Car Rental Nightmare

Posted by mitch on May 24, 2010

On May 21st at around 7:45 am, I locked the keys to my rented Hyundai Sonata 2011 in the trunk of the car. I have never done this before, but I was in a hurry, stressed about some things I needed to take care of that day, and somehow dropped the keys into the trunk before slamming the lid. I am always paranoid about locking my keys on the other side of a barrier from me, and I did indeed check for keys before I closed the lid—unfortunately, I did not check the keys closely enough that they were the right keys.

So I called Enterprise. I am a very loyal Enterprise customer—I almost always rent from Enterprise—mostly due to their stellar customer service. I drive rental cars about 20-25 weeks per year. Even when I get average service at certain Enterprise locations, it’s generally much better than what I get at other rental companies.

Enterprise informed me that AAA would cost me $65 since it was my fault. No problem.

AAA showed up in about 50 minutes and did a quick demo of how easy it is to break into a car. I was relieved that I would be able to get on my way, finally. It was now a little before 9 am. With the car alarm blaring, AAA opened the driver’s side of the vehicle and pressed the trunk release button.

Nothing happened.

It turns out the Sonata is a very smart car. When the alarm is activated, the release button in the passenger compartment for the trunk is disabled.

So if you lock your keys in the trunk, you had better have a second set of keys or a locksmith.

I called a locksmith. “We do not have a way to pick the electronic locks on the Sonata.”

I called Enterprise back and went through several rounds with several people for the next TWO HOURS. Yes, the keys are in the trunk. No, the trunk release doesn’t work. It’s electronic. No, I can’t lower the backseats—the release for the seats is in the trunk.

At this point, Enterprise gave me two options:

  1. They could tow the car somewhere. The customer rep was dubious I would ever get the stuff in the trunk back. I had some expensive clothes in the trunk and wasn’t a fan of this option.
  2. Enterprise would overnight the 2nd set of keys from their key storage in another state to the airport location and I could pick it up on Saturday, the 22nd. This sounded better, though I wouldn’t be able to pick up the keys until the 23rd due to my schedule.

In the meantime, a co-worker gave me a ride to another Enterprise location where I rented another car. Initially, the agent told me he had a Hyundai Accent to rent me and I said OK. Then after going through the papers, he said we’d have wait while someone drove the car over. It turned out the only car he had was a Jeep. He then wanted to double the rate on the Jeep over the Accent.

At this point, I had been doing nothing for the last 4 hours other than deal with Enterprise and was starting to lose my patience.

I rented the Jeep at a reduced price.

Because most of my clothes were in the trunk, I had to go buy new clothes and shoes.

On Sunday, I drove to the airport location, 90 mile roundtrip, to pick up the keys. The agent told me he didn’t have them, but he had seen an email about it.

I wasn’t too surprised—FedEx doesn’t deliver to all commercial locations on Saturdays. I asked him to call me on Monday when the keys came in.

On Monday morning—72 hours after this all started—I called Enterprise to ask what was going on and ended up leaving voicemail for the woman who had called on Friday (Crystal), since no one at the location was answering the phone.

Around 3pm, I got a voicemail informing me that the keys had come in. I did another 90 mile roundtrip to pick up the keys.

They were the right keys! I could open the doors without the alarm sounding! I could get my stuff out of the trunk!

I called my co-worker to see if he could pick me up at the local Enterprise location so I could get rid of the Jeep. As I was driving away from the Sonata, I realized that I never tried starting the Sonata. I did a U-turn.

The ignition is locked, apparently as an extra layer of security. I have all the keys for the car in my possession and none of them will start the car. I do not have the owner’s manual.

A few observations:

  1. Hyundai has significantly over-engineered the security of the trunk. If I am a thief, I don’t care about the cosmetic condition of the car and will use a crowbar or explosives to open the trunk if I am hell-bent on it.
  2. If I have the legitimate keys, the ignition should work—I understand it has been disabled by the alarm, but if I had the legitimate keys for starting the car, I would have also used them to unlock the car.
  3. Enterprise reps know too little about the cars to support them. There was no reason to send out AAA. Sending the keys to get my stuff was good, but not effective for driving the car itself. It’s been 4 days now and I can’t drive the car.
  4. Yes, it is my fault for locking the keys in the trunk, but that should be no more than a 2 hour aggravation. I’ve exceeded that threshold by 50x at this point.
  5. The Enterprise folks have tried very hard to make this right, but they have not been effective as of yet. I really like Enterprise, and want to get this resolved, but at this point it is physically dreading to consider that I have to spend more time on this. I rent cars as a tool to enable me to do my job. I have a lot of hours and wasted money on this car at this point.
  6. This trip was going to involved a lot of driving, which I knew up front, so I spent a little extra to get the Sonata–comfortable, excellent XM and Bluetooth capabilities, good gas mileage—I have none of those features in the vehicle I am currently in, and yet I am paying for two cars.
  7. The absurdity of this story is somewhat magnified by the car rental situation, but I can see the scenario reproduced by a traveler far from home (where the 2nd set of keys would be kept) with the same result, as far as the car itself goes. This is a fundamental problem with this car.
  8. With all the RFID and keyless entry stuff, why can’t the car detect the keys are in the trunk and take appropriate action?
  9. With all the other software in this car, why not reset the ignition lock after 24 hours of peace from the alarm? Why go into a locked state forever?
  10. Until all of this happened, I was going to replace my Accord with a Genesis or Sonata. Now I think I need to look at other options.

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