When Technology Sucks

I have frequently railed against modern technology on these here pages, and just as often been called a Luddite or Old Fart etc. for doing so. Here’s the latest little fad, and its downside, which came under my baleful gaze:

BMW has claimed it is powerless to prevent criminals hacking into its cars.
In emails to a customer seen by the Daily Mail, the German giant acknowledged its latest keyless models were vulnerable to thieves using gadgets widely available online.
However, it insisted it cannot accept any responsibility for this.
The Mail has highlighted a surge in thefts using ‘relay boxes’ to extend the signal from owners’ key fobs to steal vehicles outside their homes.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but isn’t this “remote / keyless start” thing basically for those who are just too lazy to insert a key into a lock and turning it? (And spare me the “soccer moms with armfuls of groceries” spiel, please.) If I’ve missed some lifesaving feature that this technology brings, let me know about it — but be warned that I’m going to be a tough sell. The way I see it, it’s a little frippery invented to “improve” a product that doesn’t need much improvement (see: electronic seat setting “memory”) and simply adds yet another cost / opportunity to break and incur horrendous repair costs.

Also, as the above article reveals, it makes it easier for car thieves to steal your car, all while BMW et al. shrug their corporate shoulders and ask Pontius to hand over the basin when he’s done.

My VW Tiguan does have an electronic unlocking fob, and I use it simply because the actual keyhole is buried beneath a plastic shield in the door handle; but if the little battery inside goes phut, I doubt I’ll ever replace it. I’ll just take off the shield and go back to using the car key to unlock the door, as invented by God Henry Ford.

As for this remote-starting gizmo, I’ll only ever buy a car with one if you can permanently disable the wretched thing without voiding your warranty; otherwise, it’s on to the next model, or if all of them include that little thieves’ helper in the future, something a little more to my taste; something (duh) older:

You see, back in 1968 Mercedes didn’t screw around with unnecessary crap; they just made simple, gorgeous sports cars like this 230 SL. Sure, an enterprising car thief could probably nick it, too; but he’d have to work a little harder than just by buying a $5 relay box from Amazon.


  1. Electric windows were the first step on the road to perdition.

  2. We used to hang horse thieves. Now we shrug our shoulders and call the insurance company.

    1. There was, until about 5 years ago, a law on the books in TX that you could shoot dead anyone who attempted to remove your “mode of transport” without getting your permission.

      Then a guy was exonerated under it after he shot the repo man dead at 3 am as repo man was hooking up the tow without asking….

  3. Much of modern marketing is improving things which don’t need to be improved.

    I saw a commercial not long ago for an internet-connected front-door lock which you could unlock remotely, to let someone bring in a package, let in a dog-walker, etc. Not only no, but F*CK NO. Someone wants to break into my home they either have to expend the effort to learn to pick a lock, or they need to expend the effort to damage something enough that they can get in, rather than buy a $5 app which will unlock my door.

    Having been in the computer industry for over 30 years, I know that just as there ain’t a horse that can’t be rode or a man that can’t be throwed, there’s also not a computer system that can’t be hacked. Hell, a few years ago rNas got hacked, they’re the company that makes those little dongles with the numbers on them you use to log into a system securely, IOW a company who’s PRODUCT is computer security got hacked.

  4. Remote start isn’t bad, as long as it isn’t the keyless variety. It’s nice to be able to start your car and let it warm up and defrost the windows while you get ready for work (maybe not applicable in Texas) or give the A/C a chance to cool it down before you get in.

    If somebody tries to steal it without the key in the ignition, it will shut off as soon as they press the brake or try to shift out of park (which they can’t without the key.)

    Also, you get to spew all those eeevviill greenhouse gasses into the air while you’re brushing your teeth.

    1. My car has remote keyless start–but you can’t actually drive off without putting the key in the ignition.

      It’s nice for starting the car up and letting the heater or a/c start up as I’m getting ready to go out the door, but then again, modern cars heat up/cool down so fast it’s not a big deal.

      And for Our Gracious Buggy-Whip-Wielding host, key fobs normally use CR2032 batteries that you can get at pretty much any store.

  5. Everyone knows the best way to deter car thieves is a manual transmission.

    1. Yes. I don’t bother locking my car with a manual when I stop for coffee. Your average car thief has a better chance of decoding Sanskrit than a manual box.

      1. You gotta admit, though, you’re going to look pretty silly if one who DOES know stick comes across your car.

    2. I used to drive a 1967 IH Metro (think bread truck). Manual of course, but it also had an electric fuel pump added by a previous owner when the original went out. He didn’t wire it into the ignition. He mounted a toggle switch on the dash. Get in, flip the fuel pump on, then start it and drive. No one was stealing that thing. When I took it to the shop and forgot to tell the mechanic, I’d get a call: “Your rig died in the parking lot on the way to the bay, and we can’t figure out why.” 🙂

  6. Fleeing from a zombie horde/wild dogs/hippie drum circle is the only reason I can come up with for how keyless fobs may save your life.

  7. “Perhaps I’m missing something, but isn’t this “remote / keyless start” thing basically for those who are just too lazy to insert a key into a lock and turning it?”

    Simply call BMW and ask for the replacement (and programming, where they really get you) cost of the keyless start fob. It’s much more lucrative to sell a $500 programmed fob than have everyone running to the hardware store to have a $3 key made.

  8. In my neighborhood, remote start is for people whole have filled up their garage with so much worthless crap, they park their $40k automobile outside. To further abuse the thing, they let it idle for a while in the heat or cold.

  9. My ’17 Caddy ATS-V has all the bells and whistles, including keyless entry and pushbutton start. I have gotten used to it doing everything for me except steer, brake and shift gears. It gives me a joy buzzer in the keister when I do something it doesn’t like but I pretty much ignore that as well as the OnStar warnings that if I don’t quit masturbating, I will aggravate my carpel tunnel issues.

    The two things in common between the Caddy, my ’37 Chevy pickup hot rod, ’55 Chevy pickup hot rod and ’91 Jeep Wrangler Renegade is their six cylinder engines and manual transmissions. At 464 hp and 189 top speed, the twin-turbo Caddy is top dog, performance-wise but I enjoy drivin’ the ’37 Chevy with it’s GMC 302 inline the most. Nothing electronic on that beast and it could probably be resurrected after a Carrington Event.

    1. Larry,
      For the reason you mentioned alone, OnStar should be pried out of your car with a screwdriver.

  10. I agree with you on most of the key fob and keyless start stuff but you don’t like electric seat memory?! That’s my favorite modern feature, hands-down. Of course, I’m 6’3″ & 300 lb and my wife is 5’1″ and errr….less than half that. Being able to hit the unlock button and have the seat *just right* for me when I sit down vs adjusting it enough I can get in then fiddling with it and *never really getting it right* the rest of the drive is incredible.

    1. RG,
      Yer wife doesn’t have her own car? More to the point: you let her drive YOURS?
      For shame, man.

      1. Mrs. ‘Bix had a van with electric seat memory. When we went somewhere together I’d drive her car because I always kept her in a decent, reliable car, while mine have pretty much always been beaters that she didn’t want to drive in (see the ’67 IH above). She’s much shorter than I am. If I got in on her setting, I’d always bang a knee painfully. I eventually programmed in a setting for me so I could push the button before I got in. I actually liked that.

        1. This. I don’t have a problem driving a beater full of work gear into the ground, tinkering, repairing…and occasionally spending time on the side of the road fixing an issue. I keep the missus in a decent vehicle that is used for long trips.

      2. In my case “her’s” is a Subaru wagon, and “mine” is Lexus GX 470. Sometimes she needs the extra seating or cargo room.

        That, and somebody has to drive when I’ve been drinking.

  11. The keyless fob came about for many reasons– primarily security. It’s trivially easy to pick or break a mechanical ignition lock and steal a car– back in the 80s you could do it with a screwdriver or a set of master keys you could pick up for about $20. In the 90s we saw keys get increasingly complex in an effort to prevent duplication and picking– somewhat ironically, BMW was at the forefront of this with their milled keys. They were largely impossible to pick, and VERY strong.

    With a fob (or RFID chip in a key, as BMW used for a good while), you can greatly increase security via an engine immobilizer. No RFID key, no start. You also get to offer all sorts of conveniences like auto-unlock based on proximity, key IDs for specific drivers. Most manufacturers also store car info on the fob so they can just scan it when a customer comes in for service.

    The problem here is that BMW’s latest implementation is garbage. This isn’t “hacking”, it’s a new implementation of the same old trick car thieves were using to sniff car alarm codes back in the 80s– though rather than recording the code and playing it back, they’re using a valid fob code to get around the encryption, then tricking the car to thinking the fob is still present once the car is unlocked/started.

    If you’re really paranoid, keep your fobs in a metal box while at home, or one of those RFID-proof wallets the tin foil hat crowd are fond of.

  12. It’s one of the reasons I want a proper Brit Mini-Cooper. Let the rapscallions try to figure out the reverse!
    Then again, they could just pick it up and carry it off.

  13. BMW will change their tune when insurers start refusing to insure or charging a huge premium to insure those cars.

  14. There comes a time in a ladies life, when the trappings of cheap decadence should be laid down in favour of true class and art. In other words, fuck the shoes and handbags, gimme that ‘cedes! !!!!!

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