keyless ignition

1. What is a smart key or keyless ignition system?

Smart keys, or keyless ignition systems, usually consist of a device (also known as a key fob or a FOB) that takes over the functions of a traditional metal key. Verification of the correct device is done electronically when a driver attempts to start a vehicle, usually by pushing a button or turning a rotary switch.

2. Why was keyless ignition developed?

It’s mostly about convenience and ease of use since you no longer have to dig a key out of a bag or pocket to start your car. Furthermore, some keyless ignition systems offer other benefits. For instance, some cars can recognize when your key is still in the car and will prevent you from locking it in there. Some models can even keep you up to date on car maintenance and service. For example, BMW’s system can receive service data from the car, which can then be read in the service department without the car being physically present. Finally, some models have customization settings that allow different drivers to easily customize different seat settings and more.

3. Are all keyless ignition systems the same?

Keyless ignition systems differ across models. Push buttons are the most common, but there are also rocker-type switches that must be flipped and rotary switches that must be rotated similar to the traditional ignition switch that is turned with a key.

Systems differ in alerts given to a driver if an unsafe condition occurs. (For instance, not putting the transmission in “park” before shutting down the propulsion system or leaving the vehicle while the propulsion system is still active.) It’s best to refer to your owner’s manual for further details on how your vehicle is operated in normal and emergency situations and for the alerts that your vehicle sounds.

4. When did keyless ignition systems become available in America?

Keyless ignition systems first became available in the early 2000s in luxury model cars. Since then, they’ve migrated to more mainstream vehicles.

5. What are the dangers with vehicles that feature these systems?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has concerns about:

  • Drivers who shut off the propulsion system without putting their vehicle in “park” and walk away from the vehicle, leaving it prone to roll away
  • Drivers who do put their vehicle in park, but inadvertently leave the propulsion system active, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in a closed environment
  • Drivers who do not know how to shut down the propulsion system of their vehicle in the event of any on-road emergency.

6. What can I do to make sure my car is turned off?

Follow some basic safety tips like making sure your car is in “park” before shutting down the propulsion system, making sure the propulsion system is shut down, applying the vehicle’s parking brake and checking your driver’s manual for detailed instructions on how to operate your vehicle properly. Also watch the NHTSA safety video below to get even more ideas on how on to safely use your keyless ignition system.