Is This Lost Rental Car Key Penalty Excessive?

Have you ever lost the keys to your rental car? D. did this past weekend, and tells Consumerist that she thought that Alamo’s method of issuing a replacement key was a little bit inefficient and expensive. She was instructed to hire a tow truck at her own expense to bring the car back to the lot, then charged a $250 key replacement fee.

Last weekend, I foolishly dived into the water with my rental car key. Not an electro-remote-clciker key, just a plain-old turn-it-and-it-goes-on key.

I assumed that I’d call the rental place, and they’d charge me something to have a guy drive out with a new key. That’s what happened about ten years ago, when one of my friends lost his key.

Instead, they told me to call a tow truck. We towed the car back to the lot (at my own expense!) and then paid the “Key Replacement Fee” ($209, discounted from $250). This sounds a little excessive–after all, my car at home has at least two spare keys, precisely for situations like this. Why not Alamo?

What have your experiences been, Consumerist Hive Mind? Was D.’s experience unusual, or understandable?


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  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    I thought rental places had at least one of their own tow trucks, if not several? :|

    • IphtashuFitz says:

      It really depends on where this happened. Last winter when we vacationed down in St. John in the USVI we rented a car on St. Thomas and took a car ferry over to St. John. The rental place at the airport on St. Thomas basically said that you’re on your own if you take the car over to St. John.

    • Mom says:

      When we wrecked a car in Hawaii, they just sent a commercial towtruck. It would be a really big agency that would have enough of a need for a towtruck that it would be cost effective for them to have their own.

  2. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Do they rekey in events like this? If so that’s not unreasonable.

    And those plain-old turn-it-and-it-goes-on key are NOT cheap. As far as I know every car out there uses a security chip and cost at least $120 to replace.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      A key for my Honda is only $80 from the dealer.

      Still not cheap.

    • AntiNorm says:

      I had my car key cloned about a month ago, because I needed a spare.

      The cost? $3.

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        Did you also have all of the locks changed?

        The other thing is that the car is unavailable for further renting until the locks are changed or the keys are made. Depending on where the rental place is or what kind of car it is, that might have a financial impact.

        • flip says:

          you wont need to change the locks when the key has a security chip in it.
          …….well,…thats if its a fairly decent newer model vehicle.

          • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

            But if that’s the case, then the key doesn’t cost only $3 :)

          • RvLeshrac says:

            So you don’t need to pay someone to reprogram the car’s computer? That can just be done by anyone, with no training or special equipment? It costs absolutely nothing? Really?

            I mean, you know, I’d assume that not just anyone who wanders off the street would be able to completely defeat the car’s security mechanisms with nothing but a screwdriver, but that’s just me.

      • edman007 says:

        Depends on the car, most newer cars have chiped keys, they can’t be cloned at a hardware store and usually cost $100 or more to replace, and many modern cars can’t have keys made to order, they are all random and matched to the locks, so you often need to replace all locks to get a new key, add in the labor to change the locks and it can easily go over $1000 to get a new key for your car.

        • The Waffle says:

          Not at all, I had a 2002 Honda Accord, it had the chip in it to prevent starting, no clicker attacked, the cost to replace the key? $25 the $100 charge is if there is a remote unlock built into the key…….if you are getting charged $100 for a small little RFID chip in the key that acts as an Immobilizer you are getting ripped off.

          • Wombatish says:

            I have a 2000 and it’s a standard $6 key.

            Not sure when the process really started to be wide-spread, but yeah, not even 25. They cut it from the VIN.

    • backinpgh says:

      Exactly. What LOOKS like a regular old key (like the one I have for my 1998 vehicle that I can get redone at any hardware store) might have a security chip inside (which is a theft prevention system) and cost $100 to replace.

      Add to that the day or more that car might be out of commission for rental, leading to lost profits, and voila – there’s your $250 fee.

    • anewmachine615 says:

      This. I know when I worked for another rental car company, we had tons of cars where we had lost the clicker, but they was still an electronic identifier embedded in the key itself. So if you wanted a new one, you had to pay through the nose for it. And then there was the downtime and all that. That said, the car ought to have a spare in-vehicle – at least I know we did that. It was taped to the spare tire, in a little bag with a spare manual and stuff like that.

