Don't leave home without your spares

Car keys

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: It's one thing to lose your cell phone, you can always shut off the service before a stranger racks up a ton of minutes. But what if you lose your car key? Some are so high-tech, you could be stuck without your car for hours, even days, while you get the key replaced. And it won't be cheap. As Jon Baird reports, don't even think about hitting the road for a long vacation unless you've got a spare key as a backup to the other spare key.


Jon Baird: With Labor Day just around the corner, Americans are getting ready to hit the road.

But their vacations could screech to a halt if mom or dad loses the car key at the beach or accidentally drops it in the toilet.

AAA says the keys are so high-tech and the key codes are so closely guarded, that replacements can cost $150 or more.

The Auto Club's Alice Bisno says that's not the end of it.

Alice Bisno: One of members who owned a Mercedes had the key literally break off in her hands. She had to have the car towed to the dealer. It took the dealer six days to get a key back for her. She was without the use of her car for that time and it ended up costing her about $700.

You could always try a locksmith.

Richard Burns owns Templar Lock and Safe in Huntington Beach, California. He says in some cases, he can cut a new key and reprogram a car quickly. But if you own, say, a newer Chevy, like an '07 Malibu, you might as well catch a movie. The locksmith will be busy for hours.

Richard Burns: We would have to remove the door skin and a lot of times you're looking at door handles, mechanisms and electrical wiring, motors, brackets that have to be removed, and then remove the door lock from the handle assembly which is very difficult to get to.

And that doesn't include the 45 minutes it takes to reprogram the car for the new key. Burns says he could do the job much faster if car makers shared their key codes.

Burns: They hide the key codes and the pin codes like top secret information.

But the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says there's a good reason for the secrecy. A key isn't just a $1.99 piece of metal anymore. It's a mini-computer and a big part of the car's security system.

And while losing a key may be an inconvenience, it's nothing like the hassle of losing your car.

AAA says California is the only state to pass a law requiring car makers to share the key codes. That law goes into effect next year.

In the meantime, AAA expects the problem will only get worse.

You could always do what locksmith Richard Burns does. He has five keys for every vehicle, and he always carries two in his pockets.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jon Baird for Marketplace.

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