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Here’s what to do if you lose keys to rental car or lock yourself out

by Christopher Elliott, The Washington Post | March 6, 2023 at 2:42 a.m.
(Democrat-Gazette illustration)

Losing her rental car keys was not on Susan Kelly's itinerary when she visited Kauai, Hawaii, recently. But there she was with her husband, rummaging through their hotel room, retracing her steps and trying to find the elusive fob for their sedan.

"I was looking everywhere for it," recalls Kelly, a respiratory therapist from Elmhurst, Ill. "Finally, we called Avis to find out if they had a spare."

The couple waited on hold and finally got through to a representative who said Avis might have an extra key, but they would have to call the airport location.

Kelly wondered how much of her Hawaiian vacation she would lose. How much would her car rental company charge to retrieve her keys? And would travel insurance cover her loss?

There are no reliable industrywide statistics on car rental lockouts. Enterprise Rent-A-Car says less than 1% of customers across its brands last year were locked out of their cars and had to call the company for help. That number doesn't include customers who decided to use their own service, like AAA, to help them unlock the vehicle.

Getting locked out of your rental car is another serious matter for drivers, says Michael Stalf, chief executive officer of the German car rental company Myonecar. "It can be the end of your vacation," he says. But it doesn't have to be.

First, call the car rental company, which might be able to get you back into the car quickly without a spare set.

"With the modernization of cars, solving this problem for most of our vehicles is fairly easy," says Nick Sorrentino, owner of Reno Tahoe Rental Car. "We can log on to the relevant app, unlock the vehicle, and in many cases, even start the vehicle."

If not, the rental company will give you options, which usually involve calling a tow truck or a locksmith.


Generally, rental car companies don't keep spare keys. Kelly's situation with Avis was not typical. "We only receive one set of keys," says Avis spokesman James Tucker. Avis offers a lockout service through its emergency roadside assistance, but if you lose your key, expect to pay between $150 and $225 for a replacement.

Hertz also doesn't keep duplicate keys on-site for most of its vehicles. If you signed up for its premium emergency roadside service you can get a lost key service at no charge. Otherwise, Hertz charges a flat fee of $250.

Enterprise doesn't keep spare keys. Instead, it gives drivers both keys attached to a ring. If you don't buy Enterprise's additional roadside protection coverage and you lose your keys, the company will charge you $58 for lockout services. It will also charge you for the cost of the tow if you choose to use its towing service, and replacement keys, which can vary based on tow distance and the type of car.


Kelly might have been covered if she had paid extra for Avis' extended roadside assistance, which includes the services of a locksmith. Enterprise, which owns the National and Alamo brands, also offers roadside protection coverage for an extra charge, and covers lost keys and lockouts.

Roadside assistance typically costs $4 to $7 per day. But read the coverage carefully before buying. Some roadside assistance plans don't cover towing after a wreck.

Her AAA membership would have reimbursed up to $150 for a locksmith, depending on her membership level. And if she had a Visa card, she might have also used its pay-per-use roadside assistance program.


Before making a decision, review your options. There could be less-expensive options than the car rental company's tow truck. Those include your credit card's roadside assistance, your car insurance company or a membership like AAA. You might be able to get your car towed back to the rental location at a reduced rate.

Travel insurance does not typically cover loss of car rental keys, but it might provide roadside assistance.


Make the keys harder to lose.

"Attach a big, noticeable lanyard or keychain to them," says William Baldwin, who publishes an automotive blog. "Ideally, something that will make a noise when dropped."

Separate them.

Some car rental companies will give you two keys on the same ring. Harvey Moshman, a TV producer from Los Angeles, says he separates those and gives one to another driver.

Get an AirTag.

"Travelers should attach the tracker to the rental car keys as soon as they get them," advises Simon Mawdsley, co-director of Grand Prix Grand Tours. "That way, as soon as the keys disappear, you can quickly check the app to find them."

Print Headline: What to do if you lose rental’s key


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