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Is keyless ignition a killer?

by Bill Cawthon on

Fiat Chrysler is one of several defendants in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

According to a Reuters report, Draeger et al v. Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. et al, brought 28 plaintiffs, is based on the claim that automakers failed to inform consumers about the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning in vehicles with keyless ignitions.


These ignitions allow the vehicle to be started without inserting a key. As long as the key fob is present, the driver simply pushes a button. Keyless ignitions have been sold in the US since 2003.

The suit claims that carbon monoxide is emitted when drivers leave their vehicles running after taking their electronic key fobs with them, believing that action will shut off the engine. This is a particular problem when cars are left in garages.

The lawsuit claims the automakers been aware of the risks of keyless ignitions but attempted to deceive consumers by saying the vehicles equipped with them are safe.

Most vehicles with keyless ignitions have visual or audible alerts that activate when the key fob is taken out of the vehicle while the engine is running. However, automakers have to allow the driver to briefly exit the vehicle while retaining the key fob.

27 complaints have been filed with the NHTSA since 2009, and the plaintiffs claim that 13 deaths have been attributed to motorists who did not shut off their engines. The NHTSA, which is not named in the suit, has not commented.  A search of the agency’s online database from 2009 to 2015 indicated there had never been even a preliminary investigation opened into keyless ignitions installed in Chrysler vehicles.

The plaintiffs charge that automakers should have installed an automatic shutoff for unattended engines. They are seeking to have their lawsuit given class-action status and ask for an injunction that would require the car companies to install automatic shut-off features on all existing and future vehicles with keyless ignitions. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as compensation for reduced vehicle resale value.

The suit is aimed at BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Mercedes, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen Group.


Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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