Last week, on the day before Thanksgiving, I locked my keys in my car.

sleepy tired fatigued man driving car in traffic

The last time I did that was in the year of 1993, so thirty years ago. My how things have changed. Last week,

I’m not the kind of person who thinks everything has gone to hell in a hand-basket since olden days. In fact, I think most things have improved and continue to do so.  That is NOT the case with hiring a locksmith. Let me explain.


Here’s the experience back in the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency. You lock your keys in your car. As I recall, they were actually IN the ignition and the car was running.

First, you walk to the nearest pay phone included for you folks under 30). You used the payphone to call information, get the name of a locksmith nearby, and then call the locksmith.

Remember when I said I think most things have improved?

This is definitely one of them. All you have to do now is Google or MapQuest “Locksmiths near me”. That absolutely beats hoofing to a pay phone and pumping quarters to call 411.

Back in 1993: you’d call the locksmith and within 20 or 30 minutes, he’d arrive in his work truck or van, pop your door open, and charge you $50.

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Car thief, car theft

You do a search for “locksmiths near me”.  Let’s say you settle on “Bob’s Locksmith”. You call, but your call doesn’t go to Bob’s.

It goes to a call center halfway around the world. The worker at the call center takes your info, including your payment info which came out to $156.92.

About thirty minutes later, you get a call from someone actually AT “Bob’s Locksmith”. Who knows? It could even be Bob. Here’s how that conversation went:

“I’m calling from Bob’s Locksmith. Do you need a locksmith?”

“I sure do!”

“Alright. That’ll we come to $92.00”

“The person I talked to said it would be $156.92”

“They did?”


“OK, that’s correct. We’ll find someone available and see if we can have them out in the next hour”.

“Great! Now, about that quote of $92…”


About an hour later, the locksmith arrives but it isn’t Bob or one of his employees. It’s a guy who’s an independent contractor. He takes about 10 minutes to get the door open. When I tell him about the $156.92 quote and the $92 quote he responds, “I’ll give you my phone number. If you call me directly, I’ll only charge you $50.”

This means the price of getting a locksmith to get in your car…HAS NOT REALLY CHANGED IN THREE DECADES!

What has changed?

drivers license

As far as I can tell, local locksmiths (and, in fairness, probably most kinds of public-facing businesses) farm out customer calls to call centers. It saves them money and time. The call center THEN notifies the local company. Which then contacts one of the many independent contractors out in the field to send them out to do the work.

The local company saves on their costs but at a huge upcharge to the customer, not to mention the inconvenience of going through multiple phone calls (call center, local business, independent contractor).

It turns out the contractor, the guy doing the actual work, probably isn’t making much more than the job would have paid 30 years ago.

By the end, the work costs three times as much and it’s a three-step process instead of one. The local business makes money, the call center takes their cut, but the customer and the actual laborer are actually WORSE off.

Fortunately, the contractor left his number for me. At the rate I’m going, it’ll come in really handy the next time I need a locksmith in 2053.

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