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Hooniverse Asks- Keyless Cars, Brah! Or Blah?

Robert Emslie January 24, 2013 Hooniverse Asks

Car_keys

It was well into the ’90s that GM cars used to come with two keys – one for starting, and one for locking the bad boy up. Long before that both Ford and Chrysler had switched over to what my friends and I used to uncharitably call drunk keys because of their ability to work no matter which way they were inserted.  These days, the car key – after undergoing an evolutionary spurt of sorts resulting in switchblade (VW) snail trail (Porsche and others), and futuristic skeleton (Ford, Jag and others) form – is now facing possible extinction.

One of Porsche’s key features – no pun intended – was a left-hand key start, while Saab in the seventies started positioning the switch down between the seats. These days, even cheap wheels are coming sans keys but with instead an RF fob that acts like speakeasy password allowing access not only to the car but to the button that gets the party started. This results in you no longer fumbling in your pocket to fish the key and fob out – meaning that should you be doing so, it’s for your own pleasure exclusively. The present Ford Escape takes this one step further, allowing its owner, when bringing the paired fob within proximity, to open the rear liftgate with but a wave of the loafer under the car’s bumper. Pretty sweet, right?

Well, let’s go back to Saab. It seems that now, with the company pushing up daisies, it’s getting next to impossible to find anyone who can program a new set of electronic access fobs, meaning should you lose, or lose the functionality through wear and tear of the existing ones, the car won’t start – ever again. Now let’s extrapolate that across the modern era’s plethora of cars that start with a push of the button – as long as the approving fob happens to be along for the ride. How long before their manufacturers change codes or connection formats and suddenly you’re stuck with a car that can’t be started? Okay, maybe that’s a worse case scenario, but there are other aspects of keyless cars – rapid engine kill, etc – that make their advent of questionable attraction. What do you think about keyless cars, are they Brah! or Blah?

Image source: [Wikipedia]

Currently there are "77 comments" on this Article:

  1. DemonXanth says:

    I say blah. They replaced a simple, reliable (reletively) setup with a bunch of complex electronics. Got a Corvette with a dead battery? Only way in is through the trunk.

    • JayP2112 says:

      NSFW for language and the bird:
      [youtube lWoXJIe0prU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWoXJIe0prU youtube]

      • vwminispeedster says:

        Something sorta similar happened to a customer at a local Cadillac dealer with his XLR. He managed to drive into the service area but the doors wouldnt unlock and the windows wouldnt roll down. First the service folks thought the person was being an ass and couldn't be bothered to get out of the car. But then when they came over to the vehicle they figured out he was trapped inside. Not sure if they thought to try to lower the top. :)

  2. Vavon says:

    Between sticking your key in the keyhole or keeping your key in your pocket…
    I've always found that the first option gives a more satisfying feeling.

  3. muthalovin says:

    What is crazy to me is motorbikes with keyless starts. My dad has a friend with a Diavel, and the range is surprisingly wide. His friend was inside his barber shop, and my dad hoped on the bike and started it.

    So, blah, for sure. Someone could snatch your $20k motorbike if you are close enough to it!

    • danleym says:

      Top Gear pulled something like this, too, with a Challenger. It's tv, of course, so I'm sure some of it was staged, but the car cut off when Clarkson got out of range of the fob. I don't know if that's how they all work, but if it is, at least they couldn't get too far if they do snatch it.

      Edit: Dammit, I should really read the next comment before deciding to post.

  4. SSurfer321 says:

    I say blah. I don't want to be in a diner and have somebody park my car in the street.
    http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/team-america-2-p

  5. BobWellington says:

    I like the way it's done by Mazda (at least in the CX-7). Instead of a push button start it has a knob that you turn just like a regular key. Of course I'm fine with a regular setup, but if I had to go keyless then I'd hope for it to be like Mazda's design.

  6. smalleyxb122 says:

    Unless it’s a real race car, I don’t want pushbutton start. I don’t care if the key looks like a key (it can be an RFID fob that I insert into the column, but I want to turn it to start the engine. I want to start (or stop) the engine in a manner to which I have become accustomed.

    Keyless entry is nice, but I want to have to push the fob button. I don’t want the car automatically unlocking when I get close. I would still like the option of a key to unlock the door (in case of a dead battery), and as long as I have a key (that looks/works like a key) we might as well use it for the ignition, too. (kind of going against my willingness to accept an RFID fob for the ignition, huh?)

