Keyless ignition and CO poisoning
May 14, 2018 5:29 AM   Subscribe

Unlike a physical car key, a wireless/keyless fob lets you walk away from a vehicle while the engine is running. If you do this in enclosed spaces you could die from carbon monoxide poisoning.
posted by carter (144 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why would thees car continue to run when the key is not present? Even aside from the safety concerns, how is that not inviting car theft?
posted by Dysk at 5:35 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Like Dysk, I completely fail to understand how the ability to keep the engine running when the fob can't be detected is anything but useless and wrong.

If the answer turns out to be that fob detection is not 100% reliable, so that an undetected fob might risk engine shutdown while the car is being driven, then the obvious fix is to avoid shutting down the engine while the car is in gear and moving, not avoid shutting it down ever. I mean, this is just stupid. Carrying the fob away from the car should shut down the motor. And it shouldn't wait 30 minutes (!) to do it.
posted by flabdablet at 5:42 AM on May 14 [13 favorites]


Even aside from the safety concerns, how is that not inviting car theft?

The car can run while still locked, so a thief would still have to break in. In cold climates, people often install after-market remote start packages, so they can start warming up the car while they're still inside putting on their boots and coats; consumer desire for that feature is one reason these fobs operate as they do.
posted by halation at 5:45 AM on May 14 [23 favorites]


Yes, if your car is in park and it loses connection with the fob, it should power down. Problem solved, how hard was that?

I mean… it takes a special kind of something to walk away from your car with it running and not notice, but still. People do dumb stuff all the time; the penalty shouldn't be death.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:50 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


it takes a special kind of something to walk away from your car with it running and not notice,

This happens to smart people without FOB's too every once in a while. Ask me how dumb I felt when I realized I left my car running with the key in the ignition for an entire baseball game (although I do blame it on the fact that I just that day got the car back from the shop and the rental was a car with a FOB and push button start).
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:53 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


According to a company document cited in a deposition, they concluded that “Toyota vehicles do not have adequate smart-key-absent warning system.”
Ah! Mystery solved. These idiotic radio fobs are called "smart keys". So in keeping with standard practice across the entire IT industry, they are both boneheadly stupid and rapidly becoming ubiquitous. Nothing to see here, move along.
posted by flabdablet at 5:54 AM on May 14 [15 favorites]


My car has a remote starter (I got the car from my mother, it's my first time with something like this). It's very handy living in cold places to go start the car by pushing the fob while standing inside, in the warm, let the car warm up for five minutes while I go put on the clothing for going outdoors, and then go clear snow and ice from the car (much easier when the windshield has heated up a bit.)

Also sometimes handy for turning on the car (and the air conditioning) in the summer while walking down to the parking lot from the office. You do need a direct line to the car, so there are situations it doesn't work for.

On mine, the doors lock automatically when you hit the button on the fob. You have to turn the car off, and on again, before you can drive: depressing the brake pedal will turn the car off, so you can't drive off without the key in the ignition. And the car will automatically shut off after 10 minutes, which I assume is partly to avoid the carbon monoxide problem (and also things like accidentally hitting the fob and running the car out of gas.)
posted by modernhypatia at 5:56 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


Oh, sure. I've managed to lock myself out of my car any number of times, albeit not with it running. If you have a system that relies on humans never doing something foolish, your system sucks.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:57 AM on May 14 [16 favorites]


Police advice in this country is always quite strictly to never leave your car running to clear the windscreen. There are people who literally travel around on cold mornings looking for running vehicles that they can then get into and drive off.

Perhaps I'm sheltered, but I've never driven a car which lets you leave it running once you're done driving, or has anything other than an ignition that you have to put a key into. Even my parents' 2011 car, you can open the doors with a remote control gizmo but you then need to put the key in it to start it up.

How does it work? Surely if you have a button to start a car, any thief could just break the window at 3am, press the button and drive off.
posted by winterhill at 5:57 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I did this once, a few months after I got a new car with a keyless fob. I was on the phone on my way to work, frustrated with the call and running late. In retrospect I remember the car beeping at me a few times when I got out and took the fob with me, but it was the last thing on my mind. When I went back to the car to go out for lunch, it was nice and toasty inside (this was January) and that's when I realized it had been running for four hours. I had to call the dealership about another matter, and I asked if someone could have just gotten in my car and drove away. They said yes, but the thief would not have been able to restart the car after they turned if off.

Coincidentally, this happened to my in-laws a few months later. They set off on a road trip, only to discover that their car wouldn't start when they stopped at a rest area about two hours from their home. Turns out the key fob was still in their house, but the signal had been strong enough to start the car without actually being in the car.

So yes, please fix this and save the distracted and rushed and frazzled (and, ok, dumb) from ourselves.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:58 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


This happens to smart people without FOB's too every once in a while.

Let's NIP that in the BUD. "Fob" is a perfectly cromulent word, not an acronym.
posted by flabdablet at 5:58 AM on May 14 [32 favorites]


Let's NIP that in the BUD. Fob is a perfectly cromulent word, not an acronym.
My sim card wants a word with you, as does my pin number.
posted by winterhill at 6:02 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


How does it work? Surely if you have a button to start a car, any thief could just break the window at 3am, press the button and drive off.

The button only works if the key fob is within proximity of it. In at least my own car (a Nissan), the car is well aware of whether the fob is inside the car or outside (it will actually beep at you if you leave the key in the car by accident, and will beep at you if you leave the car running and exit with the key).

(I've always assumed (maybe wrongly?) that if you tried to drive off with the key outside the car, it would eventually make you stop; it sounds like maybe that's not true, but you can't restart the car once you stop it without the key)

That said, while these stories are tragic this seems ... statistically not hugely relevant? I'm sorry if that sounds callous, but we're told that half of the 17 million new cars sold each year have this feature and it is killing an average of 2 people per year. That's a seriously low rate for anything related to automobiles.
posted by tocts at 6:04 AM on May 14 [13 favorites]


The car can run while still locked, so a thief would still have to break in.

Is that what's happening here though? Are people remembering to lock their doors but forgetting to kill the engine?
posted by Dysk at 6:05 AM on May 14


Are people remembering to lock their doors but forgetting to kill the engine?

On at least some fobs I've seen, the lock-doors button and the on-off button are two different buttons, so possibly? But this specific problem seems to occur when cars are left running in garages -- very possibly, people are accustomed to parking their cars in a locked garage, and so also accustomed to leaving the car unlocked since it's 'safe' in there.
posted by halation at 6:09 AM on May 14


How does it work? Surely if you have a button to start a car, any thief could just break the window at 3am, press the button and drive off.

Because this is a smart feature, it works in the stupidest way you could possibly design: there's a little battery-powered transponder in the fob. And no, the batteries are typically not obviously user replaceable.
posted by flabdablet at 6:11 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


> winterhill:
"as does my pin number."

Your pin number was issued by the Department of Redundancy Department.
posted by chavenet at 6:12 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]


This study indicates that between 1999 and 2014, the rate of accidental death from CO poisoning has held steady at ~400 deaths per year. While this was not broken down by cause, another study referenced in the text found that 71% of CO deaths were related to motor vehicles, from which we can assume around 284 accidental CO deaths per year are motor vehicle related.

The NYT article references only 24 deaths over the 12 years discussed in the article - just 2 per year, or less than a percent of accidental CO-related motor vehicle deaths. It seems like an extremely small number given virtually all other statistics related to motor vehicle deaths.

While the goal is always to bring the rate of death to zero (and I'm not sure why any automotive manufacturers wouldn't implement an auto-off when any car has run in park for 30m), when looking at the numbers in both the article and the study, the implication is that similar circumstances are happening far more commonly in situations unrelated to keyless ignition.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 6:13 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]


It's very handy living in cold places to go start the car by pushing the fob while standing inside, in the warm

we're told that half of the 17 million new cars sold each year have this feature and it is killing an average of 2 people per year.


