Don’t throw the car away just because the key fob doesn’t work

“My key fob isn’t working, so I need a new car.”

That’s my logic and what I told my colleague as I dispensed boiling water into my coffee mug. When I stopped filling the cup halfway, she gave me a puzzled look.

“Oh, I’m not making tea,” I said in response to her silent expression. “I just like to heat up my mug before I fill it with coffee. It’s keeps the coffee hotter longer.”

I set the mug on the counter to let the hot water do its work, reached into my cooler to get my Tupperware mini filled with half and half (because I shun Coffeemate), swirled the hot water into the sink to “sterilize” as much surface as possible, and then dispensed the freshest coffee into my mug and laced it with the white cream. Ahh!

My friend and I looked at each other then and laughed.

“I’m just a little bit spoiled,” I observed.

Case in point: faulty key fob = I need a new car.

My key fob went on the fritz a few weeks ago. Pushing the button to open the trunk did nothing. After a week of suffering through opening the trunk with a key, I looked on YouTube to learn how to change a battery. Easy peasy. Except that the new battery didn’t make a difference.

I’d heard pencil erasers could clean the contacts and so took the key fob apart again and cleaned every surface with an eraser. I put it together, went out to the car, pushed on the trunk image, and, magically, the trunk opened. But the car doors no longer responded to the unlock button.

The next week I took the key fob apart again and tried rubbing alcohol on all the contacts. The moistened Q-tip turned gray, so I figured I’d gotten the contacts clean.

I pushed the button to unlock the car, and it worked! I pushed the button to release the trunk, and it worked! Then I closed the trunk and pushed the button to lock the car – and it didn’t work.

Since then, the buttons occasionally work – but none of them at the same time. Sometimes I can push the unlock button and find it works, but when I push it again to unlock the door for a passenger, it doesn’t. Using my key fob is rather like playing the shell game. (Even cats can play it)

You know the ball is hiding under one of the shells, but you don’t know which one. With my key fob, the magical connection might be hiding under one of the three buttons – or none – but I have to push the button (hard!) to determine if any will work.

But this key fob version of the shell game doesn’t feel like a game when it’s raining or freezing cold, and I’m hoisting an umbrella and a purse and a cooler while balancing on high heels or I’ve exchanged the umbrella for clunky winter gloves. I’ll hope for the best (or simply forget it’s likely to fail) and push a button, and push the button harder and harder and harder. And then I resort to inserting the key.

And it feels like such a rough life that I’m ready to look for a newer car.

Last night, I looked for more hacks and saw videos of people who cut tiny circles of aluminum foil that they smashed between the contacts.

“It works!” “Thank you!” “You saved me $200!” almost made me try it, but the “Now my car doors lock and unlock 40 times while I’m driving to work” made me hesitant.

Another video suggested alcohol, as I’d done, but a higher percentage alcohol. So this time I used whisky instead of wine. (Just kidding!) Hopeful, I took the fob apart yet one more time, cleaned the contacts with the ultra-powerful rubbing alcohol, and then, filled with hope, tried the now cleaner key fob on the car.

The trunk opened but the doors neither locked or unlocked. Sigh.

This morning as I approached my car, laden with two gym bags and my bagged swimming gear, I again tried the unlock button to no avail.

So I set the bags onto the pavement, found the correct key, and opened the front door, then pushed the unlock button on the door to release the door to the back seat where I would store my gym bags.

It had occurred to me, of course, that cars didn’t always come with key fobs. I spent my entire childhood and some of my adult life without one. (Of course, we rarely locked our doors back then.) But this morning, as I pushed the unlock button on my driver’s side door and the other doors unlocked instantly, I remembered when car doors didn’t have electric locks – which meant every door had to be opened manually. Horrors!

(True story: I had a roommate whose car battery died when she was in it, and she sat in her locked car, convinced she was unable to get out. No power = no ability to lock or unlock electric doors, right? This was before cell phones were invented, so she couldn’t call for help. When a stranger finally passed her car in the parking lot, my friend banged on her windows and yelled to get his attention. She then explained through the closed window that she was locked in her car. Puzzled, he simply pointed to the door lock and said, “Can’t you just lift that up?”)

Sometimes technology makes us forget that we ever existed without it – and that we can exist without it.

A faulty key fob is not a good reason to replace an almost perfectly good car (even if it is 18 years old).

But it is a good reminder to be thankful for what I do have that works. And to think outside the constricting box of a tech-trained memory.

And to consider other options — such as the replacement key fob I just bought on Amazon for $16.99! It comes complete with instructions that will allow me to program it myself.

Assuming the new fob works, I guess the car’s a keeper.


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