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Push button ignition

This weekend I rented a car that had a push button starter. The first time I heard about push button starters, I thought they were some kind of gimmick, but after driving a car with one for a few days I figured out which problem they were designed to solve.

Back in the day, you had your car key. (Or if you drove a General Motors car, you had at least two car keys. One for the doors and one for the ignition. How dumb is that?) Eventually, though, pretty much every car came with both a key and a key fob used to turn off the car alarm, unlock the doors, and so forth. The push button starter was created to remove one item from your pocket. Since you can’t get rid of the fob, car makers have started getting rid of the ignition key. As long as you have the fob, you can start the car with a button push.

There are two additional advantages to this system beyond eliminating key chain clutter. The first is that you can put your keys back in your pocket as soon as you’ve unlocked the doors. Being a creature of habit, I never remembered to do so and wound up driving with my keys in the cup holder all weekend, but I’m sure I’d adjust before too long if I owned such a car. The other advantage is that the system makes it nearly impossible to lock your keys in the car. Since there’s no key in the ignition, you won’t leave your keys there, and if you use the key fob to lock the doors, it’s guaranteed you’ll have your keys with you when you’re walking away from the car. That’s a nice benefit for the absent-minded.

It’s always interesting to discover that there’s a reasonable rationale for something you originally regarded as a novelty feature.

9 Comments

  1. It also prevents you from trying to start the car when it’s already started, something I do on a depressingly regular basis. Not harmful, just noisy and stupid.

    The standard key and ignition switch seem to be well-placed to cause injuries in the event of a crash. Saab deals with this by putting the ignition switch between the seats, a very civilized approach.

    The remote-entry key fobs just make me want one for the house. I hate fumbling for my keys in the dark while holding groceries or whatever.

  2. In old GM cars both keys worked the ignition. One key was the “valet,” which didn’t work on the locks, the idea being that you could hand a key to the parking attendant and not give the valet access to the glove box, trunk etc. As remote locking and push-button trunk access became standard, the valet key lost its purpose.

  3. The valet key still has purpose; the trunk can be locked from inside (usually there’s a keyhole next to the latch release), using the master key. Ditto for the glovebox.

    My Prius is the same way, except the lock for the trunk is on the trunk; I lock it anyway when I’m transporting my guitar gear in the event that someone smashes a window, they still can’t get into the trunk without extra work.

    The other advantage is that the system makes it nearly impossible to lock your keys in the car.

    … and wound up driving with my keys in the cup holder all weekend …

    And that is how you lock your keys in the car.

  4. Not if you use the fob to lock your doors. If you use the controls on the door to lock your doors, the opportunities for locking your keys in your car are there, for sure.

  5. you can put your keys back in your pocket as soon as you’ve unlocked the doors.

    On the Prius, the door unlocks when you get near it with the fob, so you don’t even have to take the fob out of your pocket. I think this proximity unlock feature can be set to unlock one door, all doors or no doors.

  6. I had a routine EKG run at a doctor’s office – the EKG instrument would not operate correctly with the “key” in the room about 10 feet away from the instrument on the counter. The nurse had to take the key out of the room for the instrument to operate correctly. What if that had been an emergency and the doctor had a key in his pocket? Precious time would have been lost fussing with the instrument. Besides that incident, I don’t care for the “key” – it’s too fragile in that you can’t have it near your cell phone, can’t drop it, can’t get it wet, etc. Give me something more rugged.

  7. This new push button technology has some errors. Here’s what has already happened to me. My wife and I went to town. I needed to drop her off at the nail salon and I was going to do some other running around. I pull up and let her out at the nail place and I take off across town and park the car. I come back to the car and GUESS WHAT…..it doesn’t start. The remote is in my wifes purse. I have to call a taxi and spend 20 bucks to get back to the salon and get the remote. The damn car should die when the remote leaves so you’ll know you need it. OR you should be able to deactivate one of your remotes to leave in the glove box so you can still lock the car as long as one remote is outside of the car. So much for modern technology. Somebody please give me a key!!!!!!

  8. The damn car should die when the remote leaves so you’ll >know you need it.

    Yes, that’s what you want when you’re getting on the highway.

  9. This looks like another gadget that does very little in real terms, but justifies the cachet of newness that always helps sales. What’s it going to cost to fix it when it malfunctions or the fob gets lost? Keep it simple and keep cheap!

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