    • parabellum2000 says:

      I had a Mazda with a credit card key. The key was $350 and the programming was another $100. I’d imagine the keyless fobs for other manufacturers are similarly priced. I have seen some kiosks that claim to be able to reproduce and program a basic chipped key for $35. Never tried one, and it wouldn’t have worked on the Mazda anyway,

    • dangerp says:

      The keys with the transponder chips don’t tend to cost that much, usually it’s the dealership charging you an outrageous fee for reprogramming. Most cars that I’ve seen have a process where you can reprogram a new key yourself, provided you have at least one already working key. I did it on my dad’s ford not too long ago.

  3. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Replacing & programming a key for a new car can be incredibly expensive if there aren’t two original keys available. If you have two keys, it’s very easy (and cheap) to program the third off a blank you can buy on the internet.

    If you only have one original key, it’s significantly more expensive and requires a locksmith or the dealer and $200 – $250 seems inline for what I’ve been quoted in the past. Since rental companies can pass the cost directly to the consumer, it’s not in their best interest to spend money on extra keys just in case somebody loses theirs.

    • longdvsn says:

      Hopefully the company has a back-up key. And if so, $250 sounds about right for the charge. They’ll have to get a second key from a dealer (~$150 with a keyless entry system) plus employee time to get the car out to get a new key.

      You can’t just reprogram a key you buy off the internet. There’s a microchip inside the key that a dealership needs to program. If the keyless entry system is a separate piece, yes, you can buy one on the internet and program it rather easily – but not for the main key for the ignition.

      If they don’t have a back-up key – the rental company is foolish and it’ll cost them a whole lot more than $250 to get new keys.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        “You can’t just reprogram a key you buy off the internet. There’s a microchip inside the key that a dealership needs to program.”

        Sure you can, I’ve done it many times for vehicles of different manufacturers. The same companies that supply OEM keys also make generic versions for locksmiths. You can buy these online and program them yourself. The hard part is finding a hardware store that will cut them for you. My local Ace Hardware will do it with the understanding that if it doesn’t work, I’ll have to eat the cost for a new key. So far, I haven’t had any problems but could see it getting screwed up because of the sheer size of the key.

        However, most manufacturers require you to have two programmed keys to self-program a 3rd. Our current vehicle (Jeep) has the procedures in the manual on to program new keys. I use a key that I bought off of eBay for $10 and never had any problems with the RFID.

        If you only have 2 keys and lose one, then you are SOL. Only the dealer or a locksmith can program another one for you.

      • GearheadGeek says:

        Actually none of the manufacturers “program” the key itself. Key blanks have an RFID chip with a unique code. Through various techniques (differing by manufacturer) you can register that code with your car’s ECU as a good key. Once the ECU has that key’s RFID code registered, it will allow that key to start the car. No electronic change has been made to the key from start to finish.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      It depends on the brand. I know that several manufacturers set their cars up so that as long as you have 1 key paired to the ECU, it’s trivial to add more (though of course you still have to buy the new keys themselves at dealer-parts-counter prices.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        That would make life easier if they only require one key. I always assumed that the 2 key rule was done to keep unscrupulous people from making copies without permission. Requiring you to buy the blanks at the dealer might be a way around that.

        I’ve never had any problems just buying blank keys off of eBay. I’ve had good luck buying from this person but they’re all about the same price —|Model%3ACompass&hash=item45f801a0c5

      • jefeloco says:

        I only have on chipped key for my Corolla but I have a couple of non-chipped backups in case I lock the “real” key inside the car. I keep intending to buy a chipped blank and have it cut by a locksmith and then program it myself; the program method for Toyotas looks fun. You can input commands (if you don’t have a toyota dealer and $150 lying around) by un/re-locking doors, hitting window toggles and opening/closing the doors!

        I imagine it must be similar to old school computers from the ’50s and ’60s.

    • WagTheDog says:

      Sshe states it is:

      “Not an electro-remote-clciker key, just a plain-old turn-it-and-it-goes-on key”.

  4. Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

    If it’s a key with an alarm remote built into it, or a chip, etc, it can cost $150 to replace. $250 seems excessive, but maybe not THAT excessive considering the expense.

    • apple420 says:

      Yea I vaguely remember the dealer for my 2005 Toyota warning me that it was over a couple hundred dollars to replace the keys.

