chance that he could recognize the rental car and steal it with the keys he kept.
    The alternative would be to let the car rental companies keep the second set of keys. Again there must be too many transaction/monitoring/storage costs…

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  117. Natalia says:

    Point is, you could rent a car in Anchorage and return it in Punta Arenas.
    Or rent it in Moscow and return it in Lisbon. Then someone might get a ferry to NY (unlikely, but still…), travel to Punta Arenas, board a ship to Cape Town, drive up to Kenya, ship the car to India, travel to Beijing, then somehow end up to Vladivostock. If you are lucky enough, someone might put the car onto the Transiberian railway and the car gets back to Moscow. (Very unlikely trip, but incidentally, I got a nice idea for a trip…).
    Guess noone would want to deal with the logistic of keeping track of cars and keys, so they just put them together and make them travel with the car.
    Plus, you can always brake one and not get stuck at a gas station in the middle of nowhere at night.
    And, having modern keys a whole set of electronics inside, you always give the customer a spare key in case one is broken/has low battery.

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  118. Gary D says:

    I believe it is because of the logistics problem of matching the second set of keys to the car when they are ready to sell it/return it to the manufacturer. Car renters frequently fail to return the car to the location that they rented it from. It is not practical to hire someone to drive it back. It is more practical to transfer the car from one inventory to the other particularly if statistically it all evens out in the end eg a car rented in Atlanta ended up in Boston the same day that a car rented in Boston eneded up in Chicago and a car rented in Chicago ended up in Detroit ….. the same day that a car rented in Yuma ended up in Atlanta. The people that they get the cars from have pretty strict requirements about when they have to turn the car back in. I don’t know what the limits are but for the sake if discussion, lets say not less than 10,000 miles and not more than 11,000 miles and that they have to return them with both sets of keys or pay a big penalty. Personally, I might wire the second set of keys under the dash or into the trunk, instead of wiring them to the first set of keys, but one way or another, both sets of keys would be where the car was when the car was turned back in to the manufacturer.

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  119. Andy says:

    It is so the cars can be re-sold when removed from the rental fleet. Keeping up with the separate keys across years of rentals and one-way rentals would be a logistical nightmare as well as a security issue.

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  120. Nick says:

    I always figured it was the marginal utility of car keys. 2 most be enough before diminishing return sets in. That was a joke but seriously I believe because of key wear out over the length of time and thousands of users the car has for the short 50 thousand miles the ability of having 2 keys allows less wear. Of course security has to be a part of it as well. Since you can’t have 1 key with a different person or even locked up with the company the threat of a security claim agains the rental company is too great.

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  121. Louis says:

    I think that it they make you carry both keys so cars can be eligible for one-way rentals. Even if not all locations allow one-way rentals, it’s probably cheaper to have a uniform policy than to change it from location to location. Although they charge the extra fee to more than cover the administrative cost of moving inventory, if the renter carries both keys, the rental office doesn’t need to hold onto anything if the car doesn’t come back. All the insurance/manual stuff is in the glove box, and the only thing that the office needs is a digital record.

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  122. Venkat says:

    Possibly to reduce the chance of me going back and say “I parked the car right there but is missing now”. And possible misuse by employees

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  123. Deven says:

    I could think of these reasons -

    1. Easier to give, manage, and track the keys as I have read in many of the comments on this.
    2. Convenient for drivers, especially when there is one more than one driver registered to drive the rental car. You get your two sets of keys when you get in the car, separate them out and give to the two drivers.


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  124. Tibber says:

    Couple of thoughts – it may have to do with the chance that the car may not be returned to the same rental location, in which case it could be an issue keeping the “spare” key associated with the car. Alternatively, since the agencies have many cars of the same model type, it could be a major pain trying to keep the “spare” keys paired with the “original” key. Too many opportunities for failure.

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  125. Bruce Dewald says:

    The problem with your comment is that you are assuming “rational thought” by the rental car company, or any thought at all. My guess is that they come that way from factory and the first person at the local office didn’t bother to cut them apart. That person trained the next person, who trained the next person, and so on.

    One Easter, Mom made a ham. Before placing it in the roaster to put in the oven, she cut off the end. Her little daughter asked why. Mom replied, “I don’t know. Grandma always did it that way. Let’s ask her when she comes for Easter dinner. They asked Grandma when she came. Grandma said, “I don’t know either. My mother did it that way. We are going to the nursing home after dinner to visit Great Grandma, let’s ask her then.” At the nursing home, they asked Great Grandma. Great Grandma said, “No reason related to ham in general. I just had a small roaster back then.”