Give me convenience and give them death?
posted by flabdablet at 6:14 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Why would these cars continue to run when the key is not present? Even aside from the safety concerns, how is that not inviting car theft?

I'm pretty sure this is because if, say, you're traveling at 70mph on the freeway, and the keyfob stops working, your engine doesn't shut off. (And with it, also diminishing your ability to brake, steer, and even disables your airbags). Even if it was only coded to shut off when stationary, eventually, you would have to stop for a light, and then you're just stranded at an intersection.

How does it work? Surely if you have a button to start a car, any thief could just break the window at 3am, press the button and drive off.

All modern keys, both wireless and physical ones, primarily use RFID to signal to the car that it should turn on. If you break the window and press the button nothing will happen, just the same as if you had an exact copy of a physical key but no RFID chip on a regular car key.
posted by xdvesper at 6:16 AM on May 14 [12 favorites]


My sim card wants a word with you, as does my pin number.

The word "fob" in English, in relation to things like keychains and watches, goes back to the 1600s. "Key fob" specifically was attested to in 1912 with a usage that makes it clear that the term must predate that.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:19 AM on May 14 [14 favorites]


This is why my garage is detached. Well, not the fob thing, because we don't have any vehicles with that feature. But the thing where a running vehicle in the garage poisons the air in the house, the detached garage configuration prevents that.
posted by elizilla at 6:20 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


This study indicates that between 1999 and 2014, the rate of accidental death from CO poisoning has held steady at ~400 deaths per year.

I am curious why leaving the engine running when you park in the garage is being portrayed as something related specifically to key fobs and not something people - sometimes older and hard of hearing, sometimes distracted - have been able to do just as well with their regular keyed ignition. Especially if you're parking in your own garage and don't lock your doors.
posted by thecjm at 6:22 AM on May 14 [9 favorites]


we're told that half of the 17 million new cars sold each year have this feature and it is killing an average of 2 people per year.

Give me convenience and give them death?


That's the same number of people killed annually by "Happy Birthday!" balloons. Why aren't more people here outraged and talking about how stupid you have to be to touch Mylar?!
posted by haileris23 at 6:22 AM on May 14 [28 favorites]


We were discussing this yesterday with a family member who discovered they'd forgot their fob when they were 300km from home. I don't even understand keyless fobs - like, what problem do they solve? is there something so fucking difficult about inserting something into your dash in order to make your car go?
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:23 AM on May 14 [13 favorites]


While this was not broken down by cause, another study referenced in the text found that 71% of CO deaths were related to motor vehicles, from which we can assume around 284 accidental CO deaths per year are motor vehicle related.
Is that all CO deaths or just unintentional ones? I think that about half of all CO deaths in the US are suicides, and presumably many of those involve cars. I think that most accidental CO deaths in the US are household accidents.

(I don't know a ton about this, but I have a passing interest, because my parents got CO poisoning, which they survived without serious brain injury due basically to my mom being a superhero. If she hadn't forced herself to get out of bed and make coffee, because she does not admit to being sick no matter how terrible she feels, then I'd be an orphan. And I suppose that experience makes me a little unsympathetic to the "it's only a few people a year" argument. That's not a lot of comfort if one of the few people is someone you care about. And we're talking about a problem that could be fixed for a few dollars.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:24 AM on May 14 [14 favorites]


So, you need two people for this caper, and a pair of two-way multi-frequency transponders.

Both lie in wait for a mark in a slexy ride to park downtown. 'A' follows the mark - when they are out of eyesight of their car, 'A' moves to close range of the mark while 'B" moves to the driver's door. The transponders link the fob to the car, the door unlocks, and 'B' hops in, starts the engine, and off to the chop shop they go.
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:26 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Ask me how dumb I felt when I realized I left my car running with the key in the ignition for an entire baseball game

I once helped a panicked customer who had done the trifecta of locking her child inside the car with the keys in the ignition and the car running. I just called 911 and the police slim-jimmed the door opened; they don't generally do that for free anymore, but it's different with a child involved. Luckily the kid didn't ever put the car in gear.

This was before the cell-phone era, so needing help in calling 911 was a thing, but I think she was also actually afraid to do it, like afraid she would get in trouble for calling? Anyway, she was off her head with Fear, and wanted someone to tell her what to do; luckily there was a simple solution at hand. The cops were perfectly happy to be called for this.
posted by thelonius at 6:27 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


what problem do they solve?

Numerous problems!

1. Car keys not having batteries that most people will pay a dealer to change.
2. Car keys not being susceptible to destruction (and subsequent expensive dealer replacement) from being accidentally run through the wash.
3. Car keys not being marketable as "smart".
posted by flabdablet at 6:29 AM on May 14 [21 favorites]


When I was in high school I drove over to my on-and-off-again GF's house and somehow managed to lock my keys in the car while it was running. This was in 1994. At that time, remote starters were also a thing. This is not a new problem, just a scare piece that is hopping on the anti-tech bandwagon.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:30 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


is there something so fucking difficult about inserting something into your dash in order to make your car go

If the keys are stuck in the pocket of one of my tighter pairs of jeans, and I've already sat down? Yes. Or maybe they're at the bottom of your purse. I mean... I'd rank it behind heated seats on my list of must have features, but it's pretty nice.
posted by wotsac at 6:32 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


hopping on the anti-tech bandwagon

Which, to be fair, is an excellent bandwagon and runs just fine without a ridiculous radio key fob to boot.
posted by flabdablet at 6:33 AM on May 14 [16 favorites]


My 2012 Hyundai Veloster has a smart key, but the car beeps like a son of a bitch continuously if you take it out of the car even a couple of feet. It will often go off if I start the car, leave it in my pocket, and then get out of the car to clear snow off or something. The instructions say it will shut off after 7 minutes, but I've never tried it to see if that is the case, as the beeping is loud and constant. The car is usually parked within, say 20 feet of where I leave the key in the house, but if I forget the key in the house it won't start at all. If the battery runs down, you can use the fob itself to push the ignition button and that does the trick until you replace the battery (yourself).

like, what problem do they solve?

It is really nice for me that I can leave my key in my backpack 80% of the time, and not have to worry about losing the key in my house. It's also nice to not have to dig it out of said backpack to start the car.

Also it makes me feel like I am living in the future, which is fun.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:34 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


So glad that metafilter is able to figure out that the reason people like these keys are because they are lazy dupes of the car industry. People who think they like them are just.

Just for the record, the batteries can be replaced by the user quite easily, and via the same process and same batteries used for regular key fobs which have been ubiquitous for like 20 years now. They are also fine if they go through the washing machine, or fall on the floor or whatever.

You can have my smart key when you pry it from my cold dead fingers (er actually, it's never in my fingers, it's in my pocket or bag). it's awesome. They should make the cars turn off after 30 minutes of idling, or require some sort of user interaction to keep the car going after that, problem solved. But this was never really about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning (which the article presents no evidence is actually more common than with conventional keys), it's about people not liking the fact that some people like convenience features which they deem unnecessary or not sufficiently utilitarian or whatever.
posted by skewed at 6:36 AM on May 14 [35 favorites]


Just waiting for all the supercars to get hacked.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:38 AM on May 14


To the people who are commenting that it was also possible to do this (forget a car with a conventional ignition switch on) - yes, you're right, but given that a couple of lines of code can be added to make a smart keyed car shut off if it's left idling stationary for too long, why not do that?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:42 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


But this was never really about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning (which the article presents no evidence is actually more common than with conventional keys), it's about people not liking the fact that some people like convenience features which they deem unnecessary or not sufficiently utilitarian or whatever.

Yeah, this sounds about right. But hey, let's not get in the way of a 2-minutes hate based on complete lack of experience with or understanding of a thing, we wouldn't want to deny someone the joy of 7 separate comments in a thread that indicate they don't actually know a goddamn thing about the lawn or the kids they're yelling at to get off it.
posted by tocts at 6:43 AM on May 14 [9 favorites]


I like driving my car and I think the ability to keep my car on for a large amount of time accidentally is nonetheless silly.
posted by solarion at 6:47 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


This was before the cell-phone era, so needing help in calling 911 was a thing, but I think she was also actually afraid to do it, like afraid she would get in trouble for calling?