  5. cryptique says:

    Excessive for a regular key. Maybe not, had it been an “electro-remote-clicker key.” The dealer charges well over $100 to replace one of mine (as I found out the hard way).

    My issue with rental car keys is that I tend to get two keys together on a ring that cannot be separated. What’s the use of giving me two keys, when I can’t give one of them to my companion?

    • Chmeeee says:

      I think they do that because they don’t want to store the second key, not for your convenience. With a large fleet, trying to keep track of them would be a major hassle. That way both keys are always with the car, and you can’t seperate and then lose/steal one of them.

      • partofme says:

        Laziness beats utility. Every time.

        • mattarse says:

          Not exactly – try to imagine keeping up with the keys when you factor in one way rentals in a nationwide rental place.

      • operator207 says:

        I would imagine putting a lockbox in the trunk with the second key would get that issue settled. The customer cannot open the lock box, but can call the store, you give them your name, and the store gives them the code to open the box.

        Make the lock box big enough to put a standard laptop bag in it, and call it a feature they can upsell.

        This would not be a fix for losing the original key, but would be a fix for needing a second key and not having to put up with a second key if not needed. Unless the car had some way of remotely opening the trunk, like onstar or some such. The counter person tells you to call the 1800 number on the key chain, you call them, and they go through the steps to get the key out. When you return the car, you give the key to the . counter person, and they charge you a $5 fee for extra key rental/usage then put the key back in the box. Since I would imagine that at least 50% of the car rentals are for one person, this would not be a large call volume.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      I thought the same thing on my last rental. The key ring was massive since it had both car keys and the big plastic tag with the rental information on it. I was tempted to cut it apart and just carry one key, but couldn’t work up the nerve. Even if you only have one driver, giving the second key to someone else minimizes your odds of getting locked out or stuck somewhere (as in this story).

  6. Marlin says:

    Yep keys have chips in them. So even if you cut one that fit; if it is not programmed to the car it will not work.

    So the price may be a little high but still within reason.

  7. flyingember says:

    A non-electric-remote-clicker key can still have a chip inside it. My father’s car from 2001 is this way.

  8. ORD75 says:

    It’s not just the cost of the key. It also requires time and effort on the part of the rental company to go to a dealer and actually get the key.. so it’s not unreasonable to expect to pay for 1 – 2 hours of labor on top of the cost of the replacement key.

  9. The cake is a lie! says:

    I broke one of my keys once that had one of those chips in it. I was stranded and someone had to come out to replace it and get it rekeyed. it cost me $350 for their trouble. I don’t think the fee the rental agency was excessive in the slightest. Someone is now walking around with a rental car key that they could easily use to just sneak back into the lot and steal the car and strip it down. If they didn’t have a penalty for this kind of thing, then people wouldn’t be as worried when they lost their keys and wouldn’t look for them very hard. Personally I think the fee should be higher to really motivate them. Hell, the rental I have right now says there is a $250 cleaning fee if I smoke in the car and I know for damn certain that it doesn’t cost that much to clean an interior of the smoke smell and ash. You better believe nobody is lighting up in the car while my name is on it though. If it was a $50 fee then I wouldn’t even care, but $250 is a sufficient motivator for me to keep it clean.

    • TooManyHobbies says:

      Not true. If they authorized a new key, unless they are really dumb they would have de-authorized the old key, and it will still open the doors but it won’t start the car anymore.

      • The cake is a lie! says:

        Maybe true, but the key itself would still open the door unless the lock was rekeyed. Either way, the expense of changing all this is probably close to the fee charged for losing the key.

        I’m in a Chrysler 300 on this trip. The key isn’t even a key. It is one of those remote fobs that just plug into the ignition and then you turn it. I’m sure the process of replacing that key is very much like what you just described. They would just recode a new key and all is better since there aren’t any actual ‘key holes’ on the car. However, for other cars with metal keys with teeth, recoding the chip would only stop them from starting the car. it wouldn’t stop them from entering it, unlocking the steering wheel, and dragging the car away. You would be surprised how much of a car can be stripped in the parking lot if you wanted to.

        • TooManyHobbies says:

          So all it’s doing is making it so they don’t have to break a window. If they were willing and able to strip a car in a parking lot, they’d be willing and able to break a side window and get in that way.

  10. Hi_Hello says:

    sounds right. why should they go out of their way to pick you up? they aren’t AAA, they went cars. Even if they have spare keys, they still need to replace the key you lost. Which mean someone has to go out of their way to get a new key made.

