Why Do Some New Cars Still Have Physical Keys Instead of Keyless Push Button Starts?

At the turn of the century, high-end car manufacturers began producing cars that lacked a crucial component: a key. This was added to boost car sales. Similar to many other features that were first introduced in posh cars, keyless push-button starts have over time filtered down to more affordable models as they continue to grow in popularity.

Going by statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, back in 2002, only 5000 vehicles were manufactured with keyless starts. According to a 2013 report by Ward’s Auto, this figure jumped to 4.4 million, and the numbers keep on rising.

According to NHTSA, despite the growing popularity of the keyless push-button start feature on most cars, some vehicles and models still have the physical car key as a way to start the vehicle. But why is this? 

If you don’t have one yet, you might be wondering if you need it for your next vehicle and if there are any downsides to a keyless ignition. Read along to discover more.

A set of car keys in the grass.
Car keys | Getty Images

Advantages of keyless push button start features

According to Edmunds, the top pros of a keyless system are convenience and security. The feature makes it harder to steal vehicles because the thief would need your key fob. With this keyless entry feature, you get to experience comfort like never before. Just with the press of a button, you can unlock all your doors. What is more, you are not required to insert your key to start the ignition. Again, by just pressing a button, you can automatically start or stop your car.

Keyless push-button starts also offer increased safety. These modern keys have an authentication ID, which is read by your vehicle’s computer, and only with the correct authentication will your car unlock to start. With the increase in car thefts, this is an efficient way to reduce such incidences.

The downsides of having keyless push button starts

While there are many advantages to this revolutionary feature, a keyless push-button start comes with a few disadvantages

First, considering today’s exceptionally quiet engines, using keyless ignition increases your chances of forgetting to turn off your motor once you leave your car. As Car and Driver reports, since 2006, there have been more than a dozen reports of people who have lost their lives from carbon monoxide poisoning after they unknowingly left their cars running in an enclosed garage in the house.

Forgetting to turn off your car can also make it easier for thieves to access your vehicle and steal valuable items. According to AAA, it is easy for drivers to leave their engine running when distracted by children or a phone call. Therefore, they should know what their vehicle’s gauge cluster looks like when off and when on. 

Furthermore, cars with keyless ignitions are more prone to hacking. This is because the push-button start depends on the car’s electrical system, making it more vulnerable to hacking and bug failures. This is expensive to fix. While the process is more complicated than smashing through the car’s windows, determined cybercriminals, equipped with the right tools, can access the radio system from a keyless fob and use it to open and start the car.

Recent cars that still offer physical keys

Toyota recently launched the Toyota Corolla Cross. This latest model is equipped with up-to-date technology like Amazon Alexa, a seven-inch screen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. However, contrary to the modern technological updates, a physical key is included, which seems odd. 

Among many other reasons, having a keyed system serves as a cost-cutting measure for the Toyota Corolla Cross’ base trim. As Edmunds reported in 2014, replacing a keyed ignition with a push-button start costs somewhere between $75 and 125. This seems inexpensive until the figure is multiplied by millions of cars sold.

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