GM Chief Executive Mary Bara testified before Congress this month regarding the faulty and deadly GM ignition switch problems. She said that the recent recall involving 2.59 million vehicles may prompt the company to make push-button ignition start systems standard in all vehicles. Keyed ignitions may become obsolete after a run of 65 years, which was started in 1949 by Chrysler. The ignition key replaced the hand-crank starter developed more than a hundred years ago.
The first manufacturer to offer push-button start was Mercedes-Benz back in the 1990s, and the feature is now available in 72 percent of 2014 U.S. models according to Edmunds.com. In addition, AutoPacific conducted a recent survey in which researchers found that consumers rated push-button start the fifth most popular upgrade for $100 or less.
Edmunds.com Senior Editor Bill Visnic said, “People really see the push button as a convenience and a luxury feature. The ignition switch is a very fussy, electromechanical part that’s seen as less reliable.”
Keyed ignitions have been blamed for 13 deaths, with faulty switches slipping out of the “on” position, shutting down the engine and airbag systems in Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has record of around 18,000 driver complaints regarding keyed switches. The complaints involve multiple models whose drivers reported stalling at high speeds, keys getting stuck and some vehicles starting on their own.
The flaws in GM models keyed ignitions involve similar complaints as in other models, with owners stating that keys could be inadvertently dislodged by a knee or weighed down by a key chain. The investigation continues due to the fact that it took GM more than ten years to recall vehicles at risk.
NHTSA data shows that the most recalled model with keyed ignition problems is the Ford Focus, which racked up over 2,000 complaints about sticking keys in models from years 2000-2005. Because the problem was not a danger to drivers, there was no recall; Ford simply notified owners and fixed the problem.
Approximately 21 million vehicles have been recalled over the years for keyed ignition problems: 8.8 million from Ford, 5.5 million from GM, 3.5 million from Honda and 1.6 million from Chrysler and its predecessors.
The push-button start system has not been completely trouble free, but it involves few moving parts and simply sends an electronic signal to the engine. It may take some getting used to, because it requires the driver to carry a keyless remote unit that can also open and lock the vehicle. However, removing the key-start from vehicles may become much more than a luxury; it may be that losing our keys will keep us all safer.
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