    And getting a new car key can cost from 20-400 bucks.

    And the key they have, might not be the main key, which mean it can’t even open the truck or glove compartment, which will take a dealer to make a primary key. And dealer charge a lot.

  11. Vulpine says:

    Would have been cheaper to just hire a locksmith to make a replacement key. Probably faster, too.

    • Rachacha says:

      Many car keys have a security chip in the key. You can’t simply cut a new key or have one copied at the local hardware store. You have to order a special key blank from the manufacturer, and then link that key to the vehicle before you can use the key to start it.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        Most decent locksmiths have a wide selection of RFID keys for different manufacturers and can program/reprogram them with no problem.

        For both of our cars, I purchased generic blank keys off of eBay for around $10.00 and had them cut at our local hardware store. If you have two keys, you can typically program a 3rd yourself. I was able to do so following the directions in my owner’s manual. Things get trickier if you don’t have two keys and the programming requires specialized equipment.

        • TooManyHobbies says:

          IF you already have TWO working keys in your possession, you can program the new key. If you don’t, you have to plug the car into an official scanner a the car dealership to authenticate the new key.

  12. steam says:

    Not really…the dealerships charge any where from $80.00 to $300.00 for chip embedded keys.
    I am not a dealer but recently lost my key and paid around $198.00 to replace it.
    I have NEVER lost a rental car key though…it is usually attached to a rather large tag and difficult loose.

  13. TBGBoodler says:

    My experience with rental car keys is that they are all on one keychain that is given to the renter. There’s not a spare back at the office.

    • asten77 says:

      Which, of course, is both pointless and stupid. I never quite understood that.

      • Brink006 says:

        You have no concept of scale.

      • common_sense84 says:

        it is because you can take the car to any place to drop it off. So they keep the keys with the car.

        They do this because you have to pay for the keys if lost. So there is no financial risk to them. And they don’t have to overnight keys to other locations when the customer drops the car off somewhere else.

        Their are dealers everywhere, so they don’t have to worry about their ability to get a new key made.

        If this place is only charging 250, it sounds like they are not even penalizing her. They are charging her what the shop charges them.

  14. balthisar says:

    Heck, I just paid $80 for a dealer-direct key for my 2001 car. If I’d let them program it, it’d be another $60. Add in the fact that someone at the rental agency has to be paid for their time, then $250 (less, with the discount that was given) seems totally and completely reasonable.

    As far as the tow truck, well, it’s your responsibility to get the car back to the agency somehow. If you’ve lost the keys, what other choice do you have?

  15. coren says:

    Excessive for just a key? You betcha.

    But when has any fee or charge that the racket that IS car rental not been excessive. Look at what they charge to gas up a car if you don’t bring it back full. Of COURSE it’s excessive – that’s just what they do.

  16. absherlock says:

    I think understandable.

    Many of the relatively newer “plain-old turn-it-and-it-goes-on” keys now have a chip in the head that the car recognizes before it will start. This costs time and money to replace as the new key has to be synched to the car’s electronics. Also, Alamo doesn’t want people running round with a bunch of spare keys to their cars, so a decent fine is a good deterrent. Sorry, but pay up.

  17. Blueskylaw says:

    It would have been cheaper to leave the car where it is, rent another car and drive to the dealer to get a spare key made.

    • Punchy says:

      A dealership or Locksmith will not make a key for you if you don’t own the car. If that was the case you could just get an extra key for any car. They have very strick rules about this. They won’t make you a key just because you are renting the car for the weekend.

  18. JakeChance says:

    It’s probably a little on the excessive side but even normal keys are not cheap. It’d probably be a whole lot more expensive if it were one of those remote ones. Even still, some of these keys have security chips in them (especially if the car wasn’t over 5 years old). I’d put this one in the understandable category even with the markup.

  19. We Have a Piper Down says:

    You’re also paying to get the car’s locks changed, most likely. No business in their right mind would allow someone to claim they lost a key and leave the car open to theft. My husband operates a rental car franchise and he’s seen every scam you can think of to try to steal a car.

  20. Mom says:

    No, the price doesn’t seem unreasonable. Keys with electronics in them cost that much. When I did the exact same thing with Hertz, they told me to call AAA. I don’t remember how much it cost, but they did it without towing the car anywhere, which would have been embarrassing indeed, since we were in our swimsuits, and our clothes were locked in the car.

