Got a traditional key ignition? Then don’t do this

A lot of ink has been used lately to cover General Motors’ ongoing ignition switch recall. Not driving one of the affected GM models? Well, you shouldn’t relax just because you think your daily driver has a more robust system. You might want to look at your key-chains. Just as a reminder, the GM vehicles involved are 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2006-2010 HHRs, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5s, 2006-2010 Solstices, 2003-2007 Saturn Ions, and 2007-2010 Sky models.

Industry analysts and involved stakeholders seem to agree on the point that the cause of the sudden ignition-off condition while driving was narrowed down to a rather simple electric switch that couldn’t stand up to the average levels of bumps, shudders, jolts, vibrations, and hits it took in a day. At one time, ignition switches used to be fairly heavily built components with large thick copper wiring and connectors assembled in a tough hard plastic casing. They were bolted securely to the steering column and activated by means of a steel connecting rod between the ignition lock and the switch.

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The move towards more use of low-voltage electronic and security systems in newer vehicles forced an evolution onto the lowly ignition switch, turning it (for the most part) into a very small, light-weight circuit board contact-pad housed in a thin plastic shell. Lock tumbler ignition cylinders also have evolved into extinction on some models, being replaced by plastic chip-embedded key receivers. Owners of these key systems have reported expensive repairs caused by wear on the plastic insert-tip of their keys or damage to the keys from people stepping on or dropping them.

Heavy items on a driver's key chain can cause wear to the ignition lock cylinder and even turn the ignition to the off position.

Heavy items on a driver’s key chain can cause wear to the ignition lock cylinder and even turn the ignition to the off position.
Rod Maclvor, Ottawa Citizen

Chrysler had its own ignition-off problem on some minivans, sedans, and SUVs when a sudden bump on the road would knock the ignition switch to the accessory position. The problem was rectified without replacing the ignition switch but by modifying the receiver portion in the dash so it was stiffer to turn.

General Motors has gone on record with more than 80 different tests that ran their vehicles over varying and extreme road surfaces and conditions. Those tests found no ignition-off failures on vehicles that had only the ignition key inserted into the cylinder with nothing else attached to a simple key ring. They have posted a YouTube video detailing the tests and providing tips on how to minimize any risks by having only one key on the ring. See the video below.

Two things are rather ironic about this issue in general. It seems that the old mechanic’s tale of an overloaded key chain damaging your ignition lock/switch holds some water after all. Putting that pocket accessory on a diet might save you a world of trouble. Secondly, the choice of configurations that more and more automakers are turning to in order to avoid all this is the push-button ignition switch, which was first used on mass produced autos in the 1920s.

GM recall could signal the demise of traditional car keys

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About Brian Turner