Huh. Not to derail the fob discussion but that latter question might depend on how much melanin she had.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:55 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


If only they could invent a car that didn't emit carbon monoxide.
posted by Slinga at 6:57 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


On review, I skimmed over the part of the article about the experience of the Florida police saying that there was a surge of incidents involving cars left running in the garage. It's a bit hand-wavey, but it does seem likely to me that it's at least somewhat more likely to happen with a smart rather than a conventional key. I'd imagine another factor is tech in general, I spend more time sitting in my parked car now than I did before Bluetooth equipped smart phones, all of that may be interrupting the link I used to have between putting the car in park and then reaching for the keys in ignition/turn-off button.

Anyway, my 2012 car already has a feature where if I'm sitting in the car with the engine off listening to the radio or whatever for more than about 10-15 minutes, it beeps at me and puts up a message about possible wearing down the batteries. It seems like an engine shut-off system for a car in park would be even more appropriate.
posted by skewed at 6:59 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Huh. Not to derail the fob discussion but that latter question might depend on how much melanin she had..

White Buckhead housewife, since you asked
posted by thelonius at 7:04 AM on May 14


I have to admit I didn't know this was a thing until I read that article. I looked through the manual for my 2015 RAV4 and the only info about how to start and turn off the car involves the usual steps. Nothing about an automatic shutdown. Nevertheless, having grown up in a cold place, I can easily imagine some people being cheesed off that they couldn't start their car and then lock the doors and walk off for a while. (Although, to open up another can of worms, nobody really needs to do that anymore, at least for the engine.) It seems like this ought to be something that's on by default for safety but can be disabled at the user's discretion, like the passenger-side airbag.

People here are talking about remote starts in some of the comments, but that's not what most of these smart keys do. They require one to be in the car with the fob pushing the button on the dashboard. Which is more or less what one has to do mechanically with a real key.

There's also a fallback, at least for Toyota, if something happens to the smart part of the key. There's a real key one can pull out of the fob, and that key can be used, if one knows how, to unlock the doors and start the car. When we bought this car, it was the one thing the dealer really wanted us to understand how to do before we left the lot, which made me think the smart keys might not be so smart. It's actually a better situation than I had with my '99 Saab. That, too had a smart fob that unlocked the doors. The problem was the smart part was tied into the alarm system, so if you used the real key and the fob was dead the alarm would sound and there was no way to turn it off, short of pulling the fuse.

I'm always surprised anytime I go to the car without my fob and the doors won't open.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:04 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


> If only they could invent a car that didn't emit carbon monoxide.

Oh boy now we get to fold in the "How clean is your electric car?" argument too. Anybody want to bring up bicycles for the trifecta?
posted by ardgedee at 7:05 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


It's pretty surprising that regulatory action has lagged. In 2008, a family in Colorado all died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and since then there's been a pretty rapid uptake of laws requiring CO detectors in homes.
posted by entropone at 7:05 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


It is even worse with a hybrid vehicle. If the car is in battery mode (which it will be when you are driving slowly such as to park your car), then there's no engine noise at all. It sounds like the car is turned off. Except after a while, when the battery runs low, the engine will turn back on.
posted by eye of newt at 7:07 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


is there something so fucking difficult about inserting something into your dash in order to make your car go?

Jeez. Is there something so fucking terrible about a bit of convenience? It's nice to not have to dig around in your pocket to find your keys, especially on a cold day when you've got gloves on. Our car has a touch sensor on the door handle to unlock it, and a push button on the dash to start the engine. I never have to think about the key other than throwing it in my bag at the beginning of the day. It's nice.
posted by ook at 7:07 AM on May 14 [18 favorites]


Keys? Hah! You can pry my crank start horseless carriage from my cold dead hands. Huzzah!

/adjusts goggles and scarf, honks comically loud “a-wooo-gah” horn, and motors away
posted by dr_dank at 7:17 AM on May 14 [39 favorites]


Would it be possible to acknowledge that this feature has come with millions of new cars for a couple years now and it isn't much of a deciding factor in the purchase?
posted by lagomorphius at 7:18 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


Unlike a physical car key...

I can absolutely walk away from my car while it's running, with the physical key. I fail to understand how this is different in any way.
posted by tonyx3 at 7:23 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Keys? Hah! You can pry my crank start horseless carriage from my cold dead hands. Huzzah!

/adjusts goggles and scarf, honks comically loud “a-wooo-gah” horn, and motors away


Oh, there's a lot more to it than that.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:23 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Those Japanese cars just run and run. My 2003 Toyota Yaris has only done 45,000 miles because the previous owner was an old guy who just drove it round Blackpool. But I saw one by the side of the road yesterday with a for-sale sign in the window reading "165,000 miles". On a small, cheap car.

A friend of mine recently thought 200,000 miles on his Suzuki Aero was enough, and switched up to a used Prius.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:25 AM on May 14



I can absolutely walk away from my car while it's running, with the physical key.

How? Asking earnestly.
posted by agregoli at 7:27 AM on May 14


I mean, the actual article isn't arguing that keyless ignitions are bad or lazy or should be done away with. The proposed remedy is that there should be a loud beep if you leave the car while it's still running, or that the car should shut off after idling for a half an hour. It suggests that these things could be done pretty cheaply: about $5 per car, it says. I have no issue with fobs, but this seems like a pretty cheap fix for something that would save some lives and prevent some non-fatal but still pretty serious injuries. It's cheaper than the CO detector that I have in my house.
I can absolutely walk away from my car while it's running, with the physical key. I fail to understand how this is different in any way.
Probably depends on your setup, but my house keys are on the same keyring as my car keys, so I can't get into the house unless I take the car key out of the ignition. Part of it may just be familiarity, though: I've been turning off the car and taking the key out of the ignition for as long as I've been driving, and that motion is very ingrained in my muscle memory. Pushing the button to turn off a keyless ignition is not as ingrained. But maybe it would quickly become as automatic if I had that kind of car. (I don't, but I have driven cars with keyless ignition.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:28 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


[A few comments removed, cool it already.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:28 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


What interests me about this story is how old fashioned dying from carbon monoxide poisoning from your car seems. It seems like a trope form a 70's detective show--the murder masquerading as suicide. But I see it still happens with more regularity than I would have expected.
posted by crush at 7:33 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


What surprised me in this story is that carbon monoxide detectors weren't already in the houses. I can't remember, but I have this vague idea that they are required in my city, like smoke detectors. (Though this may be a rental thing).

While I realise you can't call on car companies to pay for detectors for everyone, that's really what would help.
posted by jb at 7:38 AM on May 14


If people are getting poisoned and dying, and it looks like they are, then we need a simple regulation requiring continuous beeping or auto-shutoff. Sounds like a no-brainer (except for the who we have running the government nowadays).

If car batteries continue to improve at the rate they have in the last 10 years (slow but compounding exponentially), then long-range electric cars will likely be the cheapest car you can buy within another 10 to 15 years and this problem will no longer exist.
posted by eye of newt at 7:40 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I can absolutely walk away from my car while it's running

How? Asking earnestly.



Open the door and get out. Unless I turn off the car first and take the keys with me, it stays running. The procedure hasn't really changed with smart keys. You still have to turn off your car if you want it to stop running. The only difference is where the keys are. Smart keys can stay in your pocket, sure, but they don't change the fact that you have to be responsible for operating your car, exactly as you had to before.
posted by tonyx3 at 7:45 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


I can absolutely walk away from my car while it's running, with the physical key.

How? Asking earnestly.