    What drives me crazy, though is when some rental car companies give you two of those giant keys cabled together so that they can’t be separated. Why? I can’t use both keys that way, and if I lose one key, I’ve lost th both. And it creates a big ‘wad o key’s that won’t fit in my pocket.

  21. idx says:

    I rent from Alamo all the time and the keys are always attached to a huge keyring that say in bold red letters “LOST KEY REPLACEMENT FEE = $250 OR MORE”.

    Not saying that it’s a reasonable cost, but I’m very aware how expensive it is to lose a key.

  22. TooManyHobbies says:

    All keys are chipped these days. Making a new key may involve hooking the car up to a manufacturer-approved (car company dealer) scanner and validating the new key chip into the engine control computer. If you go to the dealer for this service, it will cost at least $120, and I’ve seen as much as $250 from foreign car places.

    Here’s a handy tip: If you have the two keys that already start the car, you can program a new key yourself in many car makes. I have newish (2007) Ford, and I bought a chipped blank off eBay for $12, take the thing to a hardware store and have them cut the notches in it (local stores will do this for you, the big chains refuse to touch chipped keys for some stupid reason).

    Then you need to have ALL the keys that you want to be able to start the car – start the car with one of the working keys, shut it off, within 10 seconds put in the other working key, start the car, then repeat with all the keys you want to be able to start the car. After the second key the car is in program mode and will accept further keys and authorize them.

    You can do the reverse if you lose a key – reprogram with all the keys you still have, and now the lost key will no longer be able to start the car.

    I recommend making a 3rd key immediately upon buying a car, so if you lose one you won’t have to go to the dealer and pay $200 to have them authorize a new key.

    Check your owner’s manual to see if this will work for you. Or google it. I know this has worked for Ford cars since they started chipping their keys in the 90s, I don’t know about other manufacturers.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I do exactly the same thing. It’s always good to have 3 sets of keys — If you lose one, you still have two working keys to program another set. If you only have 2 keys and lose one, you’ll have to go to the dealer or locksmith and spend a few hundred dollars.

      I’ve never had any programs buying the $10 generic RFID keys off of eBay and having Ace Hardware cut them. Programming them only takes about five minutes.

      • mugwump says:

        I did the same thing, i bought a used truck (2008 Silverado) and it only came with 1 key, I got a key blank off of e-bay, had it cut at a local hardware store, and programmed it myself. I also purchased a remote entry fob on e-bay for like $12.00, reprogrammed it in seconds, total cost for a 2nd set of keys, $23.00.

        Amazing what you can do to save money, with a little forethought.

    • SunnyLea says:

      Somehow my husband and I both managed to get cars without chips in the keys. I was happy because, for one, even though my key was chip-less, it had this HUGE bow (the top part of the key — thank you wikipedia) making my whole keyring setup just too dang bulky. So I had one with just a plain, flat, metal bow cut.

      Anywho, if my next key is chipped (and, as the years go by, I can see that is is almost 100% likely) I’m glad to know that there is a cheaper way for me to get a spare, and will probably have couple made right off the bat.

      Still grumpy about how bulky the dang things are, though.

      • SunnyLea says:

        Sheesh, I forgot what started me off on this whole stupid tangent.

        You wrote: “…the big chains refuse to touch chipped keys for some stupid reason.”

        My key, despite the giant bow, did not have a chip and I knew it, but I had to go to two different stores and *argue with the key people* to get them to cut me a key. “We don’t cut keys with chips.” “It doesn’t have a chip.” I mean, the first place just flat out *refused* to believe me.

  23. Clyde Barrow says:

    “issuing a replacement key was a little bit inefficient and expensive?” WTF?

    LOSING the key was inefficient and expensive. The replacement cost is your fee for losing it. Tough luck but don’t lose your keys next time.

  24. Necoras says:

    $250 sounds quite expensive for a normal key. I’d expect that amount for a remote clicker though.

  25. JohnDeere says:

    wasnt she required to purchase insurance? that should take care of everything.

  26. sirwired says:

    With a modern ignition system, that sounds about right. Approx. $100-ish for the part, and then additional cost to have it driven to the dealer to have the ECU re-programmed to accept the replacement key.

