Wrapping your car key fob in tin foil could protect you from thieves, but Consumer Advisor Clark Howard has advice from one expert who said there are more common cyber threats we should be concerned with.

Gridlock Guy: The keyless car craze goes mobile

Of the different automobile innovations in recent times, using an app to start a car may not be the most astonishing. But this convenience is starting to become standard on newer vehicles, as most major automakers offer apps that can connect to their newer models. The existence of such makes the hands-free experience much more seamless and eliminates the extra clutter of keys.

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Lincoln’s 2020 Aviator SUV  is one of the latest to offer this feature. Lincoln offers The Lincoln Way app, which already allows users to monitor tire pressure and oil life, look up navigation information, and schedule service appointments. That app will have an adjacent Phone As A Key app that allows some next-level features. This latest update will allow users to also start and lock their vehicles within a certain range of them. The driver will no longer need the key fob in their pocket, purse, or armrest to start it.

This technology will work off of the Lincoln’s Bluetooth network within 130 feet of each automobile and then can work off of wifi or the cell network outside of that range. It will also allow different drivers to save seat and mirror settings. These features match perfectly with Lincoln’s luxury branding.

But some may wonder about the safety concerns with such an effortless technology. First, only four digital keys are allowed per vehicle, and each one has its specific driver profile settings. This prevents anyone with that same app from syncing up to that car and taking off with it. There’s also a valet mode that allows others to drive it and automatically disables when the drivers gets back into it.

There is a backup plan for if a driver loses their phone. The Aviator has a place to enter a code on the door to unlock it and another ignition code inside the car. Inputting codes on car door locks has been in place on cars since at least the 1990s. These passcodes are probably helpful things to bury somewhere in the wallet, just in case.

Another safety concern that already exists for keyless-ignition, push-start vehicles is remembering to turn them off. This happened back in June to an Illinois couple, when they got out of their car and mistakenly left it running in their garage. The fumes seeped into their house and became a silent killer. Not only are fumes silent, but newer cars are far quieter than before. When drivers no longer have to physically take their keys out of the car, leaving it running is a possibility. Now with no physical push-start button requirement, that hazard potentially increases.

Electric vehicles are almost silent, but also do not emit fumes. And arguably the most cutting edge of those, Tesla, has deployed this phone-centric innovation.

“I absolutely love it,” Tesla owner Jon Godwin told the AJC. “Don’t have to pull out the phone and open the app either. Just walk up to the car and go.” Godwin said that he can also remote-start the car from anywhere in the world, if someone is borrowing it. And he can even honk the horn from the app, which may be more useful for practical joking than anything else.

Godwin does explain one drawback: forgetting to bring along more analog technology. “Because I didn’t need the keys for the car, I kept forgetting to bring them to open other things! (My wife Charissa and I) ended up getting a keyless lock for the house, too. And I keep my keychain in the glovebox for any other time I may need them. But now I only reach for a set of keys once in a blue moon.”

Godwin said that Tesla provides two sleek credit cards to use as physical keys, but he has only used them once in his 10 months of ownership.

And the Tesla pretty much works like a glorified golf cart; its engine doesn’t actually turn on until the driver presses the pedal. And it turns off when it’s motionless and the driver exits. This means that it won’t just stay activated by mistake and run out of battery.

App-starting a vehicle may not solve many traffic issues, but the convenience makes the driving experience better. Drivers potentially can take better care of their vehicles with all of the diagnostic data available in the app. They can can transfer navigation destinations between the app and the digital dash infotainment center (which also is available via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with other compatible mapping apps). And being able to start and lock the car a bit quicker can at least shorten the commute by a few seconds. As long as people remain mindful enough to turn off their cars and aren’t using the app with their hands behind the wheel, there really aren’t many downsides to phones replacing keyfobs. 

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Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.

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