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  126. Mike Beckerle says:

    Pretty sure they want you to lose the keys because you don’t like having them in your pocket because they are so big and bulky.

    Enterprise keys come with a label saying they charge minimum $250 to replace keys. I think there is a profit kicker in there.

    My other alternative theory is just incompetency, i.e., they can’t keep car and keys together if they separate them, one key just ends up getting lost, so they hook them together. They could just throw one key away, but there is a small value in having both keys with the customer. Most keys these days are “smart keys”, and they have a small but non-zero failure rate, so the second key just might help you out.

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  127. Jeysthur says:

    My guess is the cost of having a set of faulty key in the middle of customer’s journey is high for the car rental company. The company may have to call for a tow truck and compensate the customer, etc. So, the redundancy (second set of keys) is to insure against such unpleasant events.

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  128. Frequent Flyer says:

    I rent a lot of cars. On longer rentals, I will cut the key ring and separate the two keys. One stays in my briefcase for emergencies and the other goes in my pocket. I believe the rental locations have a tool to create a new key ring upon return. On rare occasions, I have forgotten to return one of the keys. On less rare occasions, I have been charged for less than full tanks of gas, and charged outrageous surcharges for bringing back a car with less than a full tank. I have also been charged a fortune for mileage charges when it was less than clear in the rental agreement that mileage would be charged.
    So I think it is a wash. Speaking of which, I once took a rental through a carwash. Anybody ever do that?

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  129. Tom says:

    I have also wondered about that, the only explanation I have come up with is that given that car are moved around the country, and eventually will be sold off, the spare keys will remain with the vehicle.

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  130. Greg Merideth says:

    I would imagine the primary purpose is to keep both keys together. Many people pick up a car at one location and drop it off at another. If the extra keys were kept at the original location, it would create an administrative headache to move keys around. And, they could not store the extra key within the car because that would present a security risk.

    Also, once the car goes from viable rental to auction material, all of the keys are conveniently in one location.

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  131. Chris says:

    Two reasons:
    -They are having their consumers be their packmules to keep both keys with the cars
    -They never did this before chipped keys, since cutting a new one was easy and cheap. Now if a consumer loses a key: one for the price of two.

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  132. ElSantoVicioso says:

    An outsider’s perspective:

    Firstly, handing both the keys to the customer

    1. Ensures that the backup key is readily available to the user and thus, helps in avoiding additional services, like delivering keys to the location of the breakdown.

    2. Covers the scenario where the car is a one-way rental. Suppose Hertz in Hamburg, receives a car that was rented out from Amsterdam (which is not a rare scenario), with just one key. Now if they decide to rent it out again, and by the stroke of sheer bad luck, the customer is stranded on the Autobahn in need of a backup key. :(

    3. Reduces cost to warehouse the backup keys

    Now, since all these factors are important, it’s pretty obvious to get to an effective mechanism
    to ensure that
    1. that the keys are not lost by the customer (the distinctively bulkier keybunch argument)
    2. the keys are not misplaced, even while in situ,
    3. In no situation, just one key is handed over to the customer, either due to the negligence of an employee or due to a misplaced backup key.

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  133. Obryan says:

    Responsability, suppose that they give you separately keys. A “rational” person would think to keep one in a safe place, “just in case”. That´s a relief, you are going to concern less of lost the keys that you are using. While, if you have in the same keychan a pair, the incentives to know where they are increase due to the cost that lost them implies.

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  134. Larry Davidson says:

    FWIW, I just rented a car from Hertz in Albany to drive to Boston (our train wouldn’t go east of Albany yesterday, but that’s another story). It came with a single key.

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  135. Bryan says:

    I asked a rental agent that very question and was told that even if they seperated the keys it would not be of much help as the cars move from city to city. The spare is not likely to be in the correct place nor are they likely keep good track of the spare with the car being long gone. You would think that with RFID tagging that would not be such a problem. Hopefully they don’t charge you for two remotes if you lose the keys.

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  136. fred wollman says:

    I asked the same question at a rental car counter. the answer was, “we get two keys when we buy the car. We could never keep up with both keys if they are separated. therefore, we don’t try and we also do not allow our customers to separate the two keys. ” the rental car company will be selling the car in a year or so and want to have two keys when they do sell it. therefore, just don’t separate them and you still have two —- or none, in which case you still have to get keys.

