Piston Slap: The Young Lady and the Key

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
piston slap the young lady and the key

Hi Steve and Sajeev:

My daughter has been driving the Saturn Astra recommended by Steve for a few months now and we can all say that it is a nice car — screwed together well, efficient and kinda sporty. I consider it to be a win. Except for a minor key issue.

The original owner had a remote start installed (nice). I have one in my Chrysler T&C and that vehicle does not require a key to be hidden in the car; the Saturn does (a GM thing, I hear). So, they buried the other ignition key inside the steering column box.

Thing is, though, is that they never got another key, so there is only one. Not smart, IMO. So, rather than drive 20 miles to the nearest GM dealer to buy an overpriced key, I ordered an OEM one from Fob Keyless, and they even cut it. The key arrived and it unlocked to door and turned in the ignition fine, but it did not start the car — it needed to be programmed.

Here is the rub. This car does not follow the typical GM procedure for key programming than most of their other cars. I am told I have to bring it to the dealer and that I will have to present all of the keys — so that means I have to fish out the key that is buried in the dash. My question for you is this: is that correct? Is there a workaround that you know of? Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

Sajeev Says:

A workaround for German car electrics? Surely you jest, my good man!

This website gives a quick yet comprehensive explanation of why that’ll never work. Bite the bullet, get it programