Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Why You Need A Key Fob Protector

Key fobs which lock and unlock your car doors, or in some cases are the key to the car can be incredibly expensive to replace.  A protective cover can save you hundreds of dollars in replacement costs.

Last year, Mark asked me to give a ride in the golf cart to an older lady who had parked far away from the arts festival.   I gladly complied, and when we got to her car, she pulled out her keys, only to find that the key fob - which was also the key that starts the car - was only part of the outer case.

She explained that she had dropped the keys on the floor in the galley, and that the fob must have come apart there.   We went back to the galley and she showed me where she dropped it.  My heart sank as it was right above a large grate for the HVAC system.   But fortunately, I spotted three parts of the fob - the other half of the case, the battery, and the printed circuit board.   And fortunately, no one had stepped on them.

I carefully re-assembled the fob, which basically snaps together, and we went back to her car.  It started and ran.   The next day, I ordered her a key fob protector - they are only a few dollars - and it arrived by China Post a week later.   It even had the car company logo on it.   These protectors, which are usually rubber, act like cell phone protectors.   Not only do they absorb shock, they keep the fobs from flying apart if they are dropped from any height.

If you do break a fob, you might be in for a rude surprise.  As I noted in my posting try the other key, I found out the hard way that car keys today are an expensive nightmare.   On the 2002 X5, a replacement key was over $250, available only from the dealer, and what's more, the car would only support 11 keys in its lifetime, without having to replace the expensive immobilizer.   That was a pretty basic electronic key, too.

Today, we have near-field communication key fobs.  The hamster has one - why, I don't know.   You put the key in your pocket or on the dashboard and press a button to start the car.  Such progress.  Maybe in the future, they will have a button the floor next to the gas pedal - the old "toe starter" of the 1930's.   Back to the future!

The problem with these near-field pushbutton dealies is that instead of costing $250 to replace, they can be $500 or more.   A friend of mine just bought a used Porsche, and it came with only one "key".  He managed to find a replacement key online for less than what the dealer wanted, but it was still pricey.  He nearly had a stroke when he programmed the new key and nothing on the car would work, not even the old key.   Fortunately, it turned out to be a blown fuse - on the engine management computer circuit board, no less, and it was an easy fix.  But for a while there, he was worried he was now the proud owner of a 3,500-pound brick.

There are other issues with these keys as well.   For example, if the battery goes dead on the "fob" the car won't start - leaving you stranded somewhere.   The hamster has already gone through two fob batteries (which fortunately are cheap enough to find online and easy to replace) in two years.   The dashboard does warn you - "key battery running low" so you have time to replace it.   But this is not a time to be a procrastinator.   You put off replacing the battery and when it finally goes dead, you have no way of starting the car.

Again, progress!

It might not be a bad idea to keep an extra fob battery in the glove box.

The Nissan has an "old school" key which is made of metal and has no chip or electronics in it.  I think you could start that with a sharp screwdriver, frankly, or just reach under the dashboard and jumper some wires together.   But it does have a remote fob for the door locks, and they do sell fob protectors for those as well.   The irony here is, the fob protector costs nearly as much as a replacement (aftermarket) fob!   But I bought the protectors anyway.

For the hamster, they have a nice leather one on eBay for only a few bucks.  I ordered two and we'll see where that goes.