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  137. Sam says:

    The source of car rental companies profits are inventory. All activities focus on maximizing the net income from the company’s inventory. This focus manifests itself in a company mindset, a way to run the railroad. The mindset in a company centered on inventory is efficient use of inventory (A car not rented is grounds for firing. The car should rented above marginal cost.), safe guarding of assets (The company wants to know at all times the location and status of its inventory. How many days of rental income would a company need to offset the loss of a car?), and minimize cost for non-value added activities, activities not paid for by the customer.

    The fused keys focus on maximizing net income from a cost perspective. You are looking at the problem from a customer, or revenue, perspective. The manufacturer provides the company two sets of keys. Safeguarding activities translate into a tracking system. The cost of an inventory system to track the second set of keys is quickly discard as a non-value adding activity (Customers would not select company A over company B because of its key tracking system). The impracticality of this alternative would be apparent to everyone in an inventory company. The best alternative is to keep the keys together and avoid the cost of a non-value-adding activity. The obvious problem is two sets of keys is double the chance of the customer losing the keys (Losing keys increases marginal cost hurting net income). Fusing the two sets together, although awkward to the customer, is the obvious solution. Losing both sets of keys has the same marginal cost, at least to a significant extent, as losing one set of keys and the company maximizes net income by avoiding the tracking cost of a separate set of keys.

    Now, if it could be demonstrated customers are willing to buy at a level of marginal revenue in excess the cost of tracking the separate set of keys from Company A, with a one-key policy, over the competition Company A would achieve a temporary competitive advantage. The competitive advantage would disappear over time as the competition adapted to the market conditions. In the interim period, Company A would experience superior profits, which might exploit other competitive advantages.

    In the fog of the past, back when the dinosaurs were alive, Hertz tried to exploit this potential competitive advantage. Obviously, this is a not a differentiation strategy, a source of superior profits, or you would have one set of keys today.

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  138. Molly W. says:

    Could it be that even though the keys look exactly alike, that only one of them works everywhere (ex: ignition/doors/trunk/etc..) and the other works for everything EXCEPT the ignition??…. I only mention this because I recently learned that you can get a key made to almost ANYONES car (without the key) as long as you have the V.I.N. #… And, when you go to have the key made by calling in, and saying hey I’d like to have a spare key made for my car.. Here is the V.I.N #, how long until I can pick it up, or something like that… Then they can look-up the correct key and make it, and then you have a key to anyones car… But it works everywhere EXCEPT the ignition (doors/trunk/etc..)sry for going off topic a little bit but i think you’ll get what I was trying to first explain… lol

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  139. Eugene says:

    They do it to prove to you that they don’t have another key to the car so that if something get’s stolen out of the car you can’t blame them.

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  140. Marty Roddy says:

    On occasion I find the content of comments/responses the valuable part of a posting. Thanks

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  141. Brian says:

    So, I searched this on Google thinking that someone must have asked this before. I found an answer from 2006 that seems perfectly logical. Cars come with two sets of keys and since people pick up and drop off at different locations it would be difficult to keep the set together (for when they resell the car; buyers expect two keys). So the easiest way to keep the keys together until a car is sold is to ensure that both keys travel with the car.

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  142. Edby says:

    The reason rental car companies keep both sets of keys locked on the same ring is to ensure all the keys stay with the car. Rental companies sell off the vehicles often after only six months to a year in the fleet and a car that enters the fleet in one city can be somewhere else when it gets sold. The rental companies have eliminated the need to track where the extra keys are stored and where to send them when the car is being sold by making it the rental customer responsible for safekeeping all the keys at all times.

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  143. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve been told that it’s for the rental car company’s convenience – that way if the car is returned to a different location than the one where it was rented, both keys are with the car. Though I can’t see what difference that makes, since you can only use one key at a time in any case. It’s certainly a pain.

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  144. Kevin says:

    I a management consultant, and actually worked on a project for a major rental car company to address this very issue. Cars are sold by the manufacturer with two sets of keys included. The keys stay with the car, and then are sold along with the car at the end of it’s rental life-cycle. We determined that the value of these 2nd keys was over $2.5 million annually on the aftermarket. We piloted a program where the keys would be separated during the on-boarding process, mailed to a central location, and then sold to a 3rd party. Execution proved more difficult than initially anticipated, and the initiative was abandoned.

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  145. leonard freedman says:

    There is no logic to tying the two keys together. If you lose a key you pay for it. If you lose both keys, you pay for both.
    When I rent a car with my wife, it is convenient for each of us to have our own key. I want both keys when I rent a car, I just want to be able to separate them.

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  146. Richard Schwwartz says:

    Some rentals are not returned to the same depot. Usually this is planned, but sometimes it is not. A key at a depot that doesn’t have the car is useless.

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