A friend had a Honda SUV back in the 90's that let you take the key out of the ignition while it was running. He wasn't sure if it was a feature or a bug, as he only discovered it accidentally some years after getting the car second-hand.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:45 AM on May 14


If you have 60 to 70 years of muscle memory telling you that taking the key out means the car is turned off, which many drivers in their 70s, 80s and 90s do (and there now exist many more drivers of that age than ever), and cars now generally run quieter, and elderly people's hearing tends to be worse, and your garage is connected to your house, then yes, this is worth adding more, louder beeps and automatic turn off after 30 minutes.

I tend to not be a fan of IoT in general, but for those of us who have 8 or so months of winter, with 2 or 3 of those months involving temperatures consistently below freezing, outdoor parking, windy conditions, and various forms of frozen precipitation, being able to remote-start your vehicle can be a godsend, not a mere convenience.
posted by Gnella at 7:46 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I guess that it's a feature that my garage is detached and also so drafty that you'd never be able to fill it with CO even with multiple cars running.
posted by octothorpe at 7:50 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


My car has a regular key and I left it locked and running in front of my house for three hours not so long ago. I only noticed because I went for a post-dinner walk. Oops! Life is exhausting.
posted by something something at 7:51 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I have a regular key fob -- I don't want a remote starter -- and often turn the car on to start warming up while I try to shovel the car out. But in the winter, the keys get cold, the batteries die, so I can only start the car by pressing the button with the key fob until I get around to replacing the battery. Which means that my car gets confused when I leave it with the key and the car is still running. I'm not sure what the solution should be.
posted by jeather at 7:53 AM on May 14


As for the homes not having CO detectors - if your house doesn't have gas or propane appliances and relies on electricity only, people probably make the assumption that they don't need a CO detector.
posted by ShooBoo at 7:57 AM on May 14


Anybody want to bring up bicycles for the trifecta?

I assume this is something I'd need a TV to understand.

Remote starter are a problem when people keep their car in a garage, for two reasons: CO can build up in the garage and potentially hurt someone who enters to use the car, or as mentioned in the article, CO can leak into the house and kill an occupant, particularly one who is asleep. Even carports are a problem this way, apparently.

There are a bunch of building code controls (in Canada at least) that are supposed to prevent this: interior doors are supposed to be weather sealed (and somewhat air tight), doors to the garage are supposed to have automatic closers on them to prevent them from being left ajar, and of course, we're supposed to have CO monitors on each floor of the house, and now additional ones near bedrooms too.

But all of those can break down, wear out, not be installed properly (or removed as a pain in the ass). So when someone forgets and leaves a car running for too long, dangerous situations can still happen.
posted by bonehead at 7:57 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


After reading this article I am thinking of buying a couple of CO monitors for my garage and my dad's
posted by etherist at 8:00 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Just the other day I left my car running for 2 hours after I got home. Fortunately it was parked on the street in front of my house and my neighbor alerted me. The engine is just so quiet!
posted by matildaben at 8:00 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine recently thought 200,000 miles on his Suzuki Aero was enough, and switched up to a used Prius.

My Mira's got 345,000km on it now. My plan is to run it until it rusts out from underneath me, which it is so far showing zero inclination to do, by which time it should be possible to replace it with a similarly cheap, similarly small second-hand all-electric. There will probably be a couple of total engine rebuilds between now and then, which will undoubtedly cost more than the purchase price of the car and still leave me well ahead of any new car on TCO.

The car doesn't have an automatic transmission, so I can roll-start it if the battery goes flat; it doesn't have electric windows, so I'll still be able to get out if I roll it and jam the doors by caving in the roof (a feature which has personally proved its worth twice in very similar cars, neither of which I was driving at the time); it doesn't have central locking, so I can get spare keys cut really cheap if I need one. It does have an engine control computer and fuel injection, unlike the 1991 model that young master flabdablet rolled and destroyed, but those were too hard to avoid given the time constraints I was under for the purchase. The engine makes just enough noise to be fun to sing along with, which makes it really good for teaching my kids to drive a manual gearbox in while not being so noisy as to annoy the neighbours or overwhelm the radio.

This little car is amazingly capable, both on the freeway and on rough bush tracks; it's a pleasure to drive, a pleasure to park and I couldn't be happier with it. I will miss it when it comes time to replace it with something that will undoubtedly be more complicated. I enjoy the warm inner glow I get every time I walk away from parking a car that any self-respecting thief would be embarrassed to be seen driving. And it's hard to beat being able to roll into the service station, get out, fill up from dead empty, pay my $30 and leave before the guy at the next pump has finished pouring another $130 down the gullet of the $80,000 4WD that spends most of its on-road time picking up his kids from school.

Envy that guy? Hells no.

I guess that it's a feature that my garage is detached and also so drafty that you'd never be able to fill it with CO even with multiple cars running.

I'd certainly rate that design as a safety feature, and since wisdom dictates that safety should obviously be prioritized far higher than convenience, think better of you for choosing a house with a garage designed that way.
posted by flabdablet at 8:03 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


NYT sure loves their scaremonger stories, don't they? You should absolutely have a CO detector in your house. This one is $30 and easy as can be to install, just plug it in.

I love my 2017 Audi A3's smart key. But I've had the car for a year and still don't have a clear understanding of when the car is on or off. The problem is that the engine sometimes shuts itself off to save gasoline, say at a red light. But it will then turn itself on when needed, when I step on the gas or sometimes when stationary too long with the AC running. I think the car is smart enough that if I put it in park and open the driver's door it shuts down the engine, but I'm not certain. Sometimes I find myself pressing the Stop/Start button in the car thinking I'm shutting it down only to hear the engine start itself. I have a masters degree from MIT and still can't figure out the ignition model.

But so far I've not once left the car running in my garage. The one real nuisance with the smart key is I almost never have to actually press a button on the fob. Except when I want to lock the doors; that's the only time a button press is required. Not entirely sure why the car can't lock itself when I walk away with the key, presumably there's some case where that'd result in a problematic accidental locking.
posted by Nelson at 8:07 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


I have a regular key and I once left my car running in my office remote parking lot for 9 hours. I was so lucky it didn't run out of gas. I didn't notice until I was leaving and "ooops! must have locked my keys in my car." Nope. Car wasn't locked. In my defense it was lightly raining.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:09 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Stuff like this really makes me want to keep my low-tech 2009 Honda forever.
posted by octothorpe at 8:11 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


If I leave it turned on and exit with the key in my pocket, my Chevy spark EV gives a big loud full volume HONK to tell me I'm an idiot. It is not the polite honk I get when I lock my doors. I really really hate that feature, but it is surprisingly effective.

Presumably they do that because EVs don't make noise when turned on. Seems like an easy enough solution to apply to all keyless ignition cars.
posted by davejay at 8:15 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


After reading this article I am thinking of buying a couple of CO monitors for my garage and my dad's
I think the more important thing is to have one in your house or apartment. You won't necessarily hear one in your garage.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:16 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


That said, while these stories are tragic this seems ... statistically not hugely relevant? I'm sorry if that sounds callous, but we're told that half of the 17 million new cars sold each year have this feature and it is killing an average of 2 people per year. That's a seriously low rate for anything related to automobiles.

But it's such an easy fix. I mean, my car automatically turns off the headlights after a few minutes if we leave them on when we get out of the car. How hard can it be to automatically shut off a car that has nobody in it after X minutes? Answer: not hard.
posted by Orlop at 8:19 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


It is really nice for me that I can leave my key in my backpack 80% of the time, and not have to worry about losing the key in my house. It's also nice to not have to dig it out of said backpack to start the car.

I've never had a car with remote start, but this makes me think of those times when you're carrying a baby, a diaper bag, your purse, and you have a toddler hanging on you, and you have to dig your key out from somewhere. How nice this feature would have been during that time of my life.

Like how, for me, automatic sliding doors on my minivan would have been a convenience if I'd had them, but for my friend with a two-year-old and twin babies, automatic sliding doors were practically a necessity.
posted by Orlop at 8:24 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


> haileris23:
"stupid you have to be to touch Mylar?!"

