Safety of cars' keyless entry and ignition systems

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Safety of cars' keyless entry and ignition systems questioned http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-carkeys24-2010jan24,0,6923741.story The technology is popular but quirky and there is no universal standard. Its problems are potentially serious. By Ralph Vartabedian and Ken Bensinger January 24, 2010 The sleek Infiniti G37 Cindy Marsh bought last August was the car of her dreams, equipped with the latest keyless electronics technology that allows her to start the engine with the touch of a button. But right away, the system gave her trouble. To get the engine started, she would sometimes have to tap the power button repeatedly. Sometimes it wouldn't start unless she opened and closed the car doors, Marsh recalled. She eventually adapted to the system's quirks but said that even now she isn't sure how to shut off the engine in an emergency. "I don't know if I ever read it in the owners manual or not," said Marsh, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. Old-school car keys appear headed for extinction, as automakers rush to install wireless systems that allow drivers to unlock their doors and start their engines with an electronic fob that they never have to take out of their purse or pocket. Introduced less than a decade ago on luxury models, the push-button systems are rapidly spreading to all segments of the market, including bargain-priced Kias. The number of models with them as standard or optional equipment has quadrupled in the last five years. Many drivers don't fully understand how the systems work, however, leaving them vulnerable to potentially serious safety problems. In complaints to federal regulators, motorists have reported that they were unable to shut down engines during highway emergencies, including sudden acceleration events. In other cases, parked vehicles accidentally rolled away and engines were left running for hours without their owners realizing it. And although traditional keys all work the same way and are universally understood by consumers, automakers have adopted different procedures for operating the keyless ignition systems. As a result, owners may not know how to operate their own cars in an emergency, let alone a rented or borrowed car. "Where you have a second to make an emergency maneuver, you shouldn't have to search around for the right procedure to use on a switch," said Henry Jasny, general counsel at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., that pushes for laws to make roads safer. The risk is considered serious enough that federal regulators and an auto industry trade group are looking at adopting standard procedures. All of the systems rely on a similar architecture that uses a fob, which is a small transmitter that communicates with the vehicle's computer. The fob can automatically open door locks when the owner is near the vehicle, and the engine can be started with the push of a power button on the dashboard. But to shut down the engine while the vehicle is moving, drivers must hold down the power button for between one and three full seconds, depending on the make. In some cases, two or three successive taps on the button will work. Mercedes-Benz allows drivers to kill the engine with a single push of the power button, but only if the transmission is in neutral. At least one manufacturer prevents emergency engine shut downs if the vehicle is moving less than 5 mph. Industry officials say that the devices have become wildly popular with buyers and that glitches will be eliminated through the normal course of technological improvements, making new regulations unnecessary. "We really haven't seen too much confusion with these systems," said Dave Proefke, a vehicle security engineer at General Motors Co. "As they become more widely adopted, I think we'll find that they converge in how they operate." Besides offering convenience for motorists, Proefke said, technology gives greater styling freedom for auto designers since there's no longer need for a key cylinder in the steering column. It also benefits older people who have difficulty removing keys from their pockets or turning a key in a lock. And "it has that cool factor," said Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at www.edmunds.com, an Internet automobile research site. Auto safety experts say the industry needs to do a better job explaining the functions of advanced technology to motorists and needs to adopt common operating procedures. Auto makers are offering the systems on 155 models this year, compared to 41 in the 2006 model year, according to Edmunds.com. Ford Motor is planning to make it an option in its entry-level 2011 Fiesta, due out later this year. But some owners say that confusing software rules have put them in peril. Wally Brithinee was in his 2007 Toyota Avalon last August when it began to speed out of control on Interstate 5 near San Diego. Thinking quickly, Brithinee, president of an electric motor repair business in Colton, pressed the sedan's power button, but nothing happened. "This car isn't stopping," he told a passenger as he felt panic swelling in his chest. "I really didn't know what to do at that point." Five terrifying miles later, Brithinee managed to halt the runaway Avalon by braking hard and shifting to a lower gear. He walked away unharmed. All that could have been avoided, he later learned, had he depressed the button for a full three seconds, the emergency shut-off procedure used in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles. A keyless ignition system may also have played a role in the Aug. 29 crash that took the life of CHP officer Mark Saylor and three members of his family last August when a Lexus ES350 lent to Saylor by a car dealer accelerated out of control to speeds of more than 120 mph before hitting an embankment in suburban in San Diego. Some safety experts believe a warning label should be included on the dashboard telling motorists how to shut off the engine. But industry analysts note that manufacturers typically resist installing such labels. What's more, automakers maintain that shutting off the engine may not be the best option in an emergency, as doing so will cause the driver to lose power steering and possibly braking ability as well. Toyota has blamed the San Diego accident on a floor mat that trapped the accelerator pedal. But a September memorandum by investigators for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also identified the Lexus' push-button ignition as one of the "significant factors" in the Saylor crash and noted that "there was no ignition key" that could shut down the engine or warning label on the power button to explain how to shut off the engine. In the aftermath of the Saylor tragedy, Toyota issued a recall covering 4.3 million of its vehicles and said it would modify gas pedals, change floor padding and install new software. Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the company is also discussing internally whether to change the function of its power button. And on Thursday, Toyota launched another recall targeting 2.3 million vehicles, including many of the models subject to the floor-mat recall, saying their gas pedals could stick. Paul Green, a human factors expert at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, said he sees the issue with keyless technology as part of a growing problem of high-tech features being introduced faster than the industry's ability to agree on common operating procedures. "The amount of research we are doing is not adequate," Green said. Motorists are confused even when they pay top dollar for advanced features. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found in a recent survey that a majority of owners of Infiniti vehicles equipped with automatic lane departure warning systems did not know that a button on the steering wheel turned the system on and off. "They had no idea that they had a button on the steering wheel that could activate the system," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute. The highway safety administration said in a statement that it has begun to look into possible standards for the keyless systems. And the Society of Automotive Engineers last July formed a committee to examine keyless technology and "study a possible standard on how long the ignition button should be depressed to shut off the engine." But new federal safety rules or industry standards typically can take years to adopt. The scrutiny is coming eight years after the first system was introduced by Mercedes-Benz. Beyond safety problems, the push-button technology has some idiosyncrasies that have left motorists stranded but also provided loopholes for car thieves. In early General Motors vehicles with push-button start systems, owners would sometimes shut down the engines with the transmission still in gear. That would not electronically lock the ignition system, and thieves soon discovered that they could simply get in the vehicle, push the start button and drive away, said Forrest Folck, a forensic mechanic in San Diego who invested the issue for an insurance company. "Cars were being stolen all over the United States," he said. Larry Stewart, a former Times sportswriter, discovered an opposite problem with the technology in his 2007 Toyota Camry. After he parked at a Granada Hills restaurant last summer, the car would not start. The tow truck driver who came to Stewart's rescue wasn't surprised, telling Stewart he had been there several times recently for the same problem. The driver blamed the problem on stray radio signals, possibly from a powerful police or fire station transmitter nearby. He towed the car 100 yards, and it started immediately. "It's really unnerving that such a thing could happen," said Stewart, who lives in Arcadia. Even GM engineers found themselves in the same situation when they parked test vehicles at a Detroit-area shopping mall and found the keyless ignition system was disabled, according to Proefke, the GM expert. "It was a dead zone," he said. Proefke said the problem was traced to interference from a nearby nightclub's lighting system, which was broadcasting unlicensed high-power radio signals. ralph.vartabedian @latimes.com [email protected] Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
 
