Computer kill switch

My friends in the conspiracy theory community have told me that there is a kill switch in cars with computers, that the govt can turn on with microwaves and stop the cars engine from running (sort of like opening up the garage doors in the neighborhood). Does anyone with experience with car computers know if this could be true, and if there are cars that could be obtained before computers were put into the aforementioned vehicles?

I believe GM’s OnStar has this ability, so they can recover a stolen vehicle, but if your car is not a GM, and doesn’t have a satellite linked computer, you probably don’t have to worry about it.

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for your conspiracy theory friends, I recommend the book “Communist Descendants of the Abominable Snowman” by Stanislav Szukalski.

Yep. Onstar can do it in the newer vehicles. It’s also possible to disable a car with EMP, although to my knowledge most PDs do not have that. It’s basically as you described - a narrow-beam microwave gun mounted in the patrol car that zorches car electronics. It’s designed to stop high speed chases by disabling the fleeing vehicle.

Are you planning to rob a bank? Realistically, even if you’re in to the “government is out to get me” conspiracy theories, if the cops are chasing you, they will get you whether they can disable your car with EMP or not. They have helicopters, radios, and they know how to ram your car off the road without disabling their car. As long as you don’t get yourself into a situation where you feel you need to run from the police, it’s doubtful this EMP technology will ever effect you.

If you’re still worried, you’d have to go back to a car made before microprocessor-based ECUs were used, which would put you in something pre-1980.

I received an email from OnStar recently on exactly this subject. The said that if you want to disable the two-way communication, they will comply. But it will never be available again. I prefer that they can locate my daughter’s car and slow it down if needed. They said “slow” not “stop”. I think the idea is that they locate it and keep it from going so fast that the police can’t catch up with it.

I have a hard time believing that GM, the US Government, or any other member of the Military Industrial Establishment cares where anyone I know is at any given time. I think that anyone that worries abut this has an inflated opinion of his worth the those folks.

Don’t forget, OnStar has an antenna for this purpose. It would be difficult to stop most car ECU by an EMP because of the metal body that surrounds it. It would be possible, but that amount of energy could also cause collateral damage.

As others have mentioned, vehicles with OnStar can be disabled. Possibly vehicles with Lo-Jack as well. And a large enough electomagnetic pulse could damage a car’s electronics enough to possibly disable it. But so could a “stop stick”, a properly aimed ram from another vehicle, gunfire, etc. There is not currently any ‘master key’ that the govt. has that will disable all vehicles.

In other news, the government is imbedding micro transmitters in rolls of Reynolds Wrap so that your tin foil hat will no longer block their rays.

I was kind of surprised when I got my monthly Onstar report telling me what my mileage was, the air pressure in my tires, and when the oil monitor was reset. They do track you so they know where to send a tow and can open doors remotely. I believe they can also locate the stolen car and maybe can disable it. They can also tell me if a trouble code has be set 24 hours a day. Of course your cell phone tracks where you are all the time too but the information is private.

Those are good responses…thanks for the info everyone…

Frazzleman, realize that OnStar and such are subscription options for the benefit of the owner. There is no system such as being described by your friends. The government does not have a “kill switch” feature built into cars that they can use to suddenly shut off the vehicles at will.

As to tracting devices, cellphones do now have locator signals. They’re there for first responders, like rescue crews, police, and fire departments. Too often they’ve gotten 911 calls and been unable to tell where they came from.

I did see a program on television that the diesel tractors that pull semi-trailers can have the power increased for hilly regions and cut back for flat travel by a remote dispatcher. Also, information about the performance of the tractor is sent to the dispatcher so that a service center knows what needs attention on the tractor when the truck pulls into the service center.
If the goverment is going to install kill switches on engines, I wish they would start with lawnmowers. After the lawnmower engine has logged a couple of hours, the engine is killed and the operator can then go have a beer.

“If the goverment is going to install kill switches on engines, I wish they would start with lawnmowers. After the lawnmower engine has logged a couple of hours, the engine is killed and the operator can then go have a beer.”

That’s too long. It only takes me 1.5 hours to mow mine. I like the way you think, though.

Personally I don't care if anyone wants to track where I go.  They have to be really really bored if they want to.

I’m curious. If law enforcement called On-Star with the VIN of a car how quickly could they get the car disabled? And could On-Star be tricked by someone posing as law enforcement?

“I’m curious. If law enforcement called On-Star with the VIN of a car how quickly could they get the car disabled? And could On-Star be tricked by someone posing as law enforcement?”

I don’t think they could be tricked. It seems to me that law enforcement officers would have to obtain a court order to stop the car. That would take some time to obtain, but could be electronically delivered to OnStar. The most practical way to stop a criminal in a stolen vehicle would be for the owner to contact OnStar. A crook would have to be pretty dumb to maintain an OnStar account on a vehicle that he would use to commit a crime. And a smart one might avoid stealing a car with OnStar or a similar service on it.

I’m just wondering if this question was in any way inspired by the movie “Horrible Bosses”, where the three main characters are fleeing both a psychotic killer and the police and happen to mention to the “NavStar” guy that they’ve broken some law. He takes this as a confession and remotely disables their vehicle (obeying a company policy to detain them for law enforcement) which then allows the bad guy to catch up with them.

Onstar wouldn’t do anything for law enforcement, only the owner, and you need a password when you call them. I mean law enforcement covers everything from the kid in a patrol car to the FBI.

That’s probably why the producers of the movie made up a fictitious name for a similar service. It’s important to the story that the same guy (a disembodied voice from India calling itself “Gregory”) who helps them find a neighborhood to hire a professional killer is the one who makes it possible to the psycho boss to catch up with them (and has an additional effect on things that I won’t spell out in detail in deference to those who haven’t seen the movie yet).

Would you like to play a game, Dave?

In response to whether the question of this blog was inspired by the movie “Horrible Bosses”: no. But it does sound like a movie I should watch : )

Actually what inspired it was contact with the survivor community. History Channel:
“After Armageddon”, (The same channel that brings us the alien programs!!), and a person who allegedly knows of these kinds of devices. But I have lost contact with him,
and couldn’t get confirmation about it, hence, I presented the question to the car talk
community, in case anyone out there might just have any idea if this could be the case.

The response of there is too much metal around the engine for an EMP suggests it would be an impractical device if someone tried to do it. I don’t know about these things, so thats why I asked.

From the conspiracy point of view, if you think of a TEWAK event (The End of The World As We Know It), and you have hundreds of thousands of people trying to leave cities for the wilderness, if there were a car zapper device, it might be a way to prevent masses of population from a mass exodus, and thereby containing a mass chaotic situation. That was the basis of the question.

I can see where OnStar could be beneficial for stolen vehicles, car chases, etc.

We still have endless car chases down here in CA, so I not sure if the PD has anything but seems like no. Unless they are trying to help the local news channels out on their programming.