The "keyless" ignition is one of those supposed conveniences that comes with a lot of downsides, the most extreme being the risk of asphyxiation.
At least 13 people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning that apparently resulted from their inadvertently leaving their engines running in the mistaken belief that they would automatically shut off.
Now a class action lawsuit filed in federal district court in Los Angeles accuses the world's biggest automakers of hiding the dangers inherent in the system and continuing to market the keyless ignition despite knowing of the dangers it presents.
The suit names BMW, Mercedes Benz, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors Co, Honda, Hyundai/ Kia, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
Distracted or confused
The keyless ignition allows a driver to start the car simply by pressing a button instead of having to insert a key into an ignition.
The fob that replaces the traditional key must be in or near the car for the system to work; the suit alleges that it's easy for drivers to become distracted or confused and to think that the engine will automatically stop running when they walk away from the car, taking the fob with them.
In fact, although the fob is needed to start the car, in most models the engine will continue to run even when the driver (and fob) aren't there. The lawsuit contends this presents an unacceptable danger when cars are left in garages attached to homes and other buildings.
The lawsuit claims automakers have known of the risks since at least 2003 yet have continued to market their vehicles as safe. It contends they could have easily installed a system to turn off engines in unattended and unoccupied cars and says Ford and GM took steps to patent such a feature.
The lawsuit says at least 27 complaints have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since 2009.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring automakers to install automatic shut-off features on all existing and future models.