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The latest piece of motoring technology causes many problems
By Jack Biddle • 18/04/2015
Smart keys — are they a little too smart at times?
A surfer asked me recently about the motor industry’s recent swing toward replacing the traditional ignition key with what is commonly called a smart or proximity key, and a push button or alternative engine start system.
While he could understand most of the benefits, his problem was finding a way to lock the doors, hide the smart key and be confident his vehicle was secure while he was out surfing.
It’s becoming something of a problem for the surfing fraternity who drive vehicles fitted with these systems.
For those readers not yet up with the play with what a smart or proximity key is, or does, let’s give you a quick overview.
While some systems may vary a little, basically a smart key allows a driver to lock, unlock and start their vehicle without the need to remove a key or remote fob from their clothing or gear bag.
Providing the smart key is with the driver, entry to a locked vehicle is done by placing a hand on the door handle while the engine start is a simple push of a button or turn of a keyless ignition switch.
No need to dig deep into those pockets or bags to find the keys to be able to activate the door locks or start the engine. Just walk on up, jump in, fire up the engine and in the blink of an eye you are gone.
All very convenient but the system has its downsides, according to my surfing buddy.They have traditionally ‘hidden’ their car keys somewhere around their locked vehicles while they are out chasing the waves and out of clear sight of their vehicles. With some smart key systems this has become a challenge.
The old-fashioned key in the door barrel and ignition switch system offered the best security for surfers because they could lock their vehicles and secure a basic key into a pouch built into their wetsuits without fear of any salt water contamination. Finding a secret and secure location around their vehicles to hide the keys only came about when a central locking button was added to the ignition key or if it was part of a separate fob.
And things only became harder when vehicle immobiliser systems were introduced as an additional anti-theft deterrent (the key and engine need to be able to communicate with each other before the engine will fire).
All these devices have a zero tolerance to salt or any water.
With the new system, the smart key doesn’t have to be carried by the owner/driver to activate the door locks. As long as a signal can be detected from around the vehicle once the smart key is out of sight, doors and in some cases rear hatches, can be opened by anyone passing by.
I was intrigued by this story and decided to carry out my own testing. It was like opening a large can of worms because every make and model of vehicle I tried reacted slightly differently.
I assumed one of the reasons was because some vehicles had sensors on both front door handles, while others had a driver’s door sensor only.
I did find placing the smart key forward of the front windscreen produced the best results but one head office technical manager I spoke to exercised caution as he suggested a change in atmospheric conditions could produce a less favourable result.
So I don’t believe there is an easy answer to the surfie’s dilemma. Or an answer that will give a total guarantee any vehicle regardless of make/model or age, cannot be unlocked if the smart key was placed around the vehicle.
One of the handbooks I read was suggesting a smart key should not be placed within two metres of the vehicle when parked for a variety of reasons.
The best advice I can give is to talk to the franchise dealer network for each make and model. They in turn may need some clarification from their head office.
The other important point to remember about smart key systems is this: if the engine is running and there is a driver change and the exiting driver retains the smart key, the vehicle will continue to run until the ignition is switched off.
Without the smart key in close proximity, the engine will not restart. There is no common warning system for drivers if this happens. Some vehicles have an audible warning and a dash warning in other cases, it’s a dash message only, which may go unnoticed in certain circumstances.
If you’ve had a similiar incident with a smart key, or a query, email firstname.lastname@example.org