Push-button ignition: when problems arise

By Paul Brand / Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Published Jul 13, 2014 at 12:01AM

Q: In your column you gave advice on what to do if someone experienced a stuck throttle. With a traditional key, I understand the steps you mentioned. But our next vehicle may be equipped with a push-button ignition. How would we handle an emergency situation like a stuck accelerator or unintended acceleration? Also, one of the vehicles we are interested in has a push-button transmission, not a normal gear shifter. Does shifting to neutral still apply?

A: We currently have a vehicle with electronic rather than mechanical door locks and a fob-in-pocket push-button ignition on the dash. I don’t care for either of these. If the car battery goes dead, the doors cannot be unlocked from the outside. You must use an emergency key stored in the fob to unlock the rear hatch and pull a cable to mechanically unlock the front door. If you are inside the vehicle when the battery fails and the doors are locked — exceptionally rare, of course, — you must pull an emergency door release lever to open the door.

As modern and slick as this technology is, I can’t help but wonder what the true benefits are. A remote keyless entry system opens doors from the outside and a key-in-the-ignition switch started and stopped the engine.

In reference to dealing with a stuck throttle or unintended acceleration, the push-button ignition switch does suggest a possible complication. In order to shut off the engine, one must depress and hold in the button for a short period of time — a demanding and difficult procedure when dealing with an emergency.

To deal with a stuck throttle/unintended acceleration with a system like this, shift the transmission into neutral, then steer and brake the car to a safe stop — as I suggested in my earlier column. Again, modern engine management systems will prevent the engine from over-revving in neutral in this situation.

Whether the shift mechanism is push-button, floor-mounted or on the steering column doesn’t matter. Immediately shift into neutral and then deal with the situation.

Q: I love my Dodge Intrepid but the headlights have never been adequate. I keep the lenses polished and clear but the lights are worse than the 6-volt bulbs in my 1951 Ford sealed-beam headlights. What can I do?

A: Age and your eyes may be part of this, but regardless, you can upgrade the halogen bulbs in your composite headlamp assemblies. Probably your best choice would to install a xenon HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamp kit. HID headlamps are original equipment on many newer vehicles and offer a significant improvement in lighting. The installation isn’t quite as simple as replacing the standard bulb — it requires a ballast assembly and additional wiring harness. Prices are in the $100-$300 range for the kit.