It’s a regular day, and you’ve got somewhere to be. You grab your keys, lock up the front door, and make your way towards your car. You hop inside, place the keys in the ignition, and then you’re ready to go. You’ve done this a million times before so nothing feels wrong. But the thing is, you could actually be making a mistake with potentially lethal consequences.
The issue at play is something so simple that most of us would totally overlook it. And without being specifically told about it, we probably wouldn’t figure it out by ourselves. But thankfully some experts have spoken out to help get the message across.
If you’re the type of person – as many of us are – who keeps a lot of keys attached to your car’s ignition key, then you could run into trouble. There’s no doubt that this is an annoying thing to hear. After all, keeping all your keys together is the least cluttered thing you could do.
And we all need to keep our front door keys handy. But maybe some of us also need to carry our back door key, too? Perhaps a loved one has given us a spare to their own house? Sometimes we might attach a gizmo like a bottle opener or a little torch to our key rings. Many of us may also decorate the bunch with some charms and trinkets.
Nothing about this feels inherently wrong or dangerous, but some people have experienced disastrous consequences because of it. So if we don’t alter our habits a little, we might just end up being one of the unlucky few. We could lose a lot of money, or maybe even pay a greater price.
Most of us tend not to think much about what’s happening when we turn our car’s ignition key. It’s something we do automatically, a habit that’s reinforced every single time we settle into the driver’s seat. But a more mechanically minded person might well be aware of what’s really going on.
When we place the key into the ignition and twist it, we’re actually kickstarting a number of actions simultaneously. Without getting into the specifics, we can say that a spark is created which consequently causes the engine’s pistons to move. Basically, the vehicle should start up without any issues developing.
But if the ignition switch is faulty, then we could run into all sorts of problems. It’s really important, then, that we do everything in our power to keep our ignitions as healthy as possible. Of course, there are several factors that we have to keep in mind to look after our cars more generally.
Theft is obviously a major concern for people with cars. It’s a scenario we’d all prefer to avoid, yet many of us make mistakes that actually increase the likelihood of such a crime occurring. But if we just took a little bit more care, then maybe we could keep ourselves from becoming victims.
The AA is an insurance company based in Ireland. And given its line of work, the business deals with loads of cases involving motor theft. So a couple of years ago, its director of consumer affairs spoke to Irish website Joe.ie to offer motorists some pointers. And one thing that Conor Faughnan pointed out was that we need to be mindful of the seasons.
As Faughnan put it, “As we move into the winter season the risk of both car and home break-ins heightens compared to the summer months. Particularly from early-December, where Christmas presents may be hidden in your home or car.” So we should really try to be more careful during the holidays.
Leaving expensive objects in your car where they can easily be seen is asking for trouble. As Faughnan explained, “For this reason it’s important that we all exercise additional caution in the coming weeks and months when leaving our cars unattended. And that, in particular, we’re cautious about leaving any items of value visible when parking your car anywhere. Even if you’re just running into a shop for two minutes.”
That’s sound advice to bear in mind during the holiday season or otherwise. Similarly, there are measures that we can take all year round to help protect our cars. For example, it’s probably wise to keep our keys in a safe place inside our houses. That way if somebody breaks in, they won’t be able to steal the car, too.
Faughnan said, “It’s also important to be careful with where you leave your keys when at home. In the worst case scenario where someone illegally accesses your home the last thing you want is for them to also have access to any valuables in your car or potentially drive off with it.”
Another tendency that many of us lean towards can also be seriously problematic. When we stop off at a gas station to top up our cars with fuel, we might leave the doors unlocked when we run inside the store to pay. This obviously presents an opportunity for any wannabe criminals in the area at the time.
Faughnan said, “Staying ahead of burglars and vandals can be difficult, but the last thing you want to do is make their job easier for them by leaving your car unlocked even when you only expect to be away from the car for a few minutes. We’ve all wandered into a petrol station on at least one occasion and found ourselves stuck there for longer than we anticipated… even a short delay can give thieves enough time to access your car.”
So don’t leave your car unlocked, and don’t leave expensive things lying around inside. It might also be wise to park your vehicle somewhere safe and secure, and to purchase a steering wheel lock if your car is old. If you’re careful, then maybe you can keep your vehicle from ever being stolen.
But theft isn’t the only threat to our vehicles, of course. Lots of things can go wrong with the contraptions, so we need to be mindful of them. Because a car that’s not in tip-top shape can lead to costly repairs down the line. And it can also be downright dangerous.
One of the simplest yet most important things to do is keeping your windscreen sparkling. If it’s covered in dirt and squashed bugs, then it’s going to be difficult to see out. So you’ll need to wash the glass properly, as using the wipers alone can create streaks and ultimately make things worse.
But you should also make sure you keep all of the vehicle clean, too. If the paint job is exposed to too much dirt and grime, then it can degrade. And when this coating has disappeared, the body of the vehicle can become damaged itself. So regularly washing the whole exterior is essential.