  7. Maymar says:

    Nothing gives me anxiety like not knowing if, by virtue of standing next to it, I've accidentally unlocked a car I'm trying to leave.

    It's got merits though – if I ever have to move a bunch of cars (function of my job), it's nice not to have to fumble through a dozen keys to find the right one.

  8. Mike says:

    I kind of like the setup on my VW CC. No "key", but you have to stick the entire fob into the dash and push it to start. And if you've managed to drain your battery there's a hidden key to unlock the door tucked away inside.

    • Battles says:

      Ah yes, the "hidden" key…
      Huge problem in Aberdeen, north Scotland, just now. The kids have discovered online owners' manuals reveal the locations of the hidden key and have been taking cars from driveways.

  9. P161911 says:

    I quit carrying the keyless entry key fob for my wife's car a couple of years ago. Again, this seems to be a case of "Just because you can doesn't mean you should."

    So NO!

  10. Manic_King says:

    Brah! Having used keyless car for nearly 2 years now I say it's just so convenient esp. during the cold winter but also other times of the year. No need to fish the keys from the pocket. Push button start is ok, too.
    I don't know about other cars, but with VW it is possible to choose how you want your keyless entry, I chose the way that I have to touch the handle (i.e. grab it) to unlock and "push" mini touch sensitive button on outside door handle to lock it, when leaving. Works with bare hands or with mittens. Great. There is also menu where you can choose the lock/unlock distance if you want fully automatic action. So people who's car can be started while sitting in cafe are doing it wrong. Of course car really can't be stolen even then as it will die when leaving certain radius from the key which isn't that big.

    • Maymar says:

      Is that the case? Every car I've been in, if it doesn't detect the key while running, it will let you know (usually a message on the dash, and some beeping when you close a door), but it won't shut down until you tell it to (and then won't be able to restart, given the lack of key).

      • Manic_King says:

        Friend who owned Audi with the same system told me so, I haven't tried and now I'm not sure about him trying it, either.

  11. Dean Bigglesworth says:

    Definitely blah.One of my cars has a traditional remote, and the other one has central locking but no remote. I've driven several cars with keyless entry and go and i've thought it's just more of a hassle than useful of practical.

    I think the biggest reason for keyless start is that it's probably a lot cheaper to make than an actual lock, but it's easy to market as a luxury feature. The key has the chip anyway, and there is a sensor in the lock. Just increase the range a bit and remove the lock and save a bunch of money. Replace the hidden metal key with a plastic one á la VW and save even more!

  12. FrankTheCat says:

    blah.

    not even going to get into how most keyless entry/keyless start systems make your car so much easier to break into/steal. I'll keep my Murilee Lifestyle Brand™ keyed start with a maddening hidden ignition/fuel power cutoff switch.

  13. OA5599 says:

    I haven't owned a car that was electronically keyless, but I've owned several that evolved that way mechanically. 20 years of wear and tear on the tumblers usually does the trick.

    • Hopman says:

      My Ranger was like that the last few months I owned it!

    • pj134 says:

      My Cherokee had a similar approach. I could pull my key out whenever I wanted. This meant I could start it and lock it with no need for a second key.

      Passengers always had a panicked reaction when I pulled the key out and threw it at them while driving around

  14. quattrovalvole says:

    While I like the convenience you get from keyless entry (e.g. when you carry a lot of things), I still want the option to open the door with a key when something unfortunate happen (dead battery in the car / the remote for instance).

    Push button start is rather blah for me. How do you crank a car with push button start anyway?

    • Dean Bigglesworth says:

      I don't know about the states but at least in Europe a mechanical lock on the drivers door is still required. It's usually hidden behind a small panel in the door handle and the key is hidden in the fob, but it's there on every car.

  15. Devin says:

    I've come around on them. It seems like it'd be easier to let it run while locked (an issue at this time of year), and there are no worries about locking the keys inside. I've never actually had a keyless car myself, but I know of a few different times where having a physical key caused distress where a keyless system wouldn't.

    Also, the weather somehow conspired to freeze my key in the ignition on Tuesday, so that was fun.

  16. TurboBrick says:

    How am I supposed to open packages at work if I don't have a pointy car key to do it with?

