Monday, August 5, 2013

Keyless entry / ignition systems suck

I really don't like keyless entry systems - you know - the key fob that isn't really a key, but is a wireless transmitter that talks to the car based on proximity. I'm talking about the passive ones that allow the doors to unlock when you touch the handle. Inside the car they typically replace the ignition key with a push button. They fundamentally break the centuries-old cause and effect cycle that humans have with keys, and that is this : key makes contact with lock, lock opens.
I'm not convinced that keyless entry systems are solving any particular problem. They do create trouble though. First, and most trivial, they're incredibly difficult to get accustomed to. Every time I rent a car with these things, I poke and scratch the dash trying to find somewhere to put the key. Then, realising it's a keyless system, I drive off and when I come to get out, spend a moment or two fumbling around the dash and steering column looking for the key again. Despite renting dozens of cars with this feature, I still cannot break that association.
I now own a car with one of these except mine isn't passive. I have to push a button on the fob to open the doors - OK I'm fine with that - but the ignition is wireless pushbutton. So - erm - what do I do with the key fob when I'm in the car? These things are not small - they don't fit easily in trouser pockets especially if you have a wallet in one and a cellphone in the other. You can't use the cellphone pocket - the phone gets scratched and messes with the key signal and the wallet pocket is full. Shirt pocket? Not really - they're too heavy. Leave them in the cup-holders perhaps? No because then you will forget them. If you're a woman (or an 80's guy with a man-bag) you can keep the key fob in your bag, which is certainly more convenient, but still not ideal. With the traditional ignition key, the key is inserted into the ignition barrel when you drive - you don't have to find somewhere to put it.
The next problem isn't so trivial - the proximity system is very insecure if your parking spot is close to your house (like in the garage attached to it). I've found most passive proximity keys have enough range that it's perfectly possible to open the door, get in and drive off leaving your keys behind. This happens once you've broken the cause and effect cycle, and become used to the idea that you no longer have to have the key in your hand to unlock the car. One day you will forget to put it in your pocket, and then you're screwed. Why? The keys are momentary, meaning that the car doesn't constantly query the key. It can't as that would kill the fob battery in a matter of days. So instead, when some critical even happens - starting the car, unlocking the door - that is when the car queries the key. After that, it's never queried again. So this is why you're screwed and how you end up on a tow truck: the place you keep your keys at home is close enough that the car can 'see' the key fob whenever it wants. One day you leave the key at home, go to get in the car and it lets you. Similarly you can start the engine because the key is still in range. So you drive off and the first time you stop the car and get out, you've cemented your fate. When you come to use the car again, you'll be on the phone to your other half, or the tow truck driver, because the key is well out of range - it's still at home. Worse - if it's a fully passive key, once the engine is off and the door has been opened and closed, it will likely lock you out too.
The extension of this issue has to do with crime. If you live in an area of high car crime, someone can steal your car without even needing the keys - then drive off and work on the system at their leisure somewhere else. That's not supposition - it's happened three times near where I live in the last year. The stories have been in the news sporadically.
Through empirical testing, I've found that Nissan's keyless entry system has a range of about 20m. Chevy's system works out to about 25m. Others I've tested sit in the mid-range, between 15m and 20m. That doesn't sound like a lot but for example if you're parked at your favourite fast food joint, chances of you actually being more than 20m away from your car are slim, so effectively, it's sitting outside ready for anyone to touch the door handle, hop in and drive off.
The only vehicles I've found that gets close to solving the problems of keyless systems are Citroën, Mini and some Audis. In their systems you have to place the fob in a slot in the dash for the car to start. That maintains the cause and effect cycle of keys in locks, which I don't think is a bad thing.
So far at least, I'm finding keyless ignition and entry systems to be creating new problems we don't need, and solving old problems we don't have.

13 comments:

Paul said...

For what maybe the first time I completely disagree with you Chris.
We have a 2012 Charger that has the passive key system you describe. My disagreement is as follows:
Where do I put my keys? In my pocket. My cell is in the center console so I can see who it is if someone calls (I use the BT connection! And the calls are always along the lines of "Unless it's important I'll call you back"). My wallet's in the back pocket so no problem there. Anyway, where do you put the fob when you're out of the car walking around? Do you not have the same problem regarding where to put the fob?
Security, not a concern: The car cannot be unlocked unless the fob is within 4-5 feet of it. In fact, if my wife has the keys on the passenger side and I try to open the driver's door it won't unlock. If the key is left inside the car it won't lock. If I drive away and my wife has the keys there is a persistant and annoying audio/visual indication that the fob has left the vehicle.
If my hands are full I don't have to fumble around for the keys to unlock the car. If I get home I don't have to keep a few fingers free so I can lock the car when I have a handful of groceries.
So, personally I like the feature and find it easy to use. Maybe Dodge have a particularly good system and as for the push button start... I like the idea of not having to find the slot to put the key. Foot on the brake, push the button. Fantastic.

Nick said...

Have to agree with Paul here. Just tested our Chevy Volt - the range is around 4-5 feet, and you get an annoying audio/visual indication if the fob isn't in the car.

Not sure which vehicles you were testing Chris.

Chris said...

I've seen the excessive range issue with Mercedes, Range Rover, Ford and (in Europe) Peugeot. The Chevy I saw this on was the Cruze. The Ford one was so excessive I'd actually left the key in a hotel room (where the car was parked outside) and was able to get in and drive off and it was only when I got to the rental car return that I realised I didn't have the key.
On Paul's comment about where to put the fob when out and about - in my pocket. The problem is that in the car, or when you sit down anywhere, the fob is so bulky that it's uncomfortable to have it in your pocket. In the winter it's not a problem - I put it in a coat pocket. But I only own one coat and it only gets used for 8 weeks of the year, so for the rest of the time I have two pants pockets at my disposal. One has a wallet, the other a cellphone. I don't ever use the "Thief's Paradise" (back pockets)

Anonymous said...

I had to go pick up my husband tonight because he drove away with the key at home. Not fun.
So you were right on the money on that point.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I couldn't with you more. I was thrilled when I found your post. I have had my key less entry/ignition for about a month and am still not adjusted to it. I find putting my keys into my purse very inconvenient only to have to pull them out to gain entry into my office and home. Leaving them in the cup holder is sloppy and can even reverberate a noise.

I am pondering creating some sort of permanent hook where I can hang my keys near the steering column ..?

I would like to know what automotive engineer decided that carrying and using keys was too cumbersome. Silly idea!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree! I can't stand my keyless start on my minivan. On several occasions I have left my car running and not realized it. Is is very quiet and I get out with my key fob and never press the button to turn it off. praying I never do that in my garage and kill the whole family! I have installed several Carbon monoxide detectors just because of this. I am going to call my dealer to see if it can be changed. If not, I may be buying a new car...if I can find one without keyless start.

Lock Solutions, Inc said...
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Anonymous said...

My husband started my car in the garage and left the keys on the shelf NEXT TO THE CAR this morning. I jumped in and off I went to work. 20 miles away, arriving at work I turned off my car and realized I don't have my keys to lock the car!!! The car did not signal AT ALL that my key was not in range as it typically does if I try to turn it on when the key is outside the car. I have a 2011 VW Tiguan. Shouldn't it somehow have alerted me that I'm missing the key?

Anonymous said...

Could not agree with this summation any more. In fact, I'm going to get rid of my RAV4 after driving it over 100 miles and then becoming stranded at a gas pump after shutting off the engine. Had to tow it away, then convince a friend to spend four hours getting the fob to me (or another option was giving $475 to the dealer to reprogram). The dealer seemed fairly unsympathetic to the story, I might mention. There is no way to keep an extra key anywhere in the vehicle either...extremely poor design.

Anonymous said...

Drove 8 miles from home, in a Lincoln MKS with keyless ignition, to a remote farm. Then, realized the fob was still on my kitchen counter at home. Had to phone relatives to fetch me. I was stranded on the farm for many hours till they were able to find me. Then, a year later, after a winter storm, I needed to go out to buy a few food staples. Luckily the vehicle was in our garage at home. Tried to start the vehicle, but a "Key Not Detected" indicator came on. The problem was a dead battery in the fob. So, I was stuck again and needed to call relatives for help. They drove me to a Lincoln dealership, where I was charged for replacement batteries. If this had happened miles form hime, it would've been a disaster. Replacement batteries to start a car? Who needs this??? The people who make and design keyless ignitions have given the auto companies a convincing sales pitch, but my next vehicle will start with old fashioned keys.

Anonymous said...

I categorically hate keyless ignition. Twice today our car was left running by family members who jumped out and did not realize the car was still running. It is very quiet. The A/C units in our apartment complex are so noisy you can't always hear if the car is still running. Fortunately a neighbor let us know the car was still running. And I hate trying to figure out what to do with the keys while driving. I do not always have clothes with pockets and I change purses a lot so the whole concept is a big pain. The auto makers need to listen to these complaints. I do not think it is a safe way to start a car.

Anonymous said...

"Keyless Entry"
Total joke and absolutely not needed at all. Just another example of having "technology" that is being misapplied.

Jenn said...

I TOTALLY AGREE. These keyless entries are TERRIBlE. In fact, my car was even wrecked because of it. I have a hybrid keyless car which doesn't make any noise at all when stopped. Well, after pulling up to a parking stall, and pushing the start button to kill the engine, I figured the car was off with no engine nose. This of course was reinforced by gathering the key in my hand, which gave the false sense of security that I was free to exit the vehicle. Well, the car wasn't really off as I had missed pressing the off button hard enough. Unfortunately, after getting up and out of the car, the car immediately took off running without a driver across the parking lot eventually colliding with a telephone pole. Frankly I was lucky it was only a $3,750 repair bill, and not the death of an innocent person. I cant tell you how many problems of all sorts I have had with that stupid system, most trivial and just annoying, but some of them very serious, expensive, and even life threatening. My wife for example almost left me stranded out in the middle of the desert hundreds of miles away from any services because of this stupid system. I was very lucky I caught her before she took off in another vehicle with my key. It is a stupid and dangerous system that frankly should be banned. Unfortunately, it will take a few deaths before it is.