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What Are Chrysler's engineers thinking?

By Andrew Pollack on 07/26/2007 at 11:37 PM EDT

From the "WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY THINKING?" category....

In a classic ADD moment, I left my car keys at the hotel in Tampa this morning, and didn't discover the loss until I was at my car in Boston. Given that the spare key is at home home in Maine about two hours away, I thought that I'd try out that AAA membership that I've had for years and have used for nothing other than a discount on hotel bills.

The call to AAA was quick, and they called a locksmith who assured them and me that it would be no problem to come out and create a new key for me. It wasn't going to be cheap, because these keys have a chip in them and whatnot, but they could absolutely code it right there on the spot.

They were wrong. It can't be done. While GM has gone and built out their onStar network to such an extent that they can unlock the car from Detroit and then have the air bag system in-fellate you on the way home, Chrysler has gone the other way. If you have two valid keys, you can code another one. If not, the dealer has to do it.

Here's what happens.

1. Locksmith uses the car's Vehicle Identification Number and a special phone number to get the right information to cut a new blank key. This won't work for starting you car yet, because the car has to be programmed to accept it. It will, however, allow you to open the door.

2. Use the new key to open the door. This sets off the alarm.

3. The anti-theft system now locks the fuel system so the car won't drive AND disables the onboard computer port.

4. The locksmith attempts to plug in to the computer and program it to accept the new key.

5. The computer tells the locksmith uses the computer equivalent to a phrase now part of the congressional record having been made famous by Dick Cheney.

6. The owner of the car now calls Chrysler, only to find out the car can only be re-enabled by finding a valid key or having it towed to a dealership. Oh, and the dealership is now closed for the day.

So, thanks to some engineer somewhere spending too much of his overly high salary on Peruvian Marching Powder, I had to rent a car from Avis and drive home. I've got the spare key now, and will waste six hours tomorrow in a round trip drive to Boston.

Ah, and it gets better. When I get there, I'll need to charge the battery because the alarm going off has almost totally drained it. I'm charging up the rescue boost kit tonight, and when I go down tomorrow I'll swing by the garage and plug that into the cigarette lighter outlet to slowly charge back the system while I drop off the rental. If that doesn't do it, I'll have to ask security at Logan for a jump start.

There are  - loading -  comments....

What time do you expect to be at Logan?By Richard Schwartz on 07/27/2007 at 02:10 AM EDT
I'm dropping my wife off there around 1:30. In a pinch (meaning you're going
to be waiting forever for security), call my cell and I'll find you and give
you a jump.
I'm leaving by 7am and hope to be home by noon.By Andrew Pollack on 07/27/2007 at 06:47 AM EDT
I have a ton of work to do in the office.
re: What Are Chrysler's engineers thinking?By Thomas Bahn on 07/27/2007 at 05:18 AM EDT
In my opinion Chrysler's engineers have done a great job.

Think of a car thief with connections to a some locksmith'. Or a "bad"

If a locksmith could open your car and start the engine, he could steal it. By
restricting the necessary information or programs to their dealer network,
Chrysler minimized this possibility.

And at least in the past, most times you have yourself locked out of your car,
the key is in the car or nearby. I think, it is an absolute exception, that the
key is far away.

Just my 2 cent
re: What Are Chrysler's engineers thinking?By Nathan T. Freeman on 07/27/2007 at 06:05 AM EDT

Locksmiths in the US are typically bonded and insured. It is rare in the
extreme for them to participate in autotheft, because it is easily traced and
their financial liability is HUGE.

The real problem is that the alarm locks the computer port AND there is no
direct input method to shut off the alarm (such as with a keypad code.)

I will observe that the locksmith should have known all this, however. I hope
Andrew didn't pay him a dime.
re: What Are Chrysler's engineers thinking?By Lars Berntrop-Bos on 07/27/2007 at 06:16 AM EDT
I also agree with Nate. Locksmith is should have known.

I am glad I don't drive a Chrysler..
by now you should know -- in the end Andrew always comes out ahead.By Andrew Pollack on 07/27/2007 at 06:46 AM EDT
Had the locksmith been successful, I'd have had one working new key and two
dead ones that would require a trip to the dealer to put all back to working.
It would have cost $350 of which AAA would have paid $100.

In this case, I'm out $100 round trip for the drive and maybe another $30 in
parking and $30 in gas. I do, however, now have one non-computer key that can
be used to reopen the door but not drive -- which I'll keep with my fire gear
as I've locked my keys in accidentally once or twice rushing to the fire
station -- and one (possibly two) expensive computer keys which were cut but
didn't work and are now useless to the locksmith because they're cut to my
locks. Rather than tossing them in the trash, he handed them to me. He really
did feel bad about the waste of effort.

And no, the locksmith did not charge me. So by the end of the week (when I
have my regular keys back from Florida) I'll have two working keys and can use
those to enable at least one of the new ones. The other new one is for a 2005
version of the car and may not work according to the locksmith. He'd tried
that thinking the issue was possibly that the car had a newer model system. He
also said that one isn't cut as well and may not be a very good key.

So., as I've said before, firefighters get double miles on the Karma
scorecard. Once again, at the end of it all I'll come out ahead. I've wanted
a third key for some time to keep with my gear and now I've got an even better
solution for that.

Well, I'm off to Boston. TTYL.
re: by now you should know -- in the end Andrew always comes out ahead.By Lars Berntrop-Bos on 07/27/2007 at 06:49 AM EDT
Wow, Firefighter karma is very powerful!!
re: What Are Chrysler's engineers thinking?By Lars Berntrop-Bos on 07/27/2007 at 06:14 AM EDT
Naah. I agree with Andrew. It's a crappy system. The special phone number
should be enough.
re: What Are Chrysler's engineers thinking?By Dwight Wilbanks on 07/27/2007 at 10:10 AM EDT
I agree with the "what the hell are they thinking" question, but, its not
limited to Chrysler. I just got burned with one myself (although not as

The interior lights in my Chevy turn off when they are darn good and ready.
There is a timer, a stupid timer. The car has trained me not to wait around
until the lights shut off. Several times the lights did not shut off on their
own, followed by a dead battery. Certainly much easier to solve than your
situation, but, definiatly, "what were they thinking?". Last weekends problem
was caused by a bent sensor, that indicated the door was open.
at least you don't have to buy a Lojack now :-)By Ken Yee on 08/01/2007 at 06:20 PM EDT
Imagine how hard it would have been for a thief...although if they were clever,
they'd stick it on a flatbed ;-)

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