  17. topdeadcentre says:

    I liked it in the swanky brand-new loaner Volvo S80 I had for a weekend while my V70R was at the dealer getting the AWD repaired (luckily it was the relatively simple $850 failure rather than the $3000+ failure). The S80 had the proximity fob and pushbutton start, and I liked it. I do wish they'd let the owner adjust the proximity sensing so that theft isn't an issue.

    Of course, this feature was in a fairly high-zoot highway cruiser with all the electronic toys. For a sports car, I'd want to turn a mechanical key.

  18. Brian Driggs says:

    Another fob story. ;)

    What bugs me is when you have a neat, tidy keychain, and then your spouse gets a new car with one of those clunky keyless fobs. Now you kinda have to keep one on your keychain. What a PITA. I recently talked to an electrical engineer about the possibility of reverse engineering the fob to remove the emergency key (to the key ring where it belongs) and reducing the fob down to just the battery, RF chip, and antenna. Not as simple as it seems, but I would really like a lightweight key chain again.

    • danleym says:

      I hadn't thought about it from that angle, but I agree. Large fobs are just annoying to carry around in your pocket.

      • Brian Driggs says:

        Yup. Maybe, if I could get the RFID functionality down to the form factor of, say, a Lego brick, I'd be cool with it. Just a shame that I have a black, plastic fob in my pocket which is as big as the rest of the keys combined.

    • jeepjeff says:

      I have a simple solution: I don't carry the key to my wife's car under normal conditions. I'll grab it off the shelf if I need to drive her car (very rare) or we're going on a longer trip (out of town). The key to my truck is just a key. Keeps the keychain tidy.

  19. Garland says:

    Just another pointless complexity. I'd much rather have a real key that goes into a real ignition.

    *owner of aforementioned Saab with ignition between the seats

  20. danleym says:

    Like most modern technological things on cars, I'm going to stick with my standard answer- don't like 'em. No real reason, they're just unnecessary and I prefer a key. I'm working hard at becoming a grumpy old man- I'm only 25, but I think I'm making good progress.

  21. Scandinavian Flick says:

    No! Keyless entry is dangerous for kids!

    <img src="http://i.imgur.com/T2Sd9y4.gif"&gt;

    In all seriousness, I don't particularly like it, but I'm not terribly fond of the current giant keys either. My key chain consists of a BMW key like the one pictured in the lead image, a GTO key which is farking huge, and my nice, flat 80s Volvo key. Ah well, I deal with it. As long as a dead battery in my key can't leave me completely stranded, I'm good.

  22. Stu_Rock says:

    I don't like keyless start, but an argument for it is how difficult turning an ignition key can be. It sounds easy until you think about it–they're usually at a pretty odd angle where you don't have any leverage. Now imagine that you lack the strength or wrist movement to make that twist motion. My wife is disabled, and she really struggles with them if they don't turn super-smoothly. It has been an issue with some of my older cars; I doubt she could start my Peugeot from the driver seat.

    • jeepjeff says:

      My aunt is in a similar situation. She has to use a giant key-chain thing that gives the key a huge handle to get her car started. This is an excellent defense of these systems.

  23. buzzboy7 says:

    Give me one of these and a valet switch.
    <img src="http://image.dhgate.com/albu_260730734_00/1.0×0.jpg&quot; width="600">

  24. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat says:

    Had this question been posed two years ago, I would have been 100% 'blah'. Same thing goes for heated steering wheels and seats with fans in them.

    However…I've had a 2005 Cadillac STS, N*, natch, for said couple of years, and it's traditional key-less (unless you have a problem).

    There is an emergency key for the doors, but that's it. It may get you into the trunk, too…never looked, honestly.

    It took me a while to become accustomed to the unlock delay when pulling on the door handle, but I've gotten to where I can pull and release quickly enough, all the doors unlock, but the one which I used, 99% of the time the driver's door, remains closed.

    Also nice, though potentially hazardous if you have other vehicles without it, because I don't need to interact with anything to get in/out or lock it…I have it set to lock 5 seconds, I think, after the last door closes. Now, my wife's 2002 RX300 doesn't do this, so while I've managed to remember, most times, to pull my keys out before getting in (while in the garage), I've walked away from it more than once without locking it. Several times, actually.