I wouldn't touch your lar with a 10-foot pole!
posted by chavenet at 8:26 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


It's a bit hand-wavey, but it does seem likely to me that it's at least somewhat more likely to happen with a smart rather than a conventional key.

I picked up the idea that there's a combination: the smart key is one element, so you can get out of your car without having to manually turn the car off (whereas for those of us without smart keys, taking the key out of the ignition is part of a normal, mostly-automatic sequence of actions we perform--an action I've only failed to perform once that I can remember, when I was profoundly sleep-deprived with a newborn who was nursing around the clock. Fortunately my car drove itself slowly into the garage door, which stopped it, and no harm was done except a bent door track which I was able to get repaired for $80).

The other element the article mentioned is engines so quiet that you don't necessarily hear them, so it's easier to not realize your car is running.

On another point, it seems like there could be a warning when you get, say, more than 20 miles away from your key fob while driving, so you figure it out before you reach the limit of your gas tank on a long road trip.
posted by Orlop at 8:29 AM on May 14


Cars, like any other piece of large, heavy, potentially deadly machinery, should have a hardwired on/off switch that allows the operator to deactivate it without any ambiguity. Keys used to serve this purpose - they do not anymore. I've had enough incidents happen while driving (electrical freakout, stuck accelerator) that I was able to safely resolve by turning the car off that I am highly skeptical of cars that put software between me and the off switch. That said, keyless fobs are great and convenient and probably a godsend to people who have limited fine motor control.

But for the love of the FSM, cars should have big, bright, completely unavoidable indicators of BEING ON and BEING OFF for exactly this reason. If you can't depend on engine noise / vibrations or some other byproduct of the car being on, something synthetic needs to take its place. Like, imagine silent chainsaws and woodchippers.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:31 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


What interests me about this story is how old fashioned dying from carbon monoxide poisoning from your car seems. It seems like a trope form a 70's detective show--the murder masquerading as suicide. But I see it still happens with more regularity than I would have expected.

I read an article awhile ago that claimed it couldn't happen anymore, that TV shows that show people killing themselves that way are out of date, because the emissions of modern cars don't have enough carbon monoxide to kill you if you're sitting in your garage with the car on.
posted by Orlop at 8:33 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I am co-founder of a not-for-profit computer security consultancy. I've talked to enough folks who "hacked" cars that I'm not only happy my current car does not have a remote, I am also 100% certain my next car won't have one either.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:33 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Cars continue running when the fob is removed to prevent your car from being disabled while waiting in Park somewhere by a dead fob battery.

You can start the engine with a 'battery exhausted' fob by holding it up to a contact sensor somewhere in the car usually the power switch.

It will present a dashboard warning about the missing fob, flashing red in mine anyways, but it's up to you to react accordingly ("somehow left key behind" vs. "i just held the fob to start it").

(I'm not advocating for or against anyone or anything here, but I couldn't find a lucid description anywhere of how fob battery usability concerns result in hours-idling cars in a driveway.)
posted by crysflame at 8:34 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


those times when you're carrying a baby, a diaper bag, your purse, and you have a toddler hanging on you, and you have to dig your key out from somewhere

The smart open/close driver door on the Tesla Model X is absolute magic for this. It opens when you approach it with the key, and closes when you walk away. It may sound like pointless techno wankery but it's surprisingly helpful in real life. I think this feature will make its way into minivans over time.

It's weird that with the environmental concern over car idling, the keyless ignition problem was allowed to get to the point where people are dying from CO poisoning. You'd think there would be regulatory pressure to shut the car off automatically just to cut emissions.
posted by allegedly at 8:56 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Cars continue running when the fob is removed to prevent your car from being disabled while waiting in Park somewhere by a dead fob battery.

You can start the engine with a 'battery exhausted' fob by holding it up to a contact sensor somewhere in the car usually the power switch.


That's a reason why the backup actual key in the fob (or just a slot to insert and hold the fob) is a better option for drained battery situations - you have a way of verifying that the key is still present in that case too, so you can do stuff like assume that no key means nobody in the car, better turn off.
posted by Dysk at 9:09 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Unlike a physical car key, a wireless/keyless fob lets you walk away from a vehicle while the engine is running.

Accidentally walk away (more easily), I assume? Because it's not like one couldn't walk away before. The surprising part is since one can't start the car without the key being in proximity one would assume it would eventually shut down if one takes it away.
posted by atoxyl at 9:15 AM on May 14


Y'know, I am actually really curious why building codes don't demand some sort of open air venting system in attached garages. It seems like a no-brainer. You have an area that can build up with noxious fumes, there ought to be at minimum a passive air exchange via vent grid to help prevent this. Like, why don't garage doors have (reinforced for security) venting panels in them?

I use my remote start a lot in the winter. But it's start only: Car shuts off after 10 minutes, and when I do get into the car, the key must be placed into the ignition and turned to enable the vehicle to fully start and drive. (Allows safe warm-up without also unlocking the steering wheel or engaging the driveshaft - engine runs at a low idle but vehicle is not ripe for stealing). When I park the thing, the engine shuts off with a key turn. 10 minutes later, or when the driver's door opens (whichever comes first), the radio/etc. turns off. This is simple yet convenient and I don't feel any need to do anything more complicated. Keyless ignition is one of the "innovations" that doesn't really solve a problem. (Backup cameras now, that thing has been super useful... in so many ways. For example I put the car in reverse after parking to activate the camera so I can visually ensure I am actually lined up in the spot, rather than parking half over the line like a jackass)
posted by caution live frogs at 9:27 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Given the regulations that govern gas powered hot water heaters, it seems astonishing that unvented garages that exchange air with occupied spaces are allowed. There are very few fumes or gases that arise in garages - whether or not you've left an engine running - that you want entering a home. This seems like more of a building code problem than a car UI design problem.
posted by eotvos at 9:38 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the building codes in my area state that any attached garage has to be completely sealed off from the rest of the house with 5/8ths drywall fully taped on all seams/corners, plus auto-closing entry doors to the house if applicable. Because of fire/fumes hazard.

However this also makes it a great way to inhale a bunch of carbon monoxide should you find yourself trapped inside it with a running car.
posted by some loser at 9:44 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Good things about keyless ignitions systems:

- you won't lock your keys in the car

that's worth something for me, I gotta say

Also I think they are supposed to make it harder to steal, though I'm sure someone will hack it. Actually I think some of the early systems are definitely insecure but they've had some time to work on it in theory. Also I believe I've heard that a fair number of later "traditional" keys have some sort of RFID component anyway?
posted by atoxyl at 9:54 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


And no, the batteries are typically not obviously user replaceable.

What are you even talking about? The link is to a video showing precisely how to do this, as a user. I have owned multiple Nissans with the same key fob, and was able to figure this out without even looking it up on the internet. It is trivial to change the battery.
posted by tocts at 10:01 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I don't even understand keyless fobs - like, what problem do they solve? is there something so fucking difficult about inserting something into your dash in order to make your car go?

I've had a keyless Prius since 2005. The keyless system is actually a huge improvement in usability. The key fob always stays in my pocket, and it really gives the illusion that the car knows who I am and trusts me. The main advantage is that the doors unlock when I touch the door handle, so it's one motion to open any door or the trunk, and only requires one hand and no fumbling in my pocket. Makes it easy to get in the car while holding something like a bag, or holding my 5 year old's hand.
Then I sit down and press Start and drive off, again no fumbling in my jeans pcket. When I get there I turn the car off, get out and touch a button on the car door to lock it. If I have left the car switched on, it will make an error beep and refuse to lock.
You cannot lock the key in the car, because it knows whether the key is inside or outside.

