I drive a used, automatic '95 Ford Taurus. On several occasions, I have parked my car, and returned later to find my car still running, despite the fact that no key is in the ignition. When I do try to move the car, nothing happens when I turn the key, and switching the gear to drive also doesn’t work. Instead, I have to press down on the brake and then the car just turns off.
It happened again to me today, and this time I noticed that the brake lights (both in back and the light on the dash) were on when I returned to the car. Is this something I should be worried about, or is this just one of those electrical quirks?
On several occasions, I have parked my car, and returned later to find my car still running, despite the fact that no key is in the ignition.
Was the car definitely turned off, but then you came back to find the engine running, meaning the engine started and ran spontaneously? Or did you perhaps remove the key with the engine running and leave it parked and running? Or by “still running,” do you mean something other than the engine actually running?
When I do try to move the car, nothing happens when I turn the key, and switching the gear to drive also doesn’t work. Instead, I have to press down on the brake and then the car just turns off.
Are you saying the engine is running, but the car won’t move? You shift into gear and it won’t travel? Or are you saying you’re trying to turn the engine off? (Talking about trying to move the car, then saying you have to step on the brake to turn it off, confuses me. Apples and oranges. Are you trying to drive it or trying to shut off the engine?)
To clarify: I thought I’d turned off the car completely after I parked it…but it’s very possible that it was still left running. However, I have never been able to purposely leave it running while taking out the key…and it is physically impossible to take out the key except in the “off” position.
Because the engine on the car was running when i returned, I did try to move the car first without turning it off…it would not move when the gear was switched. Only by pressing on the brake hard several times resolved the problem. The car then instantly turned off, then I was able to restart it.
Okay, that is definitely weird. In 30 years of repairing cars, I’ve never heard of such a thing. The combination of symptoms doesn’t suggest anything I’ve run across. I can speculate a short somewhere between the ignition circuit and the brake light circuit, or maybe the shift interlock (have to step on the brake to shift out of park) circuit if it has that feature, but I have no idea why the car wouldn’t move in gear with the engine running. Very strange.
I think it would be wise to get it fixed, but it might not be possible unless the garage can catch it in the act. If it recurs, take special note of the position of the ignition lock receptacle, the part the key goes into. Determine whether it’s in accessory, lock, off, or on. That might be a helpful clue for diagnosing it.
An off-the-wall suggestion… I have a 95 Dakota with an alarm that features a remote starter–radio controlled. You can start the car with the remote fob within about 75 feet of the car. It is for starting the heater in the morning, or the air conditoner on a hot day. Sometimes if I had the fob in my pocket and it got pressed against other keys or my pocket knife, the car would start and turn on the parking lights. If you step on the brake without disarming the alarm and turning on the key, it will put the engine into kill mode. The fob died and I didn’t feel like paying a ransome for a new one and just turned on the valet feature (disables the alarm) and drive it that way. However, if someone had a fob with the same codes, the remote start would still work. Anybody around you have a fancy car alarm?
How long a time are we talking between when you turned the car off and returned to find it running? If it was only a few minutes, perhaps it was the radiator fan running, not the engine. Were you able to rev the engine normally?
My engine was definitely running when I returned, although I don’t remember if the engine revved up when I hit the gas. I think MemoryDump might be on to something. Could it be that the person who owned the car before me had a remote starter installed, and never told me about it? Someone else who lives near me, then, might have a remote starter, car alarm, or keyless entry code which is activating my car as well?
I don’t know much about remote starters, but do they normally activate the parking lights and the brake light on the dash? I verifed today that my parking lights do indeed turn on the rear brake lights (but not the light on the dash).
Is there an easy way to check for evidence that a remote starter is installed? If so, I’ll check it out and get back to you.
No they don’t (unless you’ve got some wiring problems). Parking lights (front) and taillights (rear) come on together. In many cars, taillights and brake lights use the same bulbs, but they’re dual filament bulbs. The taillights use the dim filament, and the brake lights use the bright one. Have someone step on the brake pedal when the taillights are on and you’ll see what I mean.
Thanks for that clarification, Gary T. Let me revise what I said in my OP to say that some red lights at the back of my car (which ones, I can’t be certain, probably just the taillights) were on when I returned to my car, and the brake light on the dash was also on.
So…do you have any thoughts about the remote starter idea?
::: Scratches head:::
The only things I can come up with are:
[li]A remote starter system installed without MM knowledge (previous owner?)[/li][li]**Cheesesteak ** is correct and the sound of the cooling fan is being mistaken for the sound of the engine[/li][li]The electrical system of this car is seriously FUBAR[/li][li]Demonic possession[/li][li]MM is experiencing a DRI :D[/li][/ul]
Evidence of an alarm would include a loud-speaker under the hood, a hidden switch under the dash somewhere, a black box that says Audiovox (the brand of my alarm), and in the case of my car, an Audiovox sticker on the back window. A car stereo/alarm store could figure it out very quickly, I suspect.
The alarm is hooked into the vehicle’s computer, but I think it has a box of it’s own, too–and yes my brake light on the dash glows when the remote starter has been activated.