    One thing, however. If the remote control's battery dies, and you don't have the emergency access metal key on you, you're walkin'. I've had it happen one time, though removing and replacing the remote's battery got me in the one time I needed to. Stopped at the first place which sold remote batteries, and when I left it, I left the driver's window down.

    Rumor has it, even with no battery, if you put the remote in the console, it's close enough to the receiver, it'll start/run.

    I don't want to trust this.

    OTOH, I've replaced the ignition switch in a W124 Mercedes. That was unpleasant, though satisfying, afterward.

    Used to be, Cadillac had ignition keys which could intentionally be removed from the ignition, while running. Was in the owner's manual of my '73 Coupe deVille. I thought it was wear when I first found the functionality, but no, it's so you can start it then get out and open the trunk/glovebox.

    Said CDV also had the same key for doors & ignition, but a separate one for the trunk & glovebox.

    Threw valets for a loop every single time.

    • Maymar says:

      For what it's worth, on Lexuses where the remote battery is near dead, you just have to hold the key up to the start button, and it acknowledges the frequency and lets you start the car. Never had an STS with a dead remote battery, but you shouldn't be stranded.

      On the other hand, several manufacturers have a slot for the remote somewhere in the car (Nissan, most prominently), or an ignition hidden under the start button. It's nice to know there's a backup.

  25. wisc47 says:

    My keychain consists of two simple keys fro my Fiat, (ignition/trunk), and a normal key and fob for my Honda. I like the simplicity and reliability of the mechanisms and like actually having to put the key in and turn it to start. That being said, I once drove a Mercedes R230 SL Class where there was an engine start button on the gearshift and I'll admit it was pretty awesome.

  26. jeepjeff says:

    My main objection to them is two fold. First, the getting new keys when the marque goes under problem (this is solvable; the manufacturer just has to open up the system a bit more).

    But, they cannot do that for objection number two: they wrote their own crypto. They keyless entry systems are terrible and readily hacked. It takes surprisingly little data (in the form of recorded unlock signals) to break through the standard system in use on most cars. Also, the systems are jammable. With keyless start, that means some one can prevent you from starting your car, rather than just preventing you from locking/unlocking it (which has been done: there was a gang in Germany that would camp parking lots of upscale stores and jam the lock fobs on cars. Then when the owner goes inside, walk over and go through the glovebox and console for anything interesting).

    So what is needed is a system that has real strength to its cryptography, and then it would be possible for the key duplication software and hardware to be more available. As it is, that would probably just make it way easier for thieves (but this is an argument not for keeping the current stuff locked, but for throwing it in the garbage where it belongs).

    Not that I drive a machine with any formidable locks on it anywhere, so I don't know what I'm on about.

    • Scandinavian Flick says:

      Your last sentence brings it down to the importance of security perception though. While your vehicle may not be all that secure, you don't expect it to be, since… you know… cloth roof… But if I paid $125K for my new Audi, I reasonably expect a bit more security than your average amateur hacker can overcome.

      • Vairship says:

        With every car-with-a-fob sold, my Corvair becomes more secure. I can just imagine in 10 years, some would-be car thief standing next to it with a computer scanner and a befuddled look on his face…

  27. wunno sev says:

    "needless complexity" and "answer to a question nobody asked" are phrases that were probably sued to describe power windows and cruise control too, but as the technology developed they've evolved into extremely useful devices.

    notice that a few here have said "well, i used to hate the idea, but since i got one i think it's great." their experiences are more valuable than my speculation. i try not to be one to condemn something i've never used and, unlike touchscreens or massaging seats, i can see how keyless entry and start could be a very handy technology. someday, like electric windows, it might be something we can't imagine cars without. i don't want to load up hooniverse in 2035, look back at my old posts, and go, "wow, i really had no idea what i was talking about."

    (also like electric windows, i'm sure we'll have luddites in 2035 decrying keyless start as frivolity…)

    • Garland says:

      I prefer manual windows, and I find cruise control to be more dangerous than helpful.

      • mallthus says:

        And I prefer power windows with one push up and down. Especially when I'm raising or lowering them for a toll booth.

        And I credit cruise control with keeping me from getting (too many) tickets. Set it at the posted limit (75 MPH here) and watch the other guys get picked of by the troopers.

  28. mallthus says:

    I'm not gonna lie. I really love the keyless entry and start on my Nissan.

    When you're juggling kids, gear, etc, pressing a button on the outside of the car is meaningfully easier than reaching in your pocket and hoping you hit the right button.

    Similarly, when you're wearing a coat, it's a lot easier to just press the "start" button than pull up your coat, raise your ass us and then reach in your pocket for the key.

    On the other hand, I'm torn as to whether keyless entry and start is better than remote start (which my last car had). I guess it all depends on the day.

  29. mdharrell says:

    I'm also a proponent of keyless ignition in a SAAB.

    <img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8051/8110538140_316e2f6d0d.jpg&quot; width="450">

  30. Impfected says:

    There has been a few times in my life that a lost key has not left me stranded 60+ miles in the middle of nowhere. If I can't hot-wire it, it doesn't go in the back country. Period.
    For that matter, if I can't have one guy operate the throttle under the hood while I drive, it don't go in the back country ;-)

  31. Lex says:

    Meh. I don't have anything against it all in concept, but also kind of just prefer manual locks and the rest of the luddite ways. I certainly would worry about this kind of tech once it's an older car, but maybe it won't be an issue.

    And since i live in a place where you can leave your car running and unlocked while you go grocery shopping, the upsides don't seem all that important to me.

  32. JasonR says:

    I bought a new Mazda CX-9 GT five months ago and the "Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry & Start System" was standard. I was skeptical and figured I'd use the remote fob buttons just as I always had to lock and unlock the doors.

    But I decided to give it a shot and started using the 'request' button on the driver's side door handle to lock the doors when I was getting out of the car. Then I just had to press that same button again to unlock the driver's side door to unlock it when I returned. Unlocking all the doors and the liftgate requires a two-press sequence that I tried to master but only got more pissed off, so I gave up on that. So I use the remote button if I need to unlock all the doors, but otherwise I use the button with the fob in my pocket. I also learned that the Mazda dealer could personalize the system so it automatically locks after you close the door and walk more than five feet away with the fob. I had them do it last month and I love it so far!

    I've used the Push-Button Start in numerous rental cars and most of my friends have it in their cars, so it's hardly a new concept. But it amuses me how large and prominent (especially if they're bright red) some of them are. I've also noticed that some waste very valuable space on the dash/console where other, more commonly used controls should be located.

    I'm not sure why, but my CX-9 is one of the few cars that doesn't have a push-button for their keyless starting. Instead it has a plastic knob located right where a key would go in the steering column and you just press it in and turn it forward like a key until the engine starts. It's very intuitive and I'm glad I don't have a START button cluttering my already cluttered center stack! The only other car I've seen with a similar starting 'knob' is the previous-gen Acura RL, at least when it was introduced in 2005. The CX-9 dates back to 2007, so maybe it was an old idea that didn't catch on'?

    Initially, it was possible to leave the remove the remote fob from the vehicle while it was running and drive away without it. My dealership spent most Saturdays rescuing husbands who had dropped off their wife at the mall then headed to some other destination (Hooters, usually) only to realize they couldn't start their car again! In 2010, they added an alarm that starts 'chirping' when you move the fob more than five feet away from the driver's seat with the engine running. I can't even make it to the front corner of the car without it going off. And it never stops chirping, so there's no way you could ignore it.

    I was also very concerned about being stranded by a non-functional fob, whether damaged or a dead battery or whatever. I'm not sure how other systems are designed, but the Mazda has an actual 'rescue' key hidden inside the fob that you can pop out if you need it. To start the car, you pop the cover/knob off the steering column, insert the key and turn like a normal car. I was also worried about the fob being lost or stolen which would really suck! I decided to remove the rescue key from the second fob (which I leave at home) and hide it inside the car. I might be forced to break a back window to get in, but at least I could start the engine and drive home. It's hdden inside an Anne Murray CD case, so a thief would NEVER find it! =)

  33. Shelly says:

    I think not only is it a hassle but it is dangerous. I have dropped off my husband somewhere and he had the key fob in his pocket so I was stranded at my new location. It is also very easy to leave the car running. These new cars are very quiet. If you get out and never turn it off… you better hope it is not in your house garage. I can't stand them!

  34. Wildcat_445 says:

    Blah. More stuff to break, more battery-related problems.

    Never had a problem with starting or theft. Once they see the crank under the radiator and the magneto adjustment on the steering wheel, they kinda avoid my car… :D

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