Compare that to driving my wife's new Subaru. The pointy key with buttons on it is massive, like a fucking steak knife in my jeans pocket, and is always stabbing me in some part of the anatomy if not oriented properly. I am constantly getting my bulky key chain out of my pocket and putting it back, while wrestling with whatever I'm carrying, and once it's out I have to work out which black button to press on a black key to lock or unlock the door and not accidentally set the panic alarm off. The keychain dangles down from the ignition while I'm driving and bashes me in the knee all the time. All because the dealer was too dumb to upsell us on the keyless system when we ordered the car, which we would gladly have paid for (and thought was included).
posted by w0mbat at 10:04 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


I would like a simple number keypad on the dashboard instead of a fob. As for the fobs and CO it seems like a very minimal ask to have the car shut itself off in 30 minutes. You can say the deaths are insignificant but the amount of effort to not have any deaths is even more insignificant.
posted by Pembquist at 10:07 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


it seems like there could be a warning when you get, say, more than 20 miles away from your key fob while driving

Never mind 20 miles. It should not be possible to move the car at all unless the fob is detectable, either by radio with enough returned signal strength to assure that the fob is actually inside the car, or by near-field RFID via a dedicated fob holder, or by a mechanical backup key having been physically fitted to a lock. I'm calling this condition "fob-in-car".

The only time a car should even start without fob-in-car is via multiple successive presses on a remote-start button within a short time window, or some other sequence designed to make it infeasible to pocket-dial the starter.

The only way the engine should ever run at all without fob-in-car is if (a) it was the fob radio creating that condition rather than the RFID or mechanical key, and the fob becomes undetectable when the car is already in motion and no door has been opened since the fob signal was lost, in which case the fob battery has most likely just gone flat; or (b) if the car has been remote-started and not yet moved, in which case the engine should only stay running for a limited time before requiring fob-in-car to keep it going.

Loss (as opposed to mere lack) of fob-in-car after a door has been operated with the engine running should shut the car down immediately just as currently happens with a car reliant on an ordinary mechanical key when the key is removed.

There ought to be a standard interlock that works with garage door openers and forces any "smart" car inside the garage to shut down and stay that way whenever the garage door is shut, fob-in-car or not; fitting such an interlock should be a matter of building code compliance for attached garages.

And no, the batteries are typically not obviously user replaceable.

What are you even talking about? The link is to a video showing precisely how to do this, as a user.


Exactly. If it was obvious, no such video would ever have been necessary. Most people are justifiably reluctant to attack expensive electronics with knives, and making battery replacement require that manoeuvre is making it non-obvious that this is something one can do at home.
posted by flabdablet at 10:08 AM on May 14


A friend had a Honda SUV back in the 90's that let you take the key out of the ignition while it was running. He wasn't sure if it was a feature or a bug, as he only discovered it accidentally some years after getting the car second-hand.

This is generally a sign of an ignition lock that's been damaged during a theft attempt. It should not be possible to remove a car key unless it's been turned to the Lock position, precisely because leaving a car running while walking away with the means to lock and start it is such a completely unsound thing to do.
posted by flabdablet at 10:20 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Just wait until the fobs start coming with 2FA.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:23 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


The car doesn't have an automatic transmission, so I can roll-start it if the battery goes flat [...] It does have an engine control computer and fuel injection

If the battery is flat, you'll probably use up its last bit of juice trying to start the car, and then it will be too flat to roll-start the car since the ECU will not run and the fuel will not be injected. Happened to me last year.

Not that there aren't plenty of other reasons to prefer a manual transmission, but the downside is that it's extremely dangerous. You might get out of the car and not leave it in "park" or put the handbrake on, and then it will roll down a hill and kill you.
posted by sfenders at 10:38 AM on May 14


Surprisingly, it has taken until recently for man-in-the-middle attacks against these keyless ignitions to start becoming common.
posted by sfenders at 10:45 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


This seems like more of a building code problem than a car UI design problem.

Why not both? The building code shouldn't allow the problem. The car shouldn't cause the problem. The government should not allow the car to be sold without adequately addressing the problem. The driver/homeowner should be aware of the problem and how to avoid it. Each death requires all of these layers of safety to fail, and suggests in each case other possible failures in those layers. What other unsafe things are permitted by the building code? What other new "smart" features have been allowed onto the market without adding appropriate new safety constraints, etc.?
posted by hyperbolic at 11:08 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


you'll probably use up its last bit of juice trying to start the car, and then it will be too flat to roll-start the car since the ECU will not run and the fuel will not be injected. Happened to me last year.

One day when my little car's battery proved too old and tired to turn over the starter, I was able to roll start it on the flat by sticking one leg out of the driver's door and scooting. It's good to own a light vehicle.

You might get out of the car and not leave it in "park" or put the handbrake on, and then it will roll down a hill and kill you.

I might indeed fail to leave the car parked in first gear with the handbrake on and the wheels turned toward the kerb, if I were too drunk to be driving in the first place. Of course, I could achieve exactly the same thing in an auto by leaving it in N instead of P, so I don't see this as a black mark against manual gearboxes so much as against cars.
posted by flabdablet at 11:08 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


.
posted by limeonaire at 11:11 AM on May 14


I've seen a couple of articles claiming that a significant fraction of accidents are caused by driver impairment due to carbon monoxide exposure in traffic.

So the small numbers of reported deaths are probably only the leading edge of a considerably larger number of injuries and deaths caused by drivers who started cars remotely which were in some kind of enclosed space, and were then exposed to CO as they got into the car and within the car itself.
posted by jamjam at 11:18 AM on May 14


leaving it in N instead of P

There is typically a mechanism to prevent you removing the key in that case. I don't know whether cars rolling down hills and killing entire families is more, or less common than carbon monoxide poisoning, but the number of gifs of parked cars rolling away that turn up, it's got to be at least in the same ballpark. Perhaps there should be a series of loud warning beeps any time a car transitions from stationary to moving.
posted by sfenders at 11:23 AM on May 14


We've actually used the "drive the car away without the key" several times as a logistical and/or failsafe feature: passenger gets dropped off to run into a store, mistakenly has key; driver can still safely park the car and/or circle the block.

And just this month we were running late, so I dropped off the passenger for an appointment with the key, on purpose this time, then drove the beeping car home. Dropped off the groceries, got the spare key and the dog, drove back and dropped off the car for the passenger to use later, and then I walked home with the dog.

See, a feature, not a bug!
posted by troyer at 11:31 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


But then the fox eats the hen!
posted by cortex at 11:43 AM on May 14 [15 favorites]


just this month we were running late, so I dropped off the passenger for an appointment with the key, on purpose this time, then drove the beeping car home. Dropped off the groceries, got the spare key and the dog, drove back and dropped off the car for the passenger to use later, and then I walked home with the dog.

See, a feature, not a bug!


Enabling this use case for my little car required me to spend $10 on getting triplicate keys cut after buying the car, and I don't even have to put up with beeping because now everybody I trust to drive my car has their own key.
posted by flabdablet at 11:48 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


One day when my little car's battery proved too old and tired to turn over the starter, I was able to roll start it on the flat by sticking one leg out of the driver's door and scooting.

If you ever want to look like a man who's not in charge of his own destiny, just lean half in the driver's door and try to push start a 1986 MR2, with all your wordly possessions in it, in a Shaw's parking lot, in Worcester, at night, in the rain.

"You need any help?"
"No, I'm fine. This is exactly where I want to be in my life right now."
posted by ftm at 12:06 PM on May 14 [14 favorites]


I was just about to rant about you kids and your newfangled keyless nonsense with all its unnecessary technology and how us oldfolk got on just fine blah blah blah when I got a frantic call from my partner who can't get her physical key more than halfway into the ignition.

So, um, land contrasts I guess.
posted by whuppy at 12:19 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I have two electric cars. It is weird to sit in the garage with the car on, listening to something finishing on the radio. "CO poisoning!!!", oh wait.

The number of times I have just walked away from the car, with the fob just sitting in the cup holder though...

Too often. Luckily no one has stolen it in those times.
posted by Windopaene at 12:35 PM on May 14


I don't know- I would hope my vehicle would still be able to run while it's away from its forward operating base. Seems kind of pointless, otherwise.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:38 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Police advice in this country is always quite strictly to never leave your car running to clear the windscreen. There are people who literally travel around on cold mornings looking for running vehicles that they can then get into and drive off.

If you used a remote starter to get it running, those people will be frustrated, for two reasons:
1. The remote starter does not unlock the doors. Many of them allow the alarm to remain armed when the car is started,
2. To drive a car, you have to step on the brake or the clutch when putting it in gear. Doing either of those kills the engine if it was started remotely.

Those people are looking for cars that were started with a key and left unlocked.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:50 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


/adds keyless ignition to list of things "Metafilter doesn't do well"
posted by thelonius at 1:02 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]


My mom's car, an Acura ILX that's around 2 years old, has one of these fobs and can remote start. It is quite useful in the winter to warm the car up. It will shut down by itself after 5-10 minutes if someone doesn't go into the car to properly start it.

I guess by going with keyless fobs there isn't a mechanical lock to break down and you can't accidentally do the steering wheel lock thing that requires you to open up the car's manual to figure out how to get the steering wheel to turn again. I would prefer to have an actual key to put in the ignition but it isn't going to be a factor in any car buying decision I make in the future.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:26 PM on May 14


Dysk: "Why would thees car continue to run when the key is not present? Even aside from the safety concerns, how is that not inviting car theft?"

My work truck is an old Mitsubishi diesel and it runs whenever it's not parked in its heated garage in the winter because 30 minutes at -20 when it's off means hours of dicking around with heaters and battery packs to get it started again.

ArbitraryAndCapricious: "It suggests that these things could be done pretty cheaply: about $5 per car, it says. I have no issue with fobs, but this seems like a pretty cheap fix for something that would save some lives and prevent some non-fatal but still pretty serious injuries. "

To be fair that's 85 Million dollars annually to prevent two deaths; car companies make these sort of trade offs all the time and if they didn't no one would be able to afford cars.

flabdablet: " it doesn't have electric windows, so I'll still be able to get out if I roll it and jam the doors by caving in the roof (a feature which has personally proved its worth twice in very similar cars, neither of which I was driving at the time);"

You are way more likely to be killed by outdated safety features in a car old enough to have 350K miles than be trapped in a roll over by electric windows not working. Even then $5 on a window breaker would eliminate the risk. (weird pairing of hardware my new 12V USB charger FM transmitter/Bluetooth thing has a built in glass breaker on the plug)

Nelson: " Not entirely sure why the car can't lock itself when I walk away with the key, presumably there's some case where that'd result in a problematic accidental locking."

Many cars do this.

Orlop: "I read an article awhile ago that claimed it couldn't happen anymore, that TV shows that show people killing themselves that way are out of date, because the emissions of modern cars don't have enough carbon monoxide to kill you if you're sitting in your garage with the car on."

It's pretty unlikely in a correctly operating modern car but damaged or defective emission systems can still result in cars creating CO.

caution live frogs: "Y'know, I am actually really curious why building codes don't demand some sort of open air venting system in attached garages. It seems like a no-brainer. You have an area that can build up with noxious fumes, there ought to be at minimum a passive air exchange via vent grid to help prevent this. Like, why don't garage doors have (reinforced for security) venting panels in them?"

Both the NEC and CEC have required measures to mitigate this risk for decades. It's likely the incidents featured had several failures besides the key fob induced car running. I'm guessing either a really old hose or a door whose auto closer was disabled or propped open. Requiring passive ventilation would greatly increase the cost of heating garages. And heck all modern houses require ventilation of the living space amounting to at least a complete air change every 2 hours.

w0mbat: "I am constantly getting my bulky key chain out of my pocket and putting it back, while wrestling with whatever I'm carrying, and once it's out I have to work out which black button to press on a black key to lock or unlock the door and not accidentally set the panic alarm off."

A dab of paint or nail polish will help the desired button stand out.

flabdablet: "This is generally a sign of an ignition lock that's been damaged during a theft attempt."

On a 90s Honda it's a sign the key has been used at least once. They have notoriously poor lock cylinders.
posted by Mitheral at 1:41 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Requiring passive ventilation would greatly increase the cost of heating garages.
I'm pretty sure it's against code for the regular house A/C system to be attached to a garage, so a garage heating or cooling system would have to be stand-alone.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:57 PM on May 14


It's frustrating that most of the "don't idle your car" talk from local media and police fixes on the minimal risk of theft (something that primarily affects the driver, who can control that risk) rather than the certain result of reduced air quality (something that affects everyone, with no ability to control exposure).

Turn your engines off. Especially if you're parked in front of a school. Especially if you're near someone else's home. Especially if you're idling your car because you can't be bothered to put on a coat in the winter or use a windshield shade in summer. Stop making breathing harder for vulnerable people because you value your momentary comfort over everyone else's health.
posted by asperity at 3:43 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Y'know, I am actually really curious why building codes don't demand some sort of open air venting system in attached garages. It seems like a no-brainer. You have an area that can build up with noxious fumes, there ought to be at minimum a passive air exchange via vent grid to help prevent this. Like, why don't garage doors have (reinforced for security) venting panels in them?

Just because it's in the building codes doesn't mean it will actually get done--if I had a dollar for all the houses around here that were renovated w/o permits (and so w/o building inspectors checking code compliance) or otherwise out-of-code, I could actually afford to buy one of them.
posted by MikeKD at 4:42 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I have an Elantra with a pushbutton start. I have no idea what any of you are talking about, but I will start it and then leave the car with the fobby and report back FOR SCIENCE. I guess I could try to repark it down the street without it, too. I don't have a garage so asphyxiation is out.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:42 PM on May 14


The_Vegetables: "I'm pretty sure it's against code for the regular house A/C system to be attached to a garage, so a garage heating or cooling system would have to be stand-alone."

True. Around here they are either baseboards or little gas heaters depending on size of garage.
posted by Mitheral at 7:12 PM on May 14


This article seems like the sort of click bait that you see weekly on the major news sites. Oh my god, were all gonna die, we have to do something.

Accidentally leaving the engine running is quite rare, but nothing new. Several people here have mentioned that they have done exactly that with the old fashioned keyed ignitions. I helped a person in a parking lot who had done that with their keys. (I crawled under the back of the car and found the hide-a-key they had forgotten they even had.)

So if accidentally leaving a car running was such a major safety issue, why wasn't anything done about it decades ago? It has nothing to do with keyless ignitions other than it is something that is relatively new in the last decade or so.

If you want to claim that keyless ignitions increase the probability of leaving an engine running then I want to see real, hard statistics, not anecdotes. But meaningful statistics are going to be very hard to come by if the death occurrence is only two per year out of 260 million cars in the U.S.
posted by JackFlash at 7:12 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


This massacre of innocents is going to be my new talking point when someone brings up death-by-Tesla to pooh-pooh self-driving cars. Keyless ignition kills more people than AI! Then they'll say "but per capita!" and I'll say "you won't care about per capita if it's YOUR granddad asphixiating" and we'll go back and forth like that, it'll be great.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:30 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Surprisingly, it has taken until recently for man-in-the-middle attacks against these keyless ignitions to start becoming common.

Wait can you actually just intercept the signal and replay it? The first thing I thought of when I was idly speculating able how these work is that there must be some sort of rotation.
posted by atoxyl at 8:46 PM on May 14


Keyless ignition kills more people than AI!

But then, it will only be a short time before the AI that drives the car is merged with the authentication token the meat sack uses to engage it. And of course then only a matter of iterations before the thing makes a conscious decision to kill more people per capita.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:47 PM on May 14


So, you need two people for this caper, and a pair of two-way multi-frequency transponders.

Nah, you just do a replay attack. Rolling codes don't help you if the car can't hear the fob. Just pretend to be the car when your victim is away from it, interrogate it a few times, and replay any time before they return to their car. If you put it back, they'll be none the wiser since the car will just assume they accidentally pressed the button. The system will happily accept a code early, but will not accept an already used code.

This works equally well against old style fobs as long as you can jam the receiver in the car.