  27. JohnDeere says:

    lost the keys to my truck once. both of them. the dealer wanted $90 to make the first one without a chip to use as a blank for one with a chip and wanted $150 for the second one. i had a friend that actually worked at another dealer asked me what my truck was brought 2 chipped keys already cut for my truck and programmed them in my driveway in 5 minutes for free. i gave him a $100 tip though.

  28. bcsus83 says:

    I had to make a copy of the key for my car, which is an 02, so nowhere near new, and it’s not key with an alarm fob built in or anything….and it’s not just a matter of taking it to the hardware store and having some counter jockey cut a $4 key blank anymore. It’s a matter of taking it to a locksmith who has the capabilities of programming a computer chip in the key to make the ignition (and power locks) work. The CHEAPEST…absolute CHEAPEST I could find within 50 miles of my house was $95 and tax. The Mitsubishi dealer wanted $179.

    So no, I don’t think the lost key fee is excessive.

  29. flip says:

    maybe my lack of coffee today has my sarcasm detector disabled but, if she ” dove in the water”, how’d she lose her key?

    I’ve jumped into my pool once or twice with my keys in my pocket without any issues attempting to start my car or open the do

  30. xspook says:

    I love it when I ask for two keys and they give me both keys on the SAME friggin keychain.

  31. KlueBat says:

    It all depends on if the rental agency had a new key from which they could make copies and if the key had an electronic disable chip in it or not.

    New electronic keys are expensive. Re-keying a car for which you have no key is also very expensive.

    Now if the rental agency had a spare key and all they had to do is cut a new one? $200 is pretty much a rip off.

  32. JonBoy470 says:

    $250 is not at all out of line, especially when you consider that the rental company will have additional overhead associated with the key replacement (Whoever they send to get it done will be on the clock). I bought a Grand Caravan that only came with one key (actually a FOBIK Fob-In-Key) and it cost $135 at the Dodge store for a second one, then a half-hour labor charge for them to hook up my van to their diagnostic computer to re-program the whole works. $185 for the most expensive key I’ve ever bought. Even the plain jane keys are $25 or 30 a pop.

  33. Rebecca K-S says:

    I’m sure it feels excessive, but I don’t think it actually is.

    Also: I love AAA for these kinds of situations.

  34. Jake Bechtold says:

    A $250 key replacement fee sucks, but is definitely called for. If you have a key with the alarm chip in it, it’s $125 for a replacement… and if you have one of the fancy keys with the lock/unlock remote in it you’re looking at $250. Car keys aren’t cheap anymore!

  35. kylere1 says:

    I think the funny part is that the so-called “antitheft system” that makes these keys so ineffective is poorly setup, requires frequent and insanely expensive fixes from dealerships that can never seem to do it properly, and they fail faster than brake pads on a 16-year-olds Mustang.

    I bypassed the systems on both my current cars and on my last three, it usually takes no time and will prevent you from being stranded WHEN, not IF they fail.

  36. kylere1 says:

    I think the funny part is that the so-called “antitheft system” that makes these keys so expensive is poorly setup, requires frequent and insanely expensive fixes from dealerships that can never seem to do it properly, and they fail faster than brake pads on a 16-year-olds Mustang.

    I bypassed the systems on both my current cars and on my last three, it usually takes no time and will prevent you from being stranded WHEN, not IF they fail.

  37. Anjow says:

    I know if I want to get a spare or replacement key for my car from a dealer it’s going to cost nearly twice as much, since the keys have to be new and programmed by the dealer. So it’s unreasonable, but not necessarily the rental company’s fault.

  38. JonBoy470 says:

    All the major manufacturers maintain databases of key codes for the cars they make. The key code equates to the mechanical cut of the key, and allows the dealer (or a locksmith) to cut keys for a car without having an existing key, and without having to re-key (or even at all disassemble) any of the existing locks in the car. All you need, typically, is the car’s VIN, and some proof that you are the actual owner of the car (the car’s registration, and photo ID with the same name).

  39. VouxCroux says:

    I’m sure they do have spare keys, but they still need to replace the spare key that is now the main key. $250 is excessive, but they still need to replace the key you lost, just as you might if you lost a key.

  40. rrapynot says:

    I had to pay $55 to get a new key for my Volvo and then $130 to program it.