Another thing to keep in mind is the air pressure of your car’s tires. If they’re not sufficiently inflated, then it’ll be more difficult to keep in control of your vehicle when you’re barreling down the road. If there’s too much air in the tires, on the other hand, then they might burst. In either case you could be thrust into harm’s way.
And don’t forget to keep an eye on the amount of motor oil that’s inside your car. This ensures that the engine doesn’t wear down to the extent that it becomes damaged. Plus motor oil helps to regulate heat. So make sure that you check your levels!
But back to car ignition switches. Because it’s critical that they’re kept in a healthy and operational state. If these mechanisms are damaged, then a whole range of issues can occur. And that could mean that we’ll be forced to cough up a lot of money – or we might even be forced into dangerous situations.
There are some clear indicators to look out for when considering if your car’s ignition switch might be damaged. One that’s impossible to ignore, of course, is that the engine simply won’t come to life. If you’re twisting the key and nothing’s happening, then it could be that you need to fix up the ignition.
Plus if your key’s actually been placed into the ignition but is unable to turn, then that might also suggest damage to the mechanism. The problem could be something else, however, so don’t jump to conclusions. But it’s definitely worth your while to keep in mind that the ignition switch might be impaired.
Sometimes when the ignition switch is dysfunctional, you might actually be able to turn the key and get the engine up and running. But that doesn’t mean that you’re out of the woods. At some point in your journey, the damaged component in your vehicle might abruptly cause the engine to cut out. Now nobody wants that.
The lights and gauges on your dashboard might also go haywire if your ignition switch is damaged. This is obviously not a good sign. And if it happens suddenly while you’re driving, the flashing lights might distract you and lead to an accident. So every effort should be taken to avoid such a grim scenario.
But to keep your ignition switch in good shape, it’s important to know how it can become damaged in the first place. As time goes on, of course, it’ll deteriorate. Yet this can be made much worse when we attach too many keys to the same ring as our car key.
Because a large number of keys can be quite heavy. And if there’s too strong a burden on the ignition switch of a vehicle, then it can end up becoming impaired. It might not happen straight away, of course, but as time goes on the damage could build and build.
Back in August 2020, Jake McKenzie from the automobile parts website Auto Access Garage spoke to Reader’s Digest about the ignition switch issue. He said, “Your ignition cylinder really wasn’t engineered to hold much weight on it, and when you hang a heavy keyring from your ignition every bump, turn, and vibration will slowly but surely wear down the delicate inner elements.”
And the consequences of this could be significant. Laura Milligan, for example, told Reader’s Digest, “My husband, years ago, had probably three dozen keys on his ring. The weight shifted around the ignition so badly that while he was driving, he could pull the key out of the ignition and continue to drive. Before that happened, my husband’s mechanic warned him plenty of times about how his key ring was too heavy.”
What happened to Milligan’s husband is a pretty terrifying prospect that could potentially befall any one of us. So it would be wise of us to take note of her warnings. For the sake of our safety, we shouldn’t overload our key rings. But exactly how many keys is too many?
Well there isn’t exactly a specific number that we can point to. But there have been broad suggestions that any more than six keys is asking for trouble. Ideally the number should be far lower. In fact, if you could keep your car key separate to all others, then all the better.
Having too much weight hanging from your car key is actually an issue that had a huge impact in 2014. Because that year General Motors was forced to pull some 1.6 million of its vehicles from the road because of impaired ignition switches. And we’re not joking, this reportedly came about because key rings were being overloaded.
In the wake of this event, NBC Channel 15 set out to discover if overloading key rings was really to blame. And the station’s investigation found that too much weight on a car key really did make it hard to put into the ignition. Plus it generally wore it down, meaning that expensive repair works would be necessary over time.
All things considered, then, there’s every reason for us to thin out our key rings. We need to ensure that we only have one or two keys attached to the car key, otherwise we risk damaging our vehicles. This could cost us a lot of money or even lead to an accident.
Nowadays many new models of car come with ignition switches that don’t even require a key. Yes, the car key is essentially replaced by a fob, which doesn’t even need to be taken out of a user’s pocket to be functional. This can be really beneficial, in the sense that it avoids the issue of wearing the mechanism down.
And there are other positives to keyless ignition switches, too. Besides protecting the integrity of the mechanism, it also saves us from having to grapple with a big bunch of keys in order to get our engines going. It’s simply a case of sitting in and pressing a button. Then we’re good to go.
But because we don’t actually have to turn a key with this new technology, it’s very easy to forget to kill the engine when we arrive at our destination. And this can be dangerous, particularly when the car has been parked in an indoor space. According to The New York Times, several deaths can be attributed to people accidentally leaving their engines on inside their garages, exposing them to toxic fumes.
So keyless ignitions aren’t without their risks, either. The bottom line is that no matter what model of car we might have, we must take great care. This can mean doing obvious things like washing the vehicle and ensuring that it’s topped up with oil. Or it can simply mean remembering the smaller things, like not overloading our ignition keys.