Captive of GM Ingenuity

Honda Repair

Today my Honda needed a new condenser. Apparently I created a large hole in my old one, probably running over a tumbleweed on the way to the Canyon. Since the daily high is reaching the 102 mark here, I decided not to delay the repair of this primary component of the air conditioning system.

In the modern two car family dynamic, simple things like getting a car to the shop can be a tactical nightmare. This is one of those stories.


Since the day we bought it this car has maintained a dislike for me. The 2005 Chevrolet Corvette has a keyless entry, starting and driver preference system. There is no key! Just the black plastic thing like the one that forms the top of your key. It is called a fob.

There is no lock. It does not even have a door handle in the traditional sense. Much like the power switch on your PC there is a button where the door handle should be. This button purports to open the door. It is really only a suggestion, though. When you press the button a series of logical tests are conducted across the vehicle sensor array. It scans the immediate electromagnetic field for a particular signature. A signature created by one of 2 fobs. If the signature is found in close proximity, the door is opened by actuating a small electric motor that pulls the latch. My fob never really works.

Dead Sexy

Not to complain. There is very little cooler than walking up to your car during a casual conversation, pressing the button / door handle and having the car already unlocked for you. It is smooth, effortless and dead sexy. When it works. Mine never does. Dead sexy quickly becomes another fine work of profanity while I fumble for the fob and use the button there to unlock the car like a traditional car alarm.

Two Car Shuffle

So, we get up early. We both drive to the dealer. I explain that the air conditioner doesn't and turn over the keys (Yes, the Honda has keys, locks and real door handles). I hop in the Corvette and she drives us to work. We get to JDA and we hop out. Quick morning kiss, discuss contingencies for various repair completion times and head our separate ways. She walks into her office, I drive away.

Interface Design

I used to write applications for companies. I had to lead teams of developers. This gave me the wonderful opportunity to consider the User Interface. Take it from me, if your application has a user dialog that includes the words "No Fob Detected" now would be the time to display them.

You see where this tale is headed.

Driving the Driving Machine

I blissfully pull away and hit the highway in a 400 horsepower driving machine. I tune my tunes in on the MP3 reader and cruise to work in style and speed. I am having a fine morning drive.

Soon I arrive at my destination 25 miles from the fob which my wife carried with her into her office. It was in her purse where it always stays safely tucked in a ridiculously small zippered compartment that could have no other purpose. The beauty of this spectrum scanning, signature finding, security system is just that. She never needs to take it out and do the 80's click for the Woot-woot from the alarm.

I park the car and reach for the fob in the center console. It must be there. I just drove 25 miles without a warning about the fob not detected. I will just grab it and take it in with me.

It is not there. I don't have to search for it because the car is indicating its absence on the Driver Information Panel. This device is designed and named for when you do something that makes you feel like a DIP. The message is "No Fob Detected. Continue or Turn Off?"

I did not actually look this up in the driver's manual. I am sure it would say something to the effect of:

You have asked to turn off the engine and engage the security system. Since you either lost or forgot your fob during the last 25 miles of your journey I will ask you to keep running before I shutdown, engage the security system and begin to pretend I don't know you.

So there you are. Do you let the car run for 9 or so hours while you go to work? Hoping all the while no other fob-less individual drives it away. OR do you turn it off and get locked out of a car with no locks?

The humiliation and scorn from your wife is now inevitable. You will be ridiculed for one of the following reasons:
  • You ran the car all day. Well, most of the day. I am not sure of the conversion rate, but a car that gets 17 mpg is going to run out of fuel at some point and I am betting it is less then 9 hours at under half a tank. So you wasted half a tank AND had to have it towed.
  • Someone else discovered the hole in GM's excellent security plan and hops in for a day of joyriding. You lost the car!
  • You turn it off and have to call her and explain you never even considered bringing your fob. Why would that be needed?

The latter seemed the least expensive, though I did consider my options carefully.

No Ladies, It Never Crossed My Mind

I can hear the female readers of this bLog asking two questions now. I will pause to answer them.