  41. travel_nut says:

    I have a Nissan with their smart key, and it costs over $150 to replace. So I can see that being reasonable.

  42. Kevin says:

    Would insurance on the rental have covered this?

  43. TheGreySpectre says:

    Depends on how they do it. It is possible that they replace the locks to prevent theft which would be more expensive then just $5 for replacing a key. Another possibility is if it is a newer car with an electronically chipped key, those keys are quite expensive generally being more then $100 per key. Are they charging you more then they could? Yes, but not but a margin that is completely unreasonable. Don’t forget that while there is no key for the car they can’t rent out the car.

  44. Brunette Bookworm says:

    Eh, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s that excessive if you think about the fact that until the rental agency actually gets that replacement key, they can’t rent the car out. Combine the cost of lost rentals with the cost of a replacement key (which could be expensive if it has a chip in it) and the cost can be justified.

  45. Froggmann says:

    Next time just be sure to pay the extra premium for the insurance and push the car over a cliff/into the ocean or have it “fall off” the tow truck. It’ll be cheaper that way.

  46. dourdan says:

    did she OP have fulkl coverage insurance? i know it is an extra 20-30 dollars a day but when the shit hits the fan it is a god send.

    i ran over a large roadkill (a small dear, white as a patch of snow). the fur left behind peices in my engine over heating it. (thank god i was able to get back to the hotel before it died.)

    I got a FREE tow. and a FREE new car (brought straight to my hotel!)
    All from alamo.

  47. danic512 says:

    Why the heck is everyone quoting dealer prices? Rental agencies order cars in fleets at a discount. I’m sure parts are the same way. Either that, or at that volume they can make it easier to change the keys if lost.

  48. 6T9 says:

    This is exactly why I only rent 1960’s vehicles. Replacement keys: $4.00.

  49. common_sense84 says:

    This is actually quite cheap.

    She is lucky. Every time I rent a car, it has two keys on a single key chain and both are the remote keys.

    Losing the key means you lost two keys. They do this because they wan the keys to stay with the car, since you can drop the cars off at any location.

  50. nutbastard says:

    SO thankful i drive a 17 year old car : )

  51. failurate says:

    How about an article on the scam that is programmable security keys for cars?
    Having key prices increase over 5000% seems like a complete rip off to me.

  52. MartinFeardie says:

    I bought a new ford last year and a replacement key for my vehicle is over $300 from the dealer. Even at $100 cost to the rental agency, having to send an employee to get it replaced has its costs and inconveniences, so $300 doesn’t sound unreasonable to me.

  53. aja175 says:

    I just paid $300 for a new key for my mini. The days of a $2 key from a hardware store are gone.

  54. NOS says:

    @ OP – “We towed the car back to the lot (at my own expense!) “

    Really!?!?!? No WAY!?!?!?!?

    You mean you jumped into a pool of water and lost the car keys and in effect stranded a rental car that you signed for and were responsible for…. and they MADE you tow the car back at your expense?!?!?!?!


    This sarcastic comment has been brought to you from the folks at, where we really don’t want to hear the poor me speech when, in fact your were the one that was being rude and/or irresponsible.

  55. cpkook02 says:

    When I worked for Enterprise we just charged the customers whatever we paid the dealership for a replacement key. The cars get moved around from office to office so much that it is really hard to get a spare in a timely manner.

    So if they had the key codes in the computer for the car and can give those to the dealership, it should have only cost $50-75 at most.

  56. winstonthorne says:

    This happened to me in the middle of the Florida keys. Enterprise rep told me I had to tow the car to the nearest Chevy dealer because it had a transponder key or some such rot. Like an idiot, I did, but not back to the nearest Chevy dealer, which was 100 miles away – just to my hotel. The next morning, I called a local branch manager who recommended a locksmith – $150 – $50 AAA discount.

    Even better – when I called Enterprise out on their rep’s error, they refunded me the $230 towing charge, so the incident only wound up setting me back $100 when all was said and done. Lesson: don’t lose your key. Lesson#2: If you do, call a LOCKSMITH, not your rental company…most locksmiths can even make transponder keys; they just cost more. Lesson#3: Enterprise customer service FTW.

