Car Immobilizers and Age

What better way to start off a blog on nothing in particular than with a short story of the unintended consequences of growing old?

I don’t know about you, but as I’ve gotten older I work hard at trying to learn, and sometimes do, new things. Partly that’s because I like to learn new things. But mostly it’s because I don’t want to get ossified, and it’s really, really easy to fall into habits you didn’t even realize you were building as you get older. Even at the new young age of 55, I can feel that my mental faculties aren’t generally as sharp as they once were.

One of my heroes in the “always learn something new” race is my father-in-law, Ray. He’s a retired college professor, in his late 80s, and, boy, if I manage to be as mentally nimble and active at that age as he is, I’ll consider myself to have really achieved something. Ray is currently trying to learn how to use a computer…which is pretty impressive when you remember that he doesn’t really need one, and had a lifetime of experience with typewriters before it become possible for an average person to even think about owning a computer.

I mentioned Ray not just to introduce him, but also because he figures in the story behind this post. The other day my wife bought one of his cars and drove it up to the Bay Area (well, technically Barbara and my son Arthur drove it up, but let’s not get too pedantic). At one stop along the way they stopped the car…and couldn’t get it started again. The engine cranked and cranked, but never caught. Given that this is a creampuff 2009 Toyota Camry, they were quite beside themselves.

After arranging for AAA to come by and tow the car someplace they decided to give it one more chance. The car, of course, started up immediately and ran fine for the rest of the trip.

But a day later, when I tried to start the car to take it to our mechanic, the same thing happened. Crank, crank, crank, but no ignition. So I had the car towed to my favorite local service station.

Where a nice young mechanic told me, politely and rather diffidently, that I had to use the right key to start the car. Because only the right key has the ID chip inside of it which will tell the car’s computer system that it’s okay to start, rather than just crank.

I was shocked. Worse, I was mortified…because apparently I hadn’t been learning enough new things to realize that cars have changed in at least one pretty significant way since I bought my last new car back in 2005. And I sure hope this isn’t a sign of the beginning of the end… :).

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