Point being, there is no real security when it comes to your car. Even if they ever move to secure crypto to authenticate the fob, it's not like dealership employees are impossible to bribe. It's pretty common for theives to have a mole make a key already..
posted by wierdo at 9:47 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Nah, you just do a replay attack. Rolling codes don't help you if the car can't hear the fob.

Oh, I get it. Though I'd think because of that you'd then make it a multi-step handshake sort of thing. Too much of a battery drain for the fob?
posted by atoxyl at 10:18 PM on May 14


More that nobody cares enough beyond there being at least some effort involved in fooling the system so that cars aren't stolen quite as often as early 90s Hondas were. It's like credit cards, the people in a position to force a change aren't losing enough money on auto theft to spend the money necessary to implement good security.

More complex systems mean more expensive components that consume more power. Car companies don't care since you getting your car stolen and chopped up for parts means you need to buy a new car and the insurance companies don't care because people are willing to pay premiums high enough to offset the claims losses. The only person screwed on the deal is you.
posted by wierdo at 11:57 PM on May 14


Mitheral wrote: My work truck is an old Mitsubishi diesel and it runs whenever it's not parked in its heated garage in the winter because 30 minutes at -20 when it's off means hours of dicking around with heaters and battery packs to get it started again.

You shouldn't waste so much fuel just because of a bit of hyperbole. If it could literally get as cold as -20 degrees (Fahrenheit OR Celsius) the water in your body would become a solid and you would die instantly. It's like when my friends say "It's boiling outside," I don't expect that they're going to turn into a burst of steam!
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:14 AM on May 15


If it could literally get as cold as -20 degrees (Fahrenheit OR Celsius) the water in your body would become a solid and you would die instantly.

Um...what?
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:24 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


It is because your cellular membranes would burst.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:22 AM on May 15


I am pretty sure my cellular membranes are okay despite having been in temperatures of about - 20C. I mean, I obviously wasn't naked or anything, but yeah. - 20 is very much not instant death.
posted by Dysk at 3:06 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I've been in -20F weather half a dozen times and -20C hundreds of times, I assure you that my blood didn't freeze.
posted by octothorpe at 3:13 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I mean I guess if you had no body heat you'd die but just being outside in those kinds of temps won't instantly kill you.

Like isn't -20 totally normal for Canadian winters?
posted by LizBoBiz at 4:03 AM on May 15


posted by Joe in Australia

I think I see the problem here.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:34 AM on May 15 [11 favorites]


It is because your cellular membranes would burst.

That's a lot of confidence behind a statement that's clearly, unambiguously wrong. Ask me how I know!
posted by Ipsifendus at 4:44 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I think that Joe meant "if it [The water in your body] could get as cold as minus twenty, it would freeze", not "if it [The air temperature]". But unlike key fobs we are warm blooded and create our own heat.
posted by jeather at 5:08 AM on May 15


Fun fact: the record low in my state, which was set in 1996, is -47F/ -44C. And we're like 500 south of Winnipeg.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:11 AM on May 15


Random observations. My Mazda has a keyless fob system that works flawlessly. If I walk away from the car with anything amiss (door unlocked, shifter not in park, engine running, lights on) it beeps very loudly and refuses to give the all clear chirp it makes when it locks automatically. I don't have remote start and don't need it.

But here's a pro tip for (at least mazda) hatchback owners, learned the hard way. My Mazda hatch *cannot recognize the key* if it is left in the hatchback. Since I'm a musician, I am constantly loading gear in and out of my hatch while the car is off and otherwise locked and had the bad habit of setting the key fob down on the deck while I rearranged amplifiers, etc. And then shutting the hatch. The hatch door itself opens with a button that depends on the proximity of the fob *outside* the car, and not inside for some reason, but it doesn't unlock the other doors when you just open the hatch. So it is possible, and I have done it only once, to lock your fob in the hatchback and be unable to get back into the car without a slimjim (luckily a skill I possess, musicians amirite?) or a backup fob. I changed my habit and now make sure my key is in my pocket before I open the hatch, not in my hand. It's a real design flaw. It happens even if the fob has a brand new battery. It just can't be seen by the car if it's under a Deluxe Reverb in the hatch.

Also once played a gig where the bass player had swapped cars with his wife on the way to the gig, both with keyless fobs. They didn't swap fobs. He got 20 miles from the gig and stopped for coffee. Came out, couldn't start his car. I had to rescue him with minutes to spare before we went on.

On balance I have adjusted to the keyless system and find it quite useful and convenient. I am often walking away from my car with two guitars and a heavy amp. Having it lock automatically when I get a couple feet away is super convenient. The trick is just to always keep the key on your person. You don't need to ever touch it in my car. If you're close to the car you can unlock the car with a button on either front door. But since my apartment and office doors still require physical keys, I had to solve for an old habit of keeping my keys in my hands after locking either and heading to the car. Separating my physical keyring from my car fob solved that problem.

The other protip I have learned from living with this tech for four years now is to change the cheap battery in your fobs (all of them) every six months, whether they seem weak or not. I actually do it at every oil change, so even more frequently than that (although I do one of each of the two keys each time, so it works out to about six months per fob). A dead battery in the fob defeats the entire technology. And sometimes that can happen when you're a long way from a drugstore. Keeping your extra batteries in the car can work if your fob has, like mine, an embedded physical backup key you can use to open the door if the fob isn't working. I think they all have that now.
posted by spitbull at 6:21 AM on May 15


I'm pretty sure it's against code for the regular house A/C system to be attached to a garage, so a garage heating or cooling system would have to be stand-alone.

People with a portable heater in their garage who blow themselves up when they decide to paint their car themselves is a thing around where I grew up.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:11 AM on May 15


Also once played a gig where the bass player had swapped cars with his wife on the way to the gig, both with keyless fobs. They didn't swap fobs. He got 20 miles from the gig and stopped for coffee. Came out, couldn't start his car. I had to rescue him with minutes to spare before we went on.

It also doesn't solve the problem of the drummer locking himself inside the van!
posted by thelonius at 8:13 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Wait can you actually just intercept the signal and replay it?

Not so much replay as range-extend. All that the interception boxes need to do is function as analog repeaters, making it possible for car and fob to connect to each other over a far greater distance than the inverse square law and the feebleness of the fob's transmitter would normally allow. There's no need for the interception boxes to understand or decrypt the bitstreams they're relaying; they might need to demodulate and remodulate them, but that can be done so nearly instantaneously as to allow the car and the fob to interact as they normally would.

You could have the best digital crypto in the world on the data being exchanged between car and fob and it wouldn't help, because this attack does not rely on getting access to the content of the messages being transmitted over the link. Simply making it possible for that message exchange to happen at all is enough to make the car behave as if the fob was much closer to the car than it actually is.

And it turns out to be quite difficult to design protections against this class of attack. The only change it makes to the car vs. fob protocol is a very small increase in the 300 metres per microsecond speed-of-light delay between transmitter and receiver, and that turns out to be really difficult to detect for protocols that have to work on hardware simple enough to run on the tiny sniff of current available from a coin battery that has to last for many months between replacements.
posted by flabdablet at 9:48 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


People with a portable heater in their garage who blow themselves up when they decide to paint their car themselves

To be fair, that kind of behaviour is well down the road toward Orange Mocha Frappucino.
posted by flabdablet at 9:50 AM on May 15


New cars in Europe are required to cut off the engine while waiting at red lights, and pressing the gas starts the ignition again. I had to wonder why this wasn't happening for the keyless fob cars in this story, but figure it's just America.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 10:46 AM on May 15


Shutting the engine off and shutting the car off aren't necessarily the same thing. Lots of newer cars in America shut off their engines at stop lights, but the car considers itself to still be running unless the driver has deliberately powered it down.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:58 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


It also doesn't solve the problem of the drummer locking himself inside the van!

That's not a problem.
posted by spitbull at 12:02 PM on May 15


Well, not as long as he's brought his 2B sticks.
posted by flabdablet at 2:20 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


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