New ways to get stranded—electronic keys

I am interested in hearing from people who have had their cars towed because the electronic key malfunctioned. What was the year and model of the car? What was the cost to repair? This seems to be an upcoming serious problem, or maybe it’s just my paranoia.

There has been a Mercedes that was stuck in the garage with a dead battery and had to be drug out on dollies on this site.

Not exactly a malfunction, but a coworker’s wife took the kids and the keys and left her hubby with the car. He drove to a gas station to fill up. Since the electronic key was present in the car when it was started, it continued to run–until he stopped for gas and turned it off. Now the vehicle would not restart since the key was no longer detected as being inside the vehicle. A no doubt amusing phone call later, he got someone to bring him the “key.”

I’m curious what kind of car did this. With my wife’s BMW, if she walked off with the only key, a message something like “key no longer in range” would immediately pop up to warn me not to drive away.

I’ve seen this happen twice with electronic keys. One was a friend of mine that I attend church with and he has a 2013 Prius. It happened on the third day that he owned it and we got him “un-stranded” by going and getting his wife’s key. His battery was dead in the transmitter. The other example was a friend of mine with a 2012 Altima. The fix was getting a new battery as well for his transmitter and I suggested that he find his spare transmitter before this happened again. I also suggested that they both carry spare transmitter batteries in their glove compartments. BTW…I don’t think it’s paranoia at all because it’s already happening and will happen even more when “electronic keys” saturate the market. Those keys are certainly convenient…but at a price.

I’ve never seen it happen…but I’m sure it could.

I like the keyless system my wifes Lexus has. You can’t start/drive the car without the key-fob. No key to worry about. Just the fob. And it starts to warn when the battery is low…long before it won’t be usable.

A customer related a story to me about a 99 MB ML430. Apparently the car had a weak battery and failed to start. The electronic key had to be replaced however the last key had already been issued. The next time the car drove again was after the replacement of the PCM, BCM, AAM, mass air flow, ignition switch and a full lockset. The cost was 6800 dollars.

On the Prius (I assume it’s the same as on my mom’s 2010) you can use the metal emergency key to unlock the vehicle and then place the fob up to the start button, It’s really meant to be enough to get you home or to a place where you can replace the fob battery.

On my Mazda CX-9 the fob is “smart” and the car has to recognize it to start. A simple key in the ignition would not cut it. I am always worried about the fob battery dying and me being stranded. When we go on trips, I carry the spare with me.

@rattlegas: It’s kind of hard to believe that this could happen unless there was a deeper problem. When I got my car I only had one key. With two, you can clone one yourself. With one, it takes a trip to the dealer or a factory-level scan tool to program the system (same as if you had no keys or had to replace the BCM) While I guess it’s possible that with some cars if you programmed 9 keys already or whatever the maximum is, that they could be set up to refuse any more, it seems like an illogical setup. With the dealer scan tool, they simply deleted all existing keys from my car and re-added the existing one and the spare I had cut and brought them. Total time spent, 30 minutes, most of which was waiting for another tech that was using their “Starscan” tool to be done with it.

My brother has a 2009 Hummer H3. He’s had a spurious starting issue. The problem is random. He tries to start the vehicle and nothing happens (nothing, nada, not even…click…click). He waits 10-15 minutes and tries again and the vehicle starts and he’s on his way, no problem. This might not happen for a few weeks but then happens again. But then it’s ok for a while…and so on. He took it to the GM dealer and…you guessed it…the problem didn’t repeat so they told him they didn’t know what was wrong.

His indy garage told him it’s probably the key and the anti theft feature. But they didn’t know for sure either unless the problem occurred when they were troubleshooting.

He had a spare key (new). So he switched keys that worked for about 4 months then the problem repeated. Again after 10-15 minutes the vehicle will start and he’ll be on his way.

I remember being underwhelmed when chipped keys were introduced for the first time…“gee, deliberately designing a ‘single-point failure mode’ into a product, advertizing it as a ‘feature,’ and getting the rubes to pay more for it!”

I haven’t seen much to change my mind. I don’t ever recall a rash of car thefts, and when you consider the known expense and hassle caused by anti-theft…balance it against whatever thefts it prevents…I rather suspect it’s a net negative. (I’m more worried about folks breaking in and running amok with my valuables than i am about GTA.)

If I’m ever that worried about theft…I’ll just take the coil wire with me, TYVM. Also, you can always pull a fuse or two, or trip the inertial fuel pump cut-out switch (on Fords, mostly). I’ve lived in urban, working class (or worse) neighborhoods off and on for the last 20 years, and I have NEVER had a (four-wheeled) vehicle stolen. Nor have any family members or close friends.

We have a Toyota Camry hybrid where I work, and the key fob appears to not have a manual key, but does - it’s hidden. The Camry dashboard gives a warning when the key fob battery starts to run low. The key fob takes a watch battery about the size of a penny, and we keep a spare battery available in the office. Occasionally, someone will ignore the low battery warning and get stranded when the battery dies because they don’t know that you can press a button on the key fob and a manual key will come out. The information is available in the owner’s manual, which is kept in the car, so the only time someone gets stranded is when they ignored the dashboard warning and don’t bother to check the owner’s manual in response to the warning. This has only happened once during my tenure, and if you ask me, the clueless b#####d got what he deserved.

Technological booby traps that are added as a feature. The Cadillac 4-6-8 system can’t touch these “gotcha now” systems.

@"Rod Knox"‌ a friend of mine called that the Cadillac 8-6-4-0 system. It seems his car would periodically stall.

The Cadillac 8-6-4 system was CR*P. It got so bad…cadillac just disabled it when the cars came in for service.

How easily can these electronic key systems be disabled?

I think not very easily since they are an integral part of the factory security system which often involves the PCM.

And with that integrated security system we can re-define the term "built in obsolescence "

Not to mention no fault tolerance!