Million-to-one mix-up

Occasionally I find myself trying to get into the wrong car in parking lots, because I don't bother to look that closely at the car. If it's the same color and shape as mine, and parked in the same general location, I assume it's mine. But that's not always true. I realize my mistake when the key doesn't fit.

Back in 1985, a case like this occurred. A couple tried to get into a car in a shopping mall parking lot that was the same make, model, and color as their own. But it turned out that the cars had identical keys as well. So they got into the car and drove away. They only realized the mix-up when they noticed that the stuff inside the car wasn't theirs. When they drove back to recover their own car, they found out that the owner of the other car also had the same last name as them. And finally, this all happened on April Fool's Day, but I'm trusting that it happened as reported, since the news report appeared after April 1st. [Bangor Daily News - Apr 3, 1985]

     Posted By: Alex - Wed Jun 12, 2013
     Category: 1980s | Goofs and Screw-ups | Cars

As the number of cars using keys with RFID interlock increases, The odds of this happening decrease. :coolsmile:
Posted by Tyrusguy on 06/12/13 at 10:38 AM
I think I remember there being two teachers at my high school with cars with the same key. Sometimes the kid of one of the teachers would be waiting in the other's car.
Posted by jswolf19 in Japan on 06/12/13 at 10:46 AM
The number of combinations for keys depends on the number of cylinders / pins in the lockset. My high school buddy (this was during the '70's) used to tell me that there were a very limited number of keys available for GM cars and that he could go into the school lot and probably find a car where his key would work. I used to think that he was pulling my leg on that one.

Then again, manufacturers always try to get away with the least amount of money for materials / labor, so it did make some sense that the offering of replacements would be limited. I find out later that he was right - those older cars didn't have the linked electronics in the keys as do modern cars. The single key would be enough to enable unscrupulous kids to go joyriding. Or confused shoppers to take off in the wrong car.
Posted by KDP on 06/12/13 at 12:33 PM
There is a certain truck model (and year range) that was made with less than a dozen different keys. (You can search which one). My department has caught auto thieves with a ring containing all the variations. One guy said he bought the set online for $50.
Posted by BrokeDad in Midwest US on 06/12/13 at 02:02 PM
The lock on my 64 chev was so worn that any thing handy could start it. However, nobody would have wanted to steal it. 😝
Posted by BMN on 06/12/13 at 03:43 PM
To be totally pedantic --
The AMC spokesman was rounding up, a lot. The best keys of the time had 6 tumblers and 5 levels for each tumbler. That's 5x5x5x5x5x5 total possibilities (which is 15,625).

*But* a lot of those combinations can't be used. If the key was 111111, 222222, etc. you could open the lock with a penknife. If the difference between adjoining tumblers is too great, like 515151, the key will be weak. Etc. for about five other factors.

In general, a 6 tumbler, 5 level lock has about 6,000 useful combinations (far less than what the spox claims).

And the locks have to be forgiving because keys wear, so as long as you're 5 out of 6, a little jiggling will open it (a 425346 lock will open with a 325346 key, or a 415346, 424346, 425246, etc.)

So even the best locks of the time were a 1000-to-1 shot.

The odds of a match were even better with the 5 tumbler, 4 level locks.
Posted by Phideaux on 06/12/13 at 03:59 PM
This happened to my family when I was little. We were leaving a family wedding reception as things were winding down and got into the car. My dad started the engine when I noticed something in the backseat that wasn't ours. He pulled back into the parking spot and as we were getting out of the car, one of my cousins saw us and knew whose car it was. He went in to get the other guy. His keys fit and started our car, too, which was parked a few spots farther down the row. I can't remember what kind of car it was, though.
Posted by ScoutC on 06/12/13 at 05:14 PM
To be pendantic. ( A bit )
The grooves and flats help some. ??? 2x2x2x2x2=64 ???
Posted by BMN on 06/12/13 at 08:36 PM
97% of all statistics are made up on the spot!
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 06/12/13 at 11:39 PM
Lies, damn lies and statistics? Right?

Whom am I quoting?
Posted by BMN on 06/13/13 at 12:28 AM
Me? 🙄
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 06/13/13 at 12:30 AM
I checked on Wikpedia. It says the original phase was three levels.

- Liars
- Damned liars

I read it wrong; that was experts. :lol:
Posted by BMN on 06/13/13 at 01:59 AM
Similar thing happened to me with another identical car. But the spokesman was incorrect. It's more like 1 in 150 that the keys matched for that model. He probably said that so the general public wouldn't know how few of combinations of keys there were.
Posted by Thomas on 06/13/13 at 10:47 PM
As a child my family owned a Ford Pinto (I know, shameful) and a Ford Escort of different year models. The ignitions were keyed the same but the trunks were keyed differently. I don't know about the door locks as we never locked our car doors.
Posted by Blissfully Lost on 06/14/13 at 04:51 PM
I am sure this happens far more that we realize, but as Ty said the electronics involved now decrease the probability of this happening.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 06/16/13 at 02:13 AM
This happened to my father once. We were out visiting someone, and another guest couldn't find his car keys for some reason. So my dad said: "here, try mine", and they worked. He never expected that - he was just joking. The weird thing was, it wasn't even the same make of car. Ours must've been a Volvo at that time, and the other guys' car was an Opel or something. So it's not just one brand having lots of similar keys, it happens cross-brand, too. Perhaps they buy their keys from the same factory, who knows.

Mind you, this was 25 years ago or so. I wouldn't vouch for it still working with modern cars.
Posted by Richard Bos on 06/18/13 at 12:33 PM
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