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We’re all familiar with that sinking feeling of forgetting something important. Most of us experience this when we’re about to set off on a road trip or when we’re en route to the airport. That stomach sinking feeling of a forgotten item is the reason we carefully curate trip checklists, set reminders in our phones and attach keychain tracking devices to our valuables.

There’s only one thing worse than forgetting something you intended to bring on a trip, and that’s arriving home realizing that you’ve left behind something important. If you started your road trip without an item, it’s just going to be at home waiting for you, but if you left something behind on the return trip, chances are you may never get it back. As it turns out, this happens more often that we realize, especially when renting a car. Many of us rent cars for business trips, family road trips or just as a method of transportation when flying into a city. You hit the road, make it to your destination, drive back and turn in the car. If you’re returning your rental car to an airport location, chances are you’re in a rush to make your flight. Tired and ready to make it home, you accidentally leave something behind in the vehicle.

Curious as to what drivers commonly leave behind in their rental cars, we scoured lost and found databases and surveyed drivers on their most frequently left behind valuables. Of course, there are standard items like phones, credit cards and keys, but drivers aren’t just leaving the usuals behind — they’re forgetting everything from musical instruments and strobe lights to wedding rings and pets.

The findings painted such a peculiar story about American drivers that we took this study one step further. We asked drivers what daily necessities they’d give up to get back their items of sentimental value that were left behind. Turns out even 4% of drivers said they’d give up their significant other!

man driving away in a blue car

When it comes to reuniting a lost item with its owner, car rental companies make it pretty accessible for drivers to find their valuables in an online database. There’s a wealth of interesting items that make up the lost and founds of car rental companies — just beware they only hold on to those for 60 days.

Most Common Items Left Behind in Rental Cars

As previously mentioned, drivers leave behind some pretty valuable items in rental cars, most commonly cell phones. Considering the average person spends over four hours a day on their mobile device, it’s shocking that cell phones accounted for 32 percent of left behind items in rental cars. Even more shocking was the runner-up item: paperwork containing personal information was reported as the second most left behind item at 25 percent, followed by keys at 21 percent. These findings make you wonder: are we getting more forgetful or just careless?

wallets and personal information left in rental cars

A 2018 online survey by The Harris Poll found that nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft and these numbers aren’t projected to decline any time soon. It’s alarming that paperwork containing personal information was the second most left behind item on the list.

Of course, there are a variety of factors that contribute to identity theft. Cybersecurity company, Lifelock, lists dumpster diving and mail theft right up there with data breaches, unsecured internet connections and phishing. So with all the buzz and awareness around protecting your personal information, you may want to double check you haven’t left behind important paperwork when you turn in your rental car.

common items left in rental cars

Most Unusual Items Left Behind

Earlier we mentioned some of the unusual items left behind by drivers: a strobe light, musical instruments and wedding rings, just to name a few. Much to our entertainment (and yours), we scoured the lost and found databases of several companies including Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, Payless and Sixt in search of the most bizarre left behind items — the findings will leave you puzzled.

This list was compiled using lost and found data from rental car companies at the two busiest of busiest airports in the U.S.

list of unusual items left in rental cars

Peculiar? We think so! It’s hard not to concoct all sorts of scenarios based on this list. What’s a driver doing with a tree trimmer, car license plates or a bag of disposable phones? And how could someone forget their pet mouse? Of the two busiest airports in the United States, Atlanta definitely takes the cake for the most interesting left behind items, while drivers renting cars in Los Angeles seem to misplace items of high monetary value.

We can only imagine the panic of leaving behind a wedding ring, your gaming console or bag of expensive camera lenses, especially since many of these items hold monetary and sentimental value.

What Would You Give Up to Recover a Lost Item?

You wouldn’t expect half of these items to make it to the lost and found section of a rental car company, especially with the sentimental value people place on their personal belongings. So we asked respondents what they would give up to recover a lost item of sentimental value — a wedding ring, family heirloom, pet, etc. — and it turns out people would go to some pretty extreme measures.

donut chart of things people would give up to recover a sentimental item

Okay, so you’d give up some daily necessities to get back an item you love — let’s translate this. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends roughly $3,000 a year dining out. That also includes single individuals spending only on themselves. If you gave up dining out for one year to recover a lost sentimental item, they’d save approximately $3,000.

respondents give up dining out

Another 16 percent of respondents said they’d give up a whole year of drinking coffee to get back an item of sentimental value they left behind, which translates to a lot of money kept in your pocket. Acorns, an investing app, reports that the average American spends about $1,100 per year on coffee, which breaks down to roughly $92 a month. A steep price to pay for your morning pick-me-up.

respondents give up coffee

Based on our survey and the database of left behind items, drivers are losing a whole lot more than just money. There’s a wealth of sentimental and just downright peculiar items in a car rental company’s lost and found.

Develop a Routine Before Returning Your Rental

It’s better to conduct a search for your personal items before returning a rental car than to risk not recovering the item later. Whether you’re renting a car for a business trip or a family road trip, we recommend that you implement a routine to check for all your belongings. Clear the car and confirm you have all your belongings when you refuel your rental car for return. The gas station is the last stop for most people prior to returning the car, especially since no one wants to spend upwards of $9.99 per gallon for failing to refuel the vehicle.

Gas stations are usually well-lit, which is helpful for clearing out belongings under the seat or in crevices of the car. Clear the vehicle of personal items in advance so you’re ready to go as soon as you receive the receipt of return.

What Happens to Lost and Found Items

Realize you’ve left an item behind? Contact the rental car company immediately! A car can be back on the line and rented to another customer within an hour, especially at high-volume locations.

If some time has passed before you realize you’ve lost an item, check out the online lost and found page for the company you rented from. Most major rental car companies list resources to contact for their lost and found while many corporations now use consolidated systems for their “Lost and Found” processes, making it easier to track down your lost item. Most rental companies hold on to lost items for 60 days — regardless, the highest probability of recovering your item is before the car is rented again.

Maybe you haven’t left behind a professional painting set or a gun holster in a rental car, but you can relate to that moment of panic when you first realize you’ve misplaced an important, or even sentimental, personal item. So next time you’re setting off on a road trip, these tips should help you keep better track of your items prior to the rental car return — or at least help you recover a left behind item.

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Sources:
Alamo | Dollar | Enterprise | Hertz | National | Payless | Sixt | Thrifty | World Atlas | Money Under 30 | Lifelock

Methodology:
In this study, we surveyed over 2,000 Americans to find out which items they have left behind in a rental car and what they would do to retrieve a left behind item if it had sentimental value. This data also takes into account the current lost and found databases of the following car rental companies: Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, Payless and Sixt at both Los Angeles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Rental items are kept in these databases for 60 days, so this information is subject to change after the date of publication.