No. At no point in the tactical planning of the car shuffle did I consider needing my fob. Hers would be used to start the car and would stay in the center console where I always put mine. There would be no problem here.

And NO. I did not consider driving back to JDA or home to get the fob. I would then have to call my boss and attempt to explain why I was late. I could not understand that myself, how could I explain it to him?

Yes this would have been the second best plan to ACTUALLY remembering to bring my fob. It is also a plan that can only be concocted by someone with a strong social network. An individual who feels no shame in asking for help.


Well, it is done. The engine is off and I head to work listening to the security system engage. Time to make some calls. I must call my wife to explain the situation and take my ridicule like, well, a man who failed to plan.

This was not done before consulting with the other men at work on a plan to avoid detection of my error. "OnStar, dude, call OnStar!" Genius!

I place a pre-emptory call to OnStar to see if I have enough vital personal information to convince them I am the rightful owner of the expensive sports car I am about to beg entry to. It works! They will unlock it for me. Now I just hope that means the fob detector thingy accepts the unlock signal as permission to start the car. I will call them back when I am close to the car.

Now I call my wife with a lower impact failure to plan. I get a little ridicule and the vital OnStar account number.

OK, do a little work and take a "smoke break" at the car. Well, now that we are testing the technical facets of OnStar and the somewhat tenuous theory that this will disengage the fob detector I have to have an audience of men who want to see the action. We travel to the car. I make the call and get through the security questions and account number giving. They send the signal and...

Well the signal takes up to 10 minutes. My excited crowd of technophiles dwindles. I wait in the garage for the lights to blink and allow me access. I wait alone, for what seems like more than 20 minutes. Then the lights blink and I am in!

Start Up?

Under normal conditions the car cannot be started with making a few safety checks using the advanced vehicle sensors. Purely for safety reasons, please understand. You must have your foot pressed on the brake. The car door must also be closed. In case I decide to also press the accelerator and launch forward at speeds up to 60 miles per hour in the first 3 seconds after I start the car.

Knowing this, and not wanting to blow what I am sure is my single chance to start this thing, I close the door and press the brake pedal. I press the Start button and I am politely informed "No Fob Detected" by the DIP. Then the car automatically locks itself and engages the security system.


I am locked inside my wife's Corvette.

There is no key to unlock the lock that doesn't exist. There is no pull knob to spring me out of my fiberglass and steel cage. There are buttons to suggest the door be unlocked. They all trigger the "No Fob Detected" message. I feel like a DIP, again.

I do have my phone (fearing even the beloved OnStar is disabled when No Fob Detected). I call them back and explain my predicament. They don't laugh. They begin to ask all the questions I have already asked. Can't you use your key? Can't you pull the lock knob? Can you roll down the window? Aren't you in Arizona?

Yes, I am in Arizona. So, please let's not wait until the ambient temperature rises over 100 before trying to get me some fresh air! OnStar is not equipped to handle conscious customers inside the vehicle without calling some other agency. If they are unconscious, dying or have sustained life threatening injuries they quickly call the fire department. The fire department can't help me. So they call GM Customer Care. Surely the manufacturer knows how to get someone out of the vehicle. After that idiot triggers the anti theft devices.

GM Customer Care

GM has a broad array of products. The representative was very polite and helpful. She made several suggestions about how to exit a GM vehicle. She has never driven a Corvette or Cadillac with a driver preference system, keyless entry and push button starting. You guessed it: the same list of remedies involving physical access to the lock.

I interrupted and suggested she read the 2005 Corvette owner's manual on her screen. She takes a moment. Then replies, "Oh, wait you are in Arizona. Is it hot there yet?"

Fortunately OnStar has gambled on a second unlock signal. It has just come through and I quickly exit the luxury leather interior of the 400 horsepower coffin. "I'm out!" I announced. The OnStar representative and the Customer Care representative actually applauded. Then I just had to answer a few customer satisfaction questions before I hung up and went back to work.

I am home now. The Honda is here and the air is frosty inside. The Corvette is here too. I think it may be some time before I am allow to drive it again. Much longer before she stops asking, "did you bring your fob?"