Is it safe to store a car key in a lock box?
January 7, 2019 6:16 PM   Subscribe

I am renting a parking space in my driveway. I want access to the car key, in case the alarm goes off or I need to move the car in an emergency. Is it generally a safe practice to store a car key in a lock box? Is there a better solution?

Assume the car owner is fine giving me access to the car but does not have an extra key. Getting a spare key is too expensive. The car is a Lexus. I live in a small upscale city with a low crime rate. I sometimes leave my own car unlocked when it is parked in the driveway.

I know that people use lock boxes for houses and rental units all the time, and they don't seem to worry about the fact that the lock box is completely visible to everyone passing by. But I don't hear about them being used much for cars (and Duck Duck Go doesn't hear much about it, either). I understand that it's possible to drive off with a car but not a house! Still, I'm curious whether it is common practice to use lock boxes to provide shared access to a car key, or whether this is considered stupid, or something in between.

I'm open to other suggestions for managing this shared access as well.
posted by Winnie the Proust to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can always hide the lockbox somewhere.

I think it will work up until the first time you or the car's owner accidentally puts the key in your pocket and leaves the house with the Lexus blocking the driveway or with the alarm going off.

Every car ever bought comes with two keys. Tell the owner if they want to rent your driveway, they need to come up with a spare key. I mean, I don't want to make assumptions but usually people who can afford a Lexus can afford to buy a spare key. And, yes, I know buying an extra key for a Lexus is probably harder and much more expensive than going down to your local hardware store, but they should have an extra key for their car. That's just a good practice anyhow.
posted by bondcliff at 6:31 PM on January 7, 2019

The car is owned by a married couple. They both drive the car. They have two keys. The cost of a third key will more than double the cost of the one-month rental they are considering. Okay, I will stop thread sitting now.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:36 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

My friends have a little lockbox that is screwed into the frame of their porch and not really visible
from the street (opens with a combo). That seems like an entirely reasonable solution to me.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:40 PM on January 7, 2019

Lockbox is fine, especially if lockbox is somewhat hidden. Hiding the key itself in a really out of the way place, without a lockbox, could also be fine.

But it's also possible to get a cheaper version of a key made at an auto locksmith. They might charge, say, $40-$50 for a simple chip key that looks like this, as opposed to $100-$200 for a remote fob that looks like this. Call a few places and see what they say.
posted by danceswithlight at 6:52 PM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

While a lockbox (even a keyed one) is a perfectly good solution, what you may be looking for as a cheap key alternative is a Valet Key like this one:

That would be a great solution to any concerns about the lockbox. You don't need a fully functioning fancy key, just a means to move the car.
posted by Brockles at 6:59 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Get a large enough LB and you could hide a lock box inside. Or if you look around your home there may be lots of non-obvious places (or at least less visible than beside the door) you could fix the lockbox but still have it accessible at a moments notice. Like back side of a fence post on the hinge side of a gate or overhead on an open rafter.

Does the lexus have a receiver hitch? People make a combo safe to fit that space.

Also even if a potential thief sees the lock box they are going to assume the key inside is for the house not the car and no one spends a bunch of time defeating a lock box when they could just toss a brick through a window or kick a door in.

Or you could change your door lock (maybe for the man door to the garage if you have one) out to one with a key pad, hang the key next to the door inside, and set your renters up with a visitor code. This is a worthwhile upgrade all by itself IMO.
posted by Mitheral at 8:42 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think a lock box is perfectly reasonable.

Having said that, I recently had two keys made for a Ford. The dealer wanted like $75 each. I purchased the keys and fobs online from Amazon. I then had a friend who is a locksmith tell me he would bring his laptop over to program them. I took that knowledge with me to the dealer and offered them $30 cash to program them both. Accepted.

See if they can get a valet key.
posted by AugustWest at 8:52 PM on January 7, 2019

Most lock boxes are not hard for someone that studies lock picking to get into (search YouTube and you'll find many examples). The odds of someone with that level of knowledge noticing that you're using it for key escrow and deciding to steal the car are pretty slim but they are not non-existent. Realtors get away with it because there is generally not that much value to a house being shown, at least not that also can't be accomplished though just breaking in (most people with the knowledge to get into the box can also just pick the door lock).

At the very least, I would investigate what both your home insurance and their car insurance have to say about the issue. I suspect neither will be willing to put anything in writing because it's such an edge case, but if the idea of being personally sued for a Lexus is enough to make you nervous, factor that in. There may also turn out to be local ordinances regulating parking that would affect liability so make sure you're personally protected. You might want to make sure you have a surveillance camera recording the parking location.

If it's a low crime area and getting another key made isn't going to work, the easiest solution is to just not enable the alarm at your house and accept that you can't move it. Unless it's so new that there's no physical lock, they could make you a door key that would be enough to get into the cabin and pop the hood to disconnect the battery if the alarm goes off if they forget to disable it.
posted by Candleman at 11:40 PM on January 7, 2019

Candleman, I know from unfortunate experience that some alarms have their very own batteries and that disconnecting the battery can 1) not stop the alarm and 2) disable the car until the alarm is reset.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think what you want is a valet key. THese allow you access and move the car with having access to glove box and trunk. One should have come with the car. I would think one would be cheaper then buying a full function key. You could make a condition for renting the space.
posted by tman99 at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for this input. This gives me enough to talk to the car owner about some options. I hadn't thought about a valet key. That sounds ideal, with the lockbox being a reasonable fallback.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:08 AM on January 8, 2019

I priced out getting a Toyota (parent company of lexus) replacement key with the built in lock/unlock/alarm radio buttons. The price was well into $450 for the key ($175) and labor for programming at 2-3 hours plus having to take it to the dealer.

I found in an independent locksmith that came out and did non-radio keys for $40 each and radio button keys for 150 including programming. Ask local repair shops and used car dealers if they can recommend a mobile locksmith.

Modern car keys have three components - the metal key itself, that needs to be mechanically cut (like all standard keys), a RFID security chip that is read by a short-distance radio sensor in the steering column, and a longer-range radio control with buttons for remote locking, unlocking, alarm, etc. You can get a key cut for $5 that will mechanically open the locks, but it will not start the car and may not silence the alarm. $40-$60 will get a chip key plus programming from the locksmith or hardware store person to match your car's short-distance radio. The full remote with buttons is probably $125-200 depending on how fancy and factory part or not.
posted by sol at 8:53 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I will also mention that every single time we have used the valet key to my 2008 Honda Fit EVERY SINGLE TIME the alarm goes off and can only be turned off with the FOB.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:55 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

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