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Friday, April 23, 2010

Who Holds the Key?

Those who know us might consider husband and me, well, let's say, frugal. This may be why my regular mode of transportation for the last nine years has been a 1996 bare-bones Jeep. As for hubby, since he drives 120 miles a day, we buy him a new car every five years. When he drives it into the ground, we replace it with the same make and model, and he repeats the cycle.

So, to say that our cars are not luxury vehicles would be an understatement. We don’t have GPS’s, we don’t have built-in MP3 docks and here’s a novelty, we lock our cars and start them ourselves. But when we bought a three-year-old car from a dealer recently, we learned how dear the luxury of starting a car can be.

You see, the used car we bought came with only one key—the kind those of you who've been living in the 21st century probably know about—a key with a computer chip that has to be programmed by a dealer in order to start the car. Out of touch with such transportation, um, breakthroughs, we learned that these programmable keys come at a considerable cost. Gone are the days that you could walk down to the local hardware store and order a duplicate a key for $3.00. Multiply that times 100+, if you’d like the indulgence of driving your more recent model.

The day we negotiated the purchase of our new-to-us vehicle, my husband and I stood firm at our ceiling price. We had two working cars, after all. We didn't have to buy a new one. If the dealer couldn't meet our number, we were walking, and trust me, we were dead serious. Consequently, after the salesman sighed repeatedly and took several trips to “speak to his manager” he agreed to our price, before informing us of one exception. The car we wanted to purchase only had the one key. It would cost us to have a replacement programmed.

Before moving forward, I requested that the salesman call the sister new-car-dealer across the parking lot and confirm the key price, which he did, reporting to us that it would be less then he'd originally indicated. Still, frustrated at exceeding our financial cap, my husband and I took a walk around the parking lot, knowing we’d struck a good bargain, but feeling like the keys were being held hostage. In the end, we settled with the salesman to split the cost of the new key. He agreed to adjust the car price as long as we arranged the key purchase ourselves. We picked up our new transportation the next week.

The car had been ours for two days when I drove fifteen miles back to the sister-new-car-dealer to get my new key programmed. As I handed the one key to the service manager, he hemmed and hawed. “This key is grey. It's a valet key. It doesn’t hold a program so it can’t be duplicated. We’ll have to reprogram the car in order to program a key for you. It will take a couple of hours and cost you $X [triple what the salesman quoted us].”

Our daughter, who was with me at the time, told me later that she watched the color mount in my face. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to explain that after some stern and earnest wording on my part, the sister-dealer agreed to the initial cost quoted for the key. Thank goodness my daughter and I both had reading material. Late that morning we left, new key in hand.

Since the topic was current, on the ride home, my daughter and I decided that as a newly licensed driver, she should have her own key to the old jeep, which will be her transportation going forward. Smarting from the morning’s experience, we were relieved that obtaining one would mean doing it the old-fashioned way.

Arriving at the local fix-it shop, we asked to duplicate a key. Darn, if the owner didn’t look at us and hem and haw. “We don’t make many car keys anymore, since they all have to be programmed.” When we assured him that our 14-year-old key would be about as likely to know a computer chip as a potato chip, he searched a diminishing supply of blanks, determining he no longer carried the size necessary to fulfill our request. It took yet another ride to a larger hardware store where, after looking at us uneasily, a clerk scared up the right GM key blank.

Three trips and one massive headache later, we own extra keys to each car now, so we are good to go. But hear this. In the unlikely event that we ever sell one of these autos, I’m holding the keys for ransom.

Anyone care to share their auto purchase headaches?


glnroz said...

I hate those "after the fact" dealings with buying a car.. I could feel your temp rising..lol

Helen Ginger said...

Man, what a chaotic mess! I think I want you to go car shopping with me.

Straight From Hel

arlee bird said...

Don't you just love it! Technology, convenience, and luxury are all very nice, but it's just more stuff to go wrong so the dealers can stick it to us. I haven't bought a car for myself in many years, but my wife did a few years ago. The car's been pretty good, but she has battled with the dealership a few times. One of our recent issues was about our extra electronic key which they charged us for fixing, but later we found it really wasn't fixed. All after she told the dealership she was never coming back because of another issue. You'd think dealers would be going out of their way to please customers these days.

A to Z Challenge Reflections Mega Post

Jennifer Shirk said...


I'm shaking my head here. That is just crazy. I had no idea, but i guarantee you I'm taking care that I don't lose my car keys now!

It just goes to show you that as nice as technology is, it can be a complete pain, too.

Sharon said...

My little care is a 2001 model. You have made me reconsider even thinking about replacing it! Oh what a pain! What happens if somebody goes over your car with a giant magnet? Does everything get erased?

Great post, I could feel my color deepening right along with yours. Lordy!

Robin said...

There is nothing about purchasing a car that is fun. Nothing. I do remember reading a long time ago an email with a list of "stupid things people do," and it was for the year or week or some such thing. Anyway, on the list was a teenage girl having a panic attack in the parking lot, because the battery had died in the mechanism that locks and unlocks her car, and she couldn't get in. Finally someone took pity on her and showed her that the key would also unlock her door (as well as start her car). Ah, technology... it is a double edged sword.

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jbchicoine said...

To my husband and I, any car new enough to have cup holders is 'new', and I couldn't wait to finlly own one!

jbchicoine said...

To my husband and I, any car new enough to have cup holders is 'new', and I couldn't wait to finlly own one!