What's the deal with push button ignition?

I’m putting this in GQ because I think there is a factual answer, but if the mods think it should be in IMHO or somewhere else, feel free to move it.

Some of the new cars (Nissan and possibly others) are making a big deal about “push button ignition.” I’ve never actually been in one of these cars, but seeing it on TV leaves my mind with a lot of questions about how (and mostly why) this is implemented. I thought we did away with this concept in the 1940’s or 50’s when the ignition key was invented.

[li]Other than not having to carry around an ignition key, what is the advantage to this?[/li][li]Assuming the door is unlocked, can anyone just get in your car and drive off, or is there some other security safeguard in place?[/li][li]What do you do in a situation where you want to listen to the radio, but not have the engine running?[/li][li]With a keyed ignition, you can’t remove the key unless the engine is in Park. Is there any similar kind of interlock with this keyless system?[/li][/ul]

In short, I don’t see the appeal, and it seems to me a lot less safe and secure. Do any of you have a car with keyless ignition, and how/why do you like it?

I don’t have one but from my understanding you still have to carry some type of keychain card/unit with you. Once you’re within a certain proximity of the of the ignition swith the car senses the prescence of the keychain and enables the power button.
Dows anyone know if it does the same for the cars door locks? Does the car unlock itself as you approcah the car?

I think it’s a great feature and would love to have it. Approach your car with you hands full and not have to dig for your keys in a pocket (or purse for women) take a seat and hit the button.

This feature is advertised as Keyless Entry which is often coupled with the feature mentioned in the OP since it uses the same technology.

To answer one of the OP:s questions, the intended convenience with keyless ignition is not having to produce the key (or other device acting as key) from your pocket to start the car.

Although keyless entry also refers to what I have on my car, which is a pushbutton remote. I wish I had the one you could leave in your pocket.

Also note that keyed ignition switches are fairly high failure rate items, and subject to brute force (slide hammer) attack. These mechanical devices also are probably at the limit of how cheaply they can be produced, while electronics keep getting cheaper and cheaper. Note that we are already beyond the point where it is economical to put actual knobs and buttons on TV sets…cheaper to provide a remote.

Sorry, after googling keyless entry I see that I meant Hands-free Entry. I’ll once again hide behind my mistake-forgiving-cloak of speaking-English-only-as-a-second-language and say it got lost in translation.

You drive with your grocery bags in your hands?


No, but if I’m carrying two grocery bags to my car it’s much easier to open a car door if it’s already unlocked rather than trying to get a hand free to dig in a pocket.
I also have situations where I’m carrying two cups of coffee. I get to the car and have to figure out where to set one of the cups while I dig for keys. Then even if the car is open I have to sit down inside and place the coffees into the cup holder. That leaves me sitting with the keys still in my pocket. Wearing jeans or khakis it’s a royal pain-in-the-ass to try to retreive keys out of a pocket while your sitting.

OK, you’ve all convinced me that it’s cool to be able to start the car without digging for keys, and the “proximity device” seems to take care of the security issue.

But I still haven’t seen anyone address my 2 other questions. Is there an equivalent to the “accessory” position on a standard ignition? And is there any way to ensure that you put the car in Park before shutting off the engine and getting out of the car?

BMW owner here.

Our car has a push button ignition but in standard trim, you need to insert the fob ‘thingy’ in the hole or the car will not start.

There is an option called ‘Comfort Access’ that will unlock the car when you touch the door handles. The car will start without inserting the fob (foot must be on brake, car in Park).

With our car (no comfort access), if you want to listen to the radio without starting the car, you simply press the button without the fob in the hole. When the car is initially unlocked, the computer boots up so it is waiting for some input from the button.

With comfort access, you push the button without the foot on the brake pedal and the radio will play, accessories will be powered etc. Foot on brake will fire up the engine.

With comfort access, if the car is running (with no key fob) and someone jumps in it, the engine will die upon selecting a gear unless the fob is in close proximity.

My understanding is that it is practically impossible to ‘hotwire’ a car with his technology. The BMW 3 series does not have an alarm as standard since the only way to drive one of them away is on the back of a flatbed truck.

My 2006 Lexus has a push button ignition. To answer your questions:

