I had been thinking about getting a car with better gas mileage, ever since I started working 42 miles from home. But with the challenge of trying to balance fuel economy, safety, comfort (especially for my husband), and budget, I hadn’t gotten beyond figuring out that I probably couldn’t afford the sort of car we would have liked.
Last month, however, we were faced with the need to replace the car our older son had been driving. And I learned that I could afford a newer car than I had thought, because the interest rates are lower for newer cars. So, somewhat to my surprise, I am now driving a 2012 Nissan Altima.
And trying to get used to a car key that isn’t a key. Well, technically it is, because it gets me into the car and it enables me to drive it. But this “key” has no teeth and doesn’t go into a keyhole. It’s just a fob – a “smart key.”
I haven’t tried this yet, but according to the salesman, I can’t lock myself out of this car. It knows if the fob is still in the car and will not lock the doors. Considering that week before last I finished scraping the ice off my windshield only to find the lock had somehow been enabled after I started the engine (and then had to wait twenty minutes for someone from a towing company to come unlock my vehicle), I thought that sounded brilliant.
It really feels weird, starting a car by pushing a button. Even stranger, perhaps, to stop the car by pushing the button again, and then having no key to remove from the ignition. (For years I have trained myself to hold the keys when getting out, even to pump gas, so that I don’t lock myself out. Of course, when the car was warming up the keys were in the ignition so I couldn’t do that.)
There are apparently some drawbacks to this smart key idea, though. I have read about people being able to start a car with the fob nearby but not actually in the car (maybe in the pocket of someone nearby), then driving away without it and eventually finding themselves far away and keyless. The car will keep running without the smart key (for safety reasons – can’t have a car suddenly stop in the middle of traffic), but after being turned off it can’t be started again.
It’s also possible to leave the car running and walk away, perhaps not even realizing it’s still on (the newer cars are so much quieter). This sort of situation has apparently resulted in carbon monoxide poisoning in at least one case. Since our garage is too full of stuff to hold a car, that’s not likely to be an issue for me. But I would hate to park my car and later discover it gone because I had left it running and someone else decided to “borrow” it.
A common response to that is that it’s no different from leaving the keys in the ignition of a car. But with a traditional key, turning off the car and removing the keys are nearly simultaneous – I hardly even think of them as separate steps. Now I can push the stop button but leave the fob forgotten in a cup holder. Or take the fob and walk away without pushing the button.
There’s no such thing as completely idiot-proof technology. My key is smart – but it won’t stop me from being dumb.