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Rental Car Key Alert

Dear Savvy Traveler,

I recently spent three weeks in Ireland and rented a car for the entire time. Boy, did I get an education! First, many rental agencies have quirky preferences about which credit cards they'll accept, so make sure you ask before leaving home. Second, there may be a duration limitation on the collision damage insurance your credit card provides. For example, it might only cover trips of 15 days or less. Again, check with the card issuer before leaving. And third, beware of key computer chips. Here's what I mean . . .

I was having a great time in a tiny town called Drumshanbo, where I was attending a week of traditional Irish music events. One afternoon, as I was about to leave town in my rented 1999 Opel Corsa, I had major engine troubles. The car would start up, but then the engine would immediately die. I had plenty of gas and the battery was fine.

Turns out the key had come apart in my pocket. It was one of those keys with a black plastic doohickey covering the top part of the key. There's a tiny computer component in there that tells the car's computer that this key belongs to this car. Apparently, the chip had fallen out. I had just clicked the two parts back together and thought nothing of it. Needless to say, I had to have the car towed to a garage.

The mechanic had to put the car on a diagnostic computer before we realized the key was causing the problem. Then he had to call the car company several times to get the code that would allow him to replace the chip and reprogram the computer. I thought the rental company should pay for some of this. After all, I hadn't done anything extraordinary to the key; it came apart sitting in my pocket. Their view, however, is that I broke the key, so I'm responsible. I'm going to fight them on it, but I wanted to alert people to this security feature. Be careful with your car keys!

-- Naka



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