OWN up – how many of you have had a car key-related mishap? It’s so easy to accidentally shut the keys in the boot or carelessly leave them somewhere. And as fleet managers, you may well have had problems with drivers being absentminded with their keys.
Just a few years ago, it was no more than a minor annoyance. You’d simply send someone to the nearest cobbler, who would cut a blank key from the spare. It would take 20 minutes and cost a few quid. Even if you had shut the only key into the car, a quick call to the garage would see a man in a van arrive with assorted trade secrets.
He’d prise open a door or weasel out a rear lamp and be in the car within a few minutes.
But, as you will have noticed, technology and security in cars is ever increasing. No longer are car keys simple bits of shaped metal that can be duplicated by a man in a flat cap in a shop that smells of old leather. No longer can a man in an orange coat access your car with a bit of bent wire and some precision wiggling.
Nowadays virtually all keys come with at least some kind of transponder in them to activate remote locking, the alarm or the immobiliser. Some of today’s keys wouldn’t have been recognisable ten years ago. They come in flip-out form, shaped like a credit card or a plastic cartridge-like device. Some you don’t even need to take out of your pocket.
Cars themselves are also much harder to break into, with laminated windows, deadbolts and other advanced technology designed to keep marauding ne’er-do-wells out of your vehicle.
David Dippie is a regional chairman of fleet managers’ association ACFO and managing director of Ashbrooke Fleet Management.
‘It’s such a changing world,’ he says. ‘The days of going to the cobblers and having a key cut in three minutes are long gone.
‘I think as manufacturers make it more and more difficult to steal vehicles, so the fleet manager’s’ burden increases. We have to keep ahead of the technology to give drivers the best advice.’
Dippie recounts a tale of a BMW driver in a fleet managed by Ashbrooke who lost a key while on holiday.
Dippie explained: ‘He had to go into the BMW dealership to request a new key.
Then the owner of the vehicle, a leasing company, had to fax a copy of the V5 to that dealer with an accompanying letter requesting the issue of a spare key. The dealer then had to order the key from the manufacturer and it took two or three days to arrive. Then the driver had to take the car into the dealership to have the key programmed.’
Of course, getting the car to the dealership is a problem in itself when you don’t have the key. Factor in another lump of cash to have the car towed from wherever it was left.
Simon Hurr is a vehicle security specialist for Ford. He says the cost of locking a key in one of Essex’s finest vehicles would be about £120, either for breaking and then repairing a window or for calling out a locksmith.
Losing a key would mean a new one being cut and programmed at a cost of £200 including labour. But this does not take into account the cost of getting the car to a dealer and gaining access to the car to disassemble the lock and find out the key number.
‘If all keys are lost, on successful supply of a mechanically matching key, the key will need to be programmed to the vehicle at an authorised repair centre using Ford proprietary diagnostic systems using a secure rolling-PIN code access,’ Hurr explains.
‘This is a necessary precaution to prevent unauthorised people programming a key to a vehicle in order to steal it.’
Fiat says its customers must also get the car to a dealership and take along proof of identity. The cost of the key alone is at least £44 and it takes at least a day to arrive. Once again, drivers and fleet managers will have to factor in transport, labour and vehicle downtime into the total cost.
Renault said it had three types of key, ranging in price from £50 to £120. A spokesman said that if the spare key is lost as well as the main one, new locks and new keys could be required. Even though this could be covered by insurance, the cost would be considerable.
Thankfully, the breakdown services still have a number of tricks for getting to keys locked in cars that don’t require the smashing of windows.
But it’s getting harder, according to an AA spokesman, who said: ‘Patrols can still gain access to virtually all cars on the market but there is the occasional one that catches us out.’
‘We can gain access to a lot of cars within two minutes but harder ones can take five to 10 minutes and very difficult ones up to 20 minutes. We could do it quicker but it would cause damage to the car.’
Fleets could take out insurance to include the services of Retainagroup, which logs vehicle data such as the key number and is recommended by companies including Ford.
This data is made available to rescue companies with the owner’s consent and would mean roadside rescue could arrive with a key already cut.
But the best way of minimising key trouble is to remind your drivers to keep track of them.
‘Fleet managers should stress to their drivers just what a headache it causes if they lose their keys,’ David Dippie says. ‘It would be worth having some kind of penalty scheme for drivers, because it can cost up to £1,000 if you have to replace the locks.’
‘These days, if people lose a key you can’t just request another one. You need forms, letters and proof of ID. It’s thanks to the security conscious world we live in.’