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Originally Posted By: Steve S
Electronics really suck . Stupid people buy stupid accesories.
In many cases that is true. But electronics have also made our lives better in other areas. I think the population is just too lazy and too stupid to figure out how to use most of the features available. Also most of the stuff is simply not needed either.
 
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Ignition/fuel shut off switch to the left of the steering wheel and visible from the driver's window mandatory on all vehicles. It wouldn't lock the column or transmission, just kill engine power.
 
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Quote:
Beyond safety problems, the push-button technology has some idiosyncrasies that have left motorists stranded but also provided loopholes for car thieves. In early General Motors vehicles with push-button start systems, owners would sometimes shut down the engines with the transmission still in gear. That would not electronically lock the ignition system, and thieves soon discovered that they could simply get in the vehicle, push the start button and drive away, said Forrest Folck, a forensic mechanic in San Diego who invested the issue for an insurance company. "Cars were being stolen all over the United States," he said.
As a note, these GM systems first give an indication to the driver on the DIC. If the operator doesn't notice/ignores the warning and walks away with the vehicle unsecured, it honks the horn three times (as soon as the driver door is opened, then closed) as an indicator the vehicle is unsecure. The car isn't creating the loophole. The car twice tries to inform the operator that things aren't right. The operator and their complete ignorance creates the loophole. This is like ignoring the "key-in-ignition" chime and continuing to walk away with your keys still hanging from the column.
Quote:
Even GM engineers found themselves in the same situation when they parked test vehicles at a Detroit-area shopping mall and found the keyless ignition system was disabled, according to Proefke, the GM expert. "It was a dead zone," he said. Proefke said the problem was traced to interference from a nearby nightclub's lighting system, which was broadcasting unlicensed high-power radio signals.
On GM vehicles, there is a slot where the keyless transmitter can be inserted that will assure starting. It provides a coupled connection to a high-gain antenna that allows starting when normal low frequency communications are interrupted. RFID at some pay-at-the-pump stations,like Mobil SpeedPass, and cheap dollar store cell phone chargers are also high on the list of no start causes. You wouldn't believe how much noise some of the cell phone chargers put out. Try explaining to a customer the reason their $80,000 Cadillac XLR won't start is the $2 cell phone charger plugged into the 12V accessory port... and I'll be [censored] if they'll shell out the cash to buy a quality charger. Again, all this could be avoided if customers would RTFM or the salesperson would take the time to teach them how their high dollar new car operates.
 
