Dangers Inherent to Keyless or Push-button Start Cars

The New York Times recently published an article about a problem inherent with keyless start cars. Specifically the phenomenon of drivers pulling into their garages and, lacking the need to remove a key from the ignition switch, walking away with the vehicle still running. The home fills with odorless carbon monoxide, injuring or killing the occupants.

New Mercedes key fobThe problem is real and in this article we will echo the calls for action, expand on the danger, add some comments on potential solutions, and add our primary concerns to the mix.


The article notes that since 2006 there have been more than two dozen carbon monoxide deaths attributed to keyless start cars left running in garages. And many more have been injured with some left brain damaged. Its an excellent read and goes into great depth.

Now if your first thought is why would someone walk away from a running car, there are two answers. First, even gasoline powered cars today are remarkably quiet, particularly at idle. Second, since most of these vehicles will lock themselves if left unattended, some drivers expect that an unattended car cars will shut itself off as well. Some will, but it cannot be assumed.


There is an additional danger in hybrid cars. These may be operating on battery power when brought inside, and thus be dead quiet. However, if the ignition is left on, the internal combustion engine will eventually fire up to recharge the battery.

There is only one viable solution. Each and every keyless start vehicle on the road must shut itself down if left unattended or if no action is taken after an agreed upon time. This will mean lots of recalls, but it is the only sure fire solution.

Key Warning IndicatorThe Times article talks about the Society of Automotive Engineers, which called for among other things adding a series of beeps to alert the driver that a car when the key fob is removed. But I will add a personal anecdote that will illustrate why this idea should be shut down. The Times piece also bemoans the lack of regulations here, which we’ll touch on in a moment.

And on to the anecdote. Shortly after buying a pre-owned car some years ago, I walked away leaving the headlights lights on. After a 10 hour day, I needed a jump start. Testing this sometime later proved that the car beeped itself silly when the door was open while the lights were still on.

There are beeps and whistles and lights in todays vehicles for everything under the sun, and for the most part, they simply aren’t heard anymore. There’s simply no guarantee that sound will get a driver’s attention.

The same engineer’s group also recommends having vehicles shut themselves down, and the discussion should simply end there. The article also noted that engineers with Toyota wanted more than audible warnings, but were rebuffed by the company. Dollars and cents are always an issue no matter how much they shouldn’t be.

One of our primary concerns here at DashboardSymbols.com is drivers left stranded by key fobs that have gone dead. I have sat with drivers who were stunned when I pulled a mechanical key from their fobs. We have spoken with others who knew of the key and thought it was only for the glove box.

VW /Audi Keyhole CoverAnd you simply haven’t lived until you’ve tried to talk someone through the process of prying off a piece of their car to unlock it over the phone. A dozen major auto manufacturers are now responsible for this useless bit of aggravation.

And of course, the instructions for getting inside are locked inside the car!

Its relatively easy to ascertain that a car was left running causing a carbon monoxide death. But drivers trying to work put how to get in and start their cars if their key fobs have died could very well be in very vulnerable circumstances — dark parking garages, rainy parking lots, etc. If one them is set upon, will it even be possible to conclude that they were vulnerable because their keys had died. Will first responders make the connection?

So, should any and all of this be regulated? Likely yes. But forget that. These are safety issues pure and simple, and to all auto manufacturers, it is in your own best interest to keep your drivers safe! How is this even a question?

Manufacturers, make sure your keyless start cars will shut themselves down if left unattended. All of them. And give your drivers an app with at least instructions on how to get in and start the car or better yet an app that can unlock and start the car for them. Keep your drivers safe.

You want a customer for life right? How about helping to make sure its a good long life.

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