[li]The only real advantage I see is there is no longer a need to fish the keys out of my pocket to start the car. This saves me countless milliseconds every day. One other advantage is that I don’t need to ever remove the key fob from my pocket to lock/unlock the door when I go for a drive. There is a sensor in the door handle. As long as I have the key fob on my person or in close proximity, the door will unlock when I put my hand behind the door handle. There is small button on the door handle itself that I can push to lock the door. Again, countless milliseconds saved.[/li][li]After the car is started, I can get out and walk away. The car will stay running without the key fob present until it is turned off (by pushing the button). There is an annoying beep when the key is not detected inside the car. So, somebody could carjack me at a light and drive off, but they won’t be able to restart the car again.[/li][li]To start the car with the push-button –it has to be in park and with your foot on the brake. When you want to listen to the radio, just push the button once (no brake) and it will turn on the electrical system & radio.[/li][li]As mentioned before, you can get out of the car while the engine is running and even while it is in motion if you so desire (not recommended). Nothing will shut the car down on its own. You cannot turn the engine off unless it is in park or neutral. Doing so will keep the electrical system on. This only applies to an automatic tranny –I’m not familiar with how it functions with a manual. When I pull into a parking space and want to listen to the radio for a few minutes after I’ve turned the engine off, I have to put it in neutral, push the button, and then put it in park…[/li][/ul]
Overall to me, it is more of a convenience gimmick than anything else. It’s not worth paying extra for, and it’s questionable whether or not it provides any additional safety/security. That being said, I like having it.

One additional advantage that they tell you is that it is very difficult to lock your keys in the car as you never removed them from your pants pocket to start the car.

Thanks, everyone, for your replies. It looks like this may be a “cool gadget” to have, but I don’t think I’d be willing to pay extra for it.

yeah, but there’s something nice about knowing that the physical switch is there.

These new-fangled, electronic, fob-in-the-vicinity, foot-on-the-brake,wait-for-the-computer-to-boot-up systems sound like a great idea on paper. But I’ll bet you spend a lot more repairing them over the years. Think about how often Windows locks up, and you lose the last 3 minutes of your Word document. That’s gonna be really upsetting when you can’t open your car door in a rainy parking lot with a baby in your arms. And the only way to fix it is install a new electronic module , available only at the original dealer, for $1000.

I think maybe you’re joking, but I’ll say it anyway: Windows and Word may be unreliable, but that doesn’t mean all computers are. There’s nothing intrinsic about computers that makes them less reliable than mechanical systems. My guess is that perception exists because of a general lack of understanding of how they work.

Anyone can look at a mechanical lock, and it’s a physical object, and you can grasp some idea about how it works just by looking at it. Not so with “computerized” systems, and I think that’s why people think they’re less reliable. Because it seems like magic or voodoo.

I will say that the iDrive in our current Beemer has been relatively trouble free over the past 18 months. We have had two lock ups but they were purely in the Entertainment/Nav area and not with the operation of the vehicle itself.

They are expensive. A BMW 3 series for example has at least 7 modules which make up the ‘computer’ that runs every aspect of the car. I know one of them is $1200 to replace and there are 6 more.

With this in mind, our ‘luxury’ vehicle is always leased and the lease term never exceeds that of the warranty. In addition, BMW provides 100% maintenance on everything except tires for the warranty period. Brakes, rotors, fluids, wiper blades, oil changes, everything. That is for all new BMWs currently sold in the US so we never have to worry about paying for stuff breaking.

As an aside, you should see the fits the new BMWs are giving repo men.
I skimmed one of their message boards for a while. They’re not happy campers over this.
You can persuade the dealer to give you a working fob to repo these cars with, but what you can’t do is not pay hundreds for the fob-thingy.

Ignition keys pre-date the forties by a fair bit. I think you are referring to starter switches with were on the way out in the 40s and 50s.
To answer your questions
As has been mentioned, you don’t have to dig for a remote or a key to get into or start the car. This is very handy if you have items in your hands when you get to the car. The system is programmable to unlock just the door you grab, or just the two doors on the same side of the car as where the “key” is, or all doors.

No, someone just can’t get into your car and drive off. Compared to a straight key type system security is greatly enhanced. (Volvo specific information) First off the “key” has to have been programmed to the control module. To access programming you have to access Volvo’s central data base to get the pin codes that will allow you to get into programming mode. Not something the average car thief can do. In order to start the car, the computer that controls the keyless entry/ keyless start has to trade a pass word and response with the car’s central computer (The duck walks at midnight / It might rain on Tuesday) They assuming that both units are satisfied that all is OK the central computer trades another set of passwords with the engine control module. As a final check both modules look at the serial number of the ABS control module. If all of that passes the car starts. Could it be cracked? Sure but it would be a lot easier to tow the car away.

Don’t step on the brake, and push the button for 1 second and the car is in accessory mode. Press the button for 2 seconds and the car is fully on.

Engine will not shut off unless in Park or neutral. If you open a door with the engine off in neutral, the warning gong from hell + a nasty message in the digital display both warn you to put the car in park.

One other advantage to this system. You absolutely cannot lock your keys in the car. :smiley:

ETA:MrFloppy I got five bucks that says your BMW has way more than 7 computers. Like three to four times as many.

Not much to add reason-wise. On my '05 Vette 6-speed there is a separate accessory button near the push-to-start button. You can shut the engine off in any gear, but you must exit the car with it in reverse, or you’ll come back to a dead battery (a fact that has been demonstrated to me several times).

Something tells me this will cause a lot of valet parking trouble until everyone gets used to making sure the fob stays with the car. :smiley: