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. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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