  57. littlefisker says:

    I work at a dealership, cars are towed to us all the time for key reprograms. Most of the time the vehicle has to be there for the reprogramming process, and the dealership can’t afford to send techs out to reprogram keys all day. So if you count the tow, the cost of the key and labor for the tech to reprogram it, plus the downtime on the rental, $209 seems kind of cheap really. A rental company where I live would probably have to pay more than that.

  58. chaosconsumer says:

    As a previous Rental Station Car Manager Let me reveal a couple of facts:

    1. The reason the key chain may sometimes contain both sets of keys is that when the rental car company either sends the car to auction or back to the manufacturer they need two sets of keys. The cars need to be auctioned or returned with every item. Keys are cheap. If you ever want to see a rental car agency get really angry demand them to remove seats from a van. You cannot imagine how difficult it can be to match those seats back up to the van especially if the car goes elsewhere. Ordering the seats can be a small fortune if lost, as they have to be ordered in several different pieces.

    2. Keys can be expensive, and if it is a chip key it can require programing.

    3. At times it can be less expensive for some operations to use a third party tow company.

    4. Even if the cars came with two keys it is imposible to keep a second set of keys at every location. It is rare that a rental spends it’s entire life at one location.

    5. Most airports do have key cutting machines, but again there are so many chip keys that they are mostly used to get into cars that people lock keys in.

    6. When returning your car see if they want you to leave the keys in the car. Again you would not believe how hard it can be to match keys to a car when you have hundreads of cars on a multi acre airport lot.

    7. People who return a car low on gas neglect that someone actually has to take the time to fill the tanks. My favorite was a guy that fought to pay nothing for returning a car to a location that didn’t have a gas pump while the gauge was on E and the low fuel light was on. Car had to be towed. If you think rental car gas is too expensive then fill it up yourself.

    8. The customers always think rental car agencys have people standing around waiting to fix such issues as D’s. Rental Car is one of the lowest margin and most difficult industries to make a profit that I have seen.

  59. Robert Nagel says:

    I recently rented a car at a location with their lost key fee prominently displayed. If I lose the key I would suppose that they could use the spare key to have a new one made and the only cost would be the labor to make the new key. However, these geniuses gave me both keys on a key ring that was permanently fastened together. I guess they figured that if one key stopped working I could use the other, not that this has ever happened to me. One has to wonder what they were thinking of when they did this.

    • chaosconsumer says:

      Sir I posted directly above you many reasons why rental car companies do the things they do.

      I am not sure for the exact reason why both keys were left on the key chain (fleet disposal policy, car pulled from turnback for rental). But here is the bottom line. A rental car does not spend enough time at a single rental location to justify keeping a spare key at a single locaton. Next time you are in an airport car rental parking lot count the number of different states represented in the available fleet.

  60. elkhart007 says:

    My mom lost a key to her 02 Chevy Venture, I replaced it and the fob for under $120 myself. It’s not rocket science. She got gouged, bad.

  61. Fjord says:

    Audi will charge about $200 for a replacement key fob.
    VAG Tacho and some hacking skills let me do it for about $50 on my S4.

  62. TTFK says:

    $80 for a key? $350?


    Unless it is an extreme high-end model, 95% of the “chipped” keys (which actually have nothing more than 18 cents worth of resistors and antenna in them) can be duplicated by a properly set-up locksmith.

    I just had extra keys made for a 2004 Malibu Classic and 2008 Impala at the Serv-U Locksmith at the end of my street. The cost? $9 for both. With tax. Both work flawlessly.

  63. AnthonyC says:

    This doesn’t seem pricey to me. Many car owners have already commented how their cars’ keys cost several hundred dollars to replace. I know mine does.

  64. chaelyc says:

    On one hand, that’s what it costs to have new car keys made (especially if the key is one with a chip in it or one that’s combined with key-fob buttons) so it really isn’t unreasonable. After installing my spare key into my remote starter on my old 98 Lexus I inquired about having another spare made & the $200 price tag convinced me to risk it & go without.

    On the other hand, I don’t take in money for the use of my car that would pay for its cost several times over like rental companies do. It seems like they could find a way to use the often already-high rental prices to at least subsidize the key replacement fee.

  65. vtjbrent says:

    Don’t lose your key! I just lost my rental car key. The company was Dollar rental car out of Providence airport. They didn’t have a spare! Who doesn’t have a spare key? The cost was all mine – towing it to a dealer to make a spare key and the cost of the key itself (which was $250). Ouch!