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It's a good article, and well worth the read. In an industrial setting, if I were to install a new item of plant, or with a new control system and GUI, it is incumbent upon me to train every operator in the operational aspects of the new gear, and rewrite procedures for standard and emergency conditions. With a car, the current generation of drivers have been taught what the key is, what it does, and largely know what to do with it in normal times and most probably in an emergency. Saab in the day copped heaps of flack in Oz over keys on the transmission tunnel, and how in an emergency, drivers wouldn't instinctively head t=for the trans tunnel. I can't believe that in the US of all places these new systems are being brought in, with no training to the operators. Maybe they should mandate a great big red industrial grade kill switch in the middle of the dashboard on any vehicle that goes away from a standard keyed entry system.
 

Kestas

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I've been historically technology-resistant when commenting on these matters and this issue is no exception. I fail to see the advantage of this technology except that drivers now don't have to go through the excruciating task of pulling a key out of their pocket, inserting it on the dashboard, and exerting the force to turn it. Apparently, automakers find that complicating the car further is justified for this convenience, though a person still needs to carry a "key" on them. What I do see is plenty of downsides. This design will be expensive to fix if something goes wrong. Many of these problems already discussed above. Once this is out of warranty, I can only imagine fixing a system that has gone wrong will cost somewhere around $600. If the battery fails in the transponder, you're stuck (probably far from home). Heaven help you if you lose your key. There are some cars out there where it already costs $500 to replace a lost key! I see one big driving factor for this technology is the fickle consumer and the "gee-whiz" technology where he can impress his friends. Who wants to spend $30K+ on a car without bragging rights? Note that the article says this technology is "wildly popular with buyers". At the NAIAS last week, I saw that the Ford line has adopted this technology for all its cars. As far as emergency procedures, who reads the owners manual anymore (sometimes 200 pages)?
 
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Originally Posted By: MrHorspwer
As a note, these GM systems first give an indication to the driver on the DIC. If the operator doesn't notice/ignores the warning and walks away with the vehicle unsecured, it honks the horn three times (as soon as the driver door is opened, then closed) as an indicator the vehicle is unsecure. The car isn't creating the loophole. The car twice tries to inform the operator that things aren't right. The operator and their complete ignorance creates the loophole. This is like ignoring the "key-in-ignition" chime and continuing to walk away with your keys still hanging from the column.
Funny example... have had several cars with key in dingers. They all also have lights-on dingers, at a different rate. I cannot recollect which ding rate is for which, however. Have also had a car where the ignition lock cylinder doesn't pop out all the way, so it dings when the door is open-- period. Made me check my lights though. wink If a new car honks three times, I figure the alarm is set or something and that's that. PS, shame on any car company using the horn as a driver communication tool. Noise pollution etc. Reminds me of the recent thread where GMs run their backup lights with the RKE for pedestrian convenience-- as another driver in parking lots that misuse of a warning signal irritates me. Agree on the "Big red cutoff switch" mandate. Should make people feel safe, which is a part of the purchasing decision for many.
 
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This design will be expensive to fix if something goes wrong. Many of these problems already discussed above. Once this is out of warranty, I can only imagine fixing a system that has gone wrong will cost somewhere around $600.
Now, I can only personally comment on GM and Chrysler systems, but systems equipped with a keyless start system uses pretty much all the same components as one with a simple keyless entry system, with the exception of a couple low frequency antenna (which have proven to be quite robust for both automakers) and software. Once you add an immobilizer system and keyless entry to a vehicle, it not much more to go to a completely keyless system, which is why you're seeing more and more automakers using them. Adding the antenna puts a bit more cost into the vehicle, but economies of scale will bring that cost down as you equip more vehicles with them and software costs can also be shared across platforms if all vehicles use a similar system.
Quote:
If the battery fails in the transponder, you're stuck (probably far from home).
No, you're not. As I noted in my previous post, GM has a slot that allows a coupled RFID (the transmitter can be unpowered) connection between the transmitter and vehicle, much the same as regular immobilizer systems operate. Chrysler goes about it a bit differently: The driver must first pop out the START/STOP button and behind it is a regular ignition cylinder that the transmitter can be plced into and turned, operating just like a regular keyed ignition switch. Communication occurs, once again, like a regular immobilizer system through RFID. Both vehicles also hide a regular mechanical key in the transmitter that will allow entry into the vehicle using a regular lock cylinder. The second-generation GM system uses a rotary knob to select the ignition position and start the vehicle, instead of a push-button. This rotary knob is, surprise, a regular GM ignition switch with a knurled knob replacing the ortion where a key would be inserted. This allows power moding to be based on the position of a mechanical ignition switch. This provides a more robust system in terms of performance and is lower cost because, again, GM can share a similar ignition switch between vehicles equipped with and without the system. It also brings back the familiar "rotation" motion that customers are accustomed to from standard keyed systems. They're familiar to turn on and off; no having to press a buttong for 3 seconds or other silly motions. They also don't fall into the trap of not turning off when the transmission isn't in park (or reverse in the case of a manual), because, just like with a keyed system, the knob won't fully rotate counter-clockwise and will stop in the ACCY position.
 
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Originally Posted By: Kestas
I've been historically technology-resistant when commenting on these matters and this issue is no exception. I fail to see the advantage of this technology except that drivers now don't have to go through the excruciating task of pulling a key out of their pocket, inserting it on the dashboard, and exerting the force to turn it. Apparently, automakers find that complicating the car further is justified for this convenience, though a person still needs to carry a "key" on them. What I do see is plenty of downsides. This design will be expensive to fix if something goes wrong. Many of these problems already discussed above. Once this is out of warranty, I can only imagine fixing a system that has gone wrong will cost somewhere around $600. If the battery fails in the transponder, you're stuck (probably far from home). Heaven help you if you lose your key. There are some cars out there where it already costs $500 to replace a lost key! I see one big driving factor for this technology is the fickle consumer and the "gee-whiz" technology where he can impress his friends. Who wants to spend $30K+ on a car without bragging rights? Note that the article says this technology is "wildly popular with buyers". At the NAIAS last week, I saw that the Ford line has adopted this technology for all its cars. As far as emergency procedures, who reads the owners manual anymore (sometimes 200 pages)?
This feature was oilBabe's deciding factor in choosing the Altima over the Mazda 6, the Hyundai Sonata and the Toyota Camry. It was standard on the S trim level. Not having to search the voluminous purse or even dig if she had her hands full was a winning idea for her. I see the merits of such a system, as long as others can't access the car while you are in a restaurant having a meal :) Oh, and I know you are not stuck if the battery goes dead. You can extract a key to open the door, and then insert the fob into a slot in the dash if your battery has expired. So one is not stranded if the battery is dead. IIRC, the system even warns you when the battery is getting low on the instrument cluster.
 
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I'm amused when those door lock cylinders that haven't been turned in six years freeze up with rust when needed most. The new tin often has only one cylinder too in a cost cutting move.
 
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Originally Posted By: MrHorspwer
The second-generation GM system uses a rotary knob to select the ignition position and start the vehicle, instead of a push-button. This rotary knob is, surprise, a regular GM ignition switch with a knurled knob replacing the ortion where a key would be inserted. This allows power moding to be based on the position of a mechanical ignition switch. This provides a more robust system in terms of performance and is lower cost because, again, GM can share a similar ignition switch between vehicles equipped with and without the system. It also brings back the familiar "rotation" motion that customers are accustomed to from standard keyed systems. They're familiar to turn on and off; no having to press a buttong for 3 seconds or other silly motions. They also don't fall into the trap of not turning off when the transmission isn't in park (or reverse in the case of a manual), because, just like with a keyed system, the knob won't fully rotate counter-clockwise and will stop in the ACCY position.
I always thought a rotary knob made more sense, is faster, and is more intutive for most drivers than a push button.
 
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In the 2nd gen Prius, it's a power button, and you HAVE to hit the brake when you turn the car on or it won't let you put it into drive- and you'll have to start over again. It's a pain. To shut it off you have to hold the power button (wasting seconds in an emergency).
 
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