Why push to start cars are a terrible idea

I recently bought a Mitsubishi 2013 car for about $6,000 that had a few issues that needed to be fixed. One of the benefits of the car is that it had a keyless fob (or so I thought).

Acquire a key

The used car included only one key which for me is a bit of a problem. I don’t like having all my eggs in one basket. If I lock those keys in the car, I need a locksmith. If the keys get wet in the pool, then the car won’t work for at least several days while it gets resolved. The electronics in the fob can also go bad.

The first instinct I had was to buy a cheap fob online from eBay. Historically I’ve had good luck buying keys off eBay for an affordable price. I ordered the key for around $80. That is nice as these fobs cost around $300 new.

I look online and there is no way for me to program the key myself. It has to go to the dealership. So I proceed to schedule a meeting with the dealership and learn that the costs will be $80. Now we are looking at $160 for my “budget” key addition. Your typical consumer that shows up at the dealer would need to pay $300 + 80 = $380.

Unfortunately, after about an hour at the dealership and they tell me that the “key won’t program”. They don’t provide any insight as to why but their prescription is a new $300 key.

Planned obsolescence

After doing a few hours of research online, I learn that once these Mitsubishi keys are paired to a car, they cannot be used on another car. The manufacturer developed technology intended to make these keys worthless so that they could boost their sales. That is pretty evil planned obsolescence.

Luckily, I find someone on eBay who offers a “MITSUBISHI OUC644M-KEY-N unlocking service”. It costs $15 per key. Your keyless remote will be reset and restored to the virgin state. It will program like it is new! Wow, that is exactly what I need!

I order the service, mail my key off to some locksmith shop in New York state. I research the address and it seems to be a legitimate business so I am hopeful that this isn’t a scam to take my key. I don’t know what process these locksmiths use but they must have some magical way to defeat the planned obsolescence. After a few weeks, I get my new key back.

Key Programming, Round 2

Now I have a fob that is not disabled by manufacturer induced technology, I call up the local dealership to schedule another programming appointment. I get put straight to voicemail, not good. After calling for a few days I learn that the dealership is closing down and that there are no Mitsubishi dealerships in my metro area for hundreds of miles. Wow!

I start researching traditional locksmiths in my area online and calling around to see if there is anyone that can solve this problem. I call one up and they claim to have the technology to program this car. I drive for 45 minutes, get there, and he hooks up his computer key programming tool.

Long story short, he plays around with the $5,000 computer for about 30 minutes can it can’t program it. I ask if he knows anyone that can do it and he directs me to a master locksmith that trains other locksmiths in the area.

Master Locksmith

I call up the Master Locksmith, and it goes straight to voicemail. The voicemail specifically says “do not call multiple times as it will not speed up your resolution”. Wow, that is not a great sign of customer service.

After about 2 weeks of calling and being patient, the guy was agreed to meet up with me. I drove to an ATM machine to make sure I had cash on me, drove for 20 minutes and they didn’t show.

Fast forward a few more weeks and I try again. I explain to the owner what had happened and he apologized that his guy didn’t show up. He explained to me that the younger generation is not known for great communication.

In our conversation, I learned a bit about his business model. He operates at a huge Mannheim car auction lot with hundreds of cars. It sounds like he makes bank off rental car customers that have lost the keys. He explains that he is busy but since I was somewhat desperate I agree to meet him at this auction location.

Programming

It was like 100 degrees out, and I meet up with the “master locksmith”. These guys had the official Mitsubishi laptop computer and programming cable. I would guess that the computer costs $20,000 – $25,000.

If you are a master locksmith you know that not many other locksmiths can accomplish this service so you can charge a lot higher price for your specialized skills and capital costs.

These two guys spend about an hour banging away on different computers, debating what is happening, and trying different approaches. They asked me where I got my keys from and I told them the whole story about the virgin key resets. Eventually, they are able to get the new fob working. They charged me $130. Yay!

Old Technology

Regular old keys in comparison are great in the scheme of things.

Push-button start cars seem to be a total scam. If you lose the fobs it has to go to the dealer, the fobs cost a couple of hundred dollars, and it will likely cost you $500 to get the car running again. All of the additional sensors and electronics on a fob can fail over time. I know a guy that had to pay $1,500 just to get his Land Rover running again. Apparently they have to replace the fob computers to pair them with new keys.

On the other hand, the “old” immobilizer key technology on my Toyota ensures the car is secure. No one is going to steal my Toyota because the key has a chip inside of it to immobilize the car. It costs about $5 to get a replacement key, I can program them myself, and any locksmith can easily get the car working for an affordable price.

Backup plan

What do you do if your key fob doesn’t work? You would not have any way to unlock the doors or start the car if there is an issue with the sensors or if the battery dies.

Oh, right, the engineers of keyless cars have come up with a solution for this! The fob includes a key anyway so that you can operate it with a key. The car still needs all the technology, costs, and complexity of a keyed system anyway. That seems like an extremely wasteful design.

Bad Security

Surprisingly, all this complex technology is not good for security. Car thieves are using repeater technology to steal cars. The technology works by repeating the signal from the key fob so that it appears to be in very close proximity. This is done by either following someone with a fob or walking by houses where the fob may be close to the front door. Not only does all this technology cost a fortune, it is more likely to fail, is difficult to repair, but it is also arguably less secure.

Summary

Automotive manufacturers love keyless entry technology. First off, it creates planned obsolescence. You can quickly tell who is a loser with an “old” key, and who is successful in life with a new “state of the art” push to start system. That helps boost sales as people want to portray success.

Push to start is great for bringing cash into car dealerships. The keys are designed so that they can’t be reused. Your typical customer has no chance of programming this proprietary technology. A typical locksmith also likely doesn’t have the thousands of dollars of computer systems required to make the job possible. In many cases, you’ll need a special code to program the car that only a bonded locksmith would have access to. You’ll end up taking the car to the dealer to solve the problem.

There is a huge web of people making money off this scheme: Automotive Manufacturers, parts suppliers, “key unlocking services”, dealerships, automotive key programming computer manufacturers, programming code suppliers, etc. The whole system is designed to extract money from people naive enough to demand a fancy technology solution to start their car when the old way worked great.

Push to start uses complex and expensive technology to solve a first-world problem that never really existed in the first place. Technology for technology’s sake can be a really bad thing. Simple is often better than complex.

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