The Case of the Lost Car Key

I took my car in to Nissan for a tune up this weekend. When I went to pick up the car, they said the “key is in the cup holder.” But it wasn’t. Three guys running around, searching for key…it was GONE!

They were preparing to issue me a new key, when they remembered that there was an older woman who was there before me and drove a very similar car. She had gotten into my car by mistake and almost drove away with it before realizing she was in the WRONG CAR!! She then got out of my car with my key, got into her car, and drove away with the key. They called her and, luckily, she came back pretty quickly.

I started out kind of playing along nicely, when I thought maybe they had just misplaced the key. But, when I realized that they let someone actually drive away with it…I kind of lost it. They weren’t taking any responsibility. Just kept blaming the old lady. But, why are you leaving my car key in an unlocked car?? She could have actually taken my car! The tech who was helping me turned from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde once he realized that I was holding him responsible, and not the lady.

They gave me two coupons for free oil changes, but I still wrote an email to the service manager. I haven’t heard from him yet, and I guess I don’t really expect to. I’m just wondering if a) this has ever happened to anyone else b) I should do anything else and c) I should take my car somewhere else in the future?

Thanks for any insight.

If you’re gonna rail against mechanics leaving keys in running cars while the customer pays, be prepared to get angry just about everywhere you go.

Here’s the deal - the car’s in their custody until you actually get in it and drive away. This means if it gets stolen, either by old ladies or actual car thieves, the dealership is on the hook for it.

In other words, your car didn’t get stolen, it’s not damaged, and if it had been damaged the dealership would have been responsible for making you whole again. I would personally recommend calming down and not making a big deal out of it. Sometimes mistakes happen.

Let me guess you’ve never made a stupid mistake? I agree with shadowfax, chill and let it go, nothing bad actually happened and no one got hurt. If only all problems could be so small.

About five years ago it was ten below out and on the way to work the bearing in my water pump went out causing the sepentine belt to not stay on. Without power steering or coolant flowing, I managed to drive a mile to the nearest shop which was a Midas. When I came back to pick it up in the afternoon, I said where is the key? On the dash, in the car. OK, problem is the car is locked. Two dummies looking at each other-you locked the car? I should have a spare hidden under the front bumper but of course they parked it in a snow bank and besides the key holder had rusted off anyway. I just stayed inside the shop while dufus #1 and #2 worked on opening the door with a slim jim. Not my problem fellas. No extra charge for the lockout. Any port in the storm I guess but I always make sure I have another key with me now.

I agree with the OP that this practice is an EXTREMELY POOR practice. I know it’s not uncommon, but that doesn’t make it responsible. The key should be left at the service desk attached to the paperwork.

Frankly, I would not go back to a shop that left my keys in the cupholder.

I always carry a spare key, so I wouldn’t be stuck, but have you checked on the price of replacement keys lately?


Your car was unharmed, your keys were returned to you, the net loss to you was a few minutes’ worth of your time. Don’t you think your response to this incident was just the tiniest bit disproportionate?

Leaving the keys in the vehicle is SOP, I think, at non-ghetto-located car dealerships. I suppose they think (not without justification, IMO) that the plethora of video surveillance employed at such a store would deter all but the most desperate, bone-headed thieves! Almost like stealing from the casinos, with all the “eye in the sky” stuff.

Seriously: no harm, no foul. Chill out, and don’t sweat the small stuff! :smiley:

@Honeyb46–Things like this happen. All ended well and you got two free oil changes. If this had happened to my dad, he would have laughed it off. He rarely got upset about anything and he lived to be 97 years old.

In 45+ years of car ownership, I have never had any shop leave my keys in the unlocked car.
Any other prior customer that knows the shop does this could easily just walk into the shop’s lot, open a car door, get the keys from the cupholder, start the car, and drive away.
Does the dealer leave the keys to HIS cars I the cupholders? I doubt it.

THe mechanic that I worked for…before he moved to sunny AZ last month…used to leave the keys in every car and the people that brought their cars there were used to dropping off their cars and leaving the key in the ignition or cup holder, even if he was off getting parts. Then the people could come back after hours and retrieve their car…with the key in it.
Of course he was 3 miles outside of a little town and rarely is there any need to be worried. Heck even the local gang only carried rubber knives.

But, I guess that in even a small city…I’d rather that my keys are kept on a clipboard with the work order. At least that’s how I would run my business.

Could have been worse I guess.
There was a story about two years ago from Texas.
A couple of fellows were sitting in their car in a parking lot minding their own business, when an elderly woman approached their car. She reached into her purse and pulled out a large handgun, pointed it at the men and ordered them to get out.
The men fearing that they would be shot…jumped out and ran to the nearest police station for safety.
THe woman hopped into the car and at that point realized that it was not her car and hers was parked two rows over. No charges were filed against the elderly woman.


Thanks for all the responses. I’ll admit, I may have over-reacted a bit, but I still think it’s tempting fate to leave the keys in an unlocked car. So, I’ll let it go (and no, it’s not a Frozen reference) and take my free oil changes. However, on my next trip, I am going to ask that they not leave my keys in the car. If I have to be THAT person, they can just deal with it.

what is a frozen reference? I know frozen is a movie, maybe my daughter would get it…

yup, she got it…

Gee, when I have work done at my shop (which closes at 5), I just tell the guy to leave the key up in the sun visor, and lock it. I then use the magnetic hide-a-key to get in.

I get that you’re worried about theft, but for anyone who really wants your car, a set of keys are “nice to have,” not “need to have.” Anyhow, if anyone steals your used car (at a new car dealer? lots of “fatter” targets), the dealer’s “on the hook” to make you whole…a great big PITA, more than anything.

And as a whole, I really think GTA is way overblown. I’ve driven for 35 years, parking on city streets the entire time, and never, ever have I had anyone steal, or even try to steal, a car of mine. (Break into it and grab my stuff, yes…but not steal the car itself.) None of my close acquaintances have, either.

Four-wheeled vehicles are pretty safe, IMO. (Two-wheeled are entirely different…even a heavy bike is capable of being tossed in the bed of a pickup by two strong men.)

While I wouldn’t be loosing any sleep over it, I think the OP has a valid complaint, as the key wasn’t just misplaced, it accidentally made its hands of the wrong person. It sounds like it was an unusual coincidence though, wouldn’t likely happen again. To the OP at least.

In the better managed shops, what I’ve noticed is they have a key system. It’s usually just a piece of plywood in the main office area with hooks or nails in an array. When the customer arrives they write up the work order and on it note which position on the board the service writer put the key: “G-6” for example. All the customer keys are stored there. When the mechanic wants to work on the car, he’ll come in and get the key off the board, and when he’s done, he’ll return the key to the proper spot on that board.

So look for a key-storing board like that as you enter your shop’s office area, if you’re especially concerned about your key I guess. I’d be more concerned that the work was done correctly and fairly priced, but a shop with a key system might be better organized so you’d more likely get those benefits there too.

OK. I saw “Frozen” but I didn’t get it.

I think George is right. Not that its a big deal, Its just poor practice anymore. Plus don’t you want people to come in and pay the bill and then get the keys to their car along with the invoice? Just seems kind of silly to do it otherwise unless its an after-hours pick up or something.

Hi, all. Again…thanks for the thoughtful comments. While I know many of you are dismissing the likelihood of my used car actually getting stolen from a new car dealership (and I see your point), I guess I should mention that we HAVE actually had a car stolen. From our driveway. While we were home. Sleeping. And it wasn’t a nice, shiny new car, but an older pickup truck. They found it a week later in New Orleans (4 states away).

So, maybe my personal experience has made me a bit more gun shy than someone who has never actually had a car stolen. Maybe you’d feel differently if it happened to you?

My dad had a car stolen from his driveway many years ago.
let me ask you guys, how many of you have never known anybody who has had a car stolen?

Yes Mountainbike, around 25 years ago I and my brother drove his 1967 VW Bug straight from Utah to my parents’ place in California. The next morning the car was gone (found 2 weeks later, still intact but a little worse for wear). At least we had unpacked our stuff that night. I had suggested we unpack it the next morning (as I was tired) but my brother said “No, let’s do it now.” Since that time I continue to unpack a car after I arrive at the destination. That, and my Schwinn Varsity 10 speed getting stolen right out of the garage when I was 10 (in Ohio), have made me careful about trying to keep things locked and secure.

It bothers me when I pick up my car and find it unlocked, but I figure there is no use complaining.

@Honeyb46‌, you had good reason to be upset, and I agree that you should tell the service manager about it. If you go back, you could request that the key be left at the cashier’s desk. That seems like SOP in my neighborhood, and I do not live in a low income area. If they balk at leaving the key with the cashier, tell them the story and repeat the demand. If the service advisor refuses, talk to the service manager or walk out. You don’t owe them anything until they start work.

never known any one who had a car stolen.

I had many bikes stolen however. the worst was when I was 12 and got a brand new Ross-Apollo 5 speed for Christmas. 2 days later we were going to grandmas and I was struggling to lock it up under our apartments stair well because the lock was icy, and my mom made me leave it because she was cold and in a hurry. I worried all day and when we got home it was gone…

the best was a tenspeed I built myself from parts, when I was 17, it was the fastest around. when I was 21 it got stolen a couple of times and I called the police. they said they would check something and get back to me. I thought , yeah right. then about a half an hour the officer pulled up with it in his trunk. apparently there was a fellow in town who did not like to walk to an area bar and habitually stole bikes and left them in a patch of woods near the bar.

believe it or not, I saw that bike just last year at the scrap yard in a pile of scrap that had just been dropped off .
it had certain customizations that left no doubt it was the same bike. if it had not been so far gone, I would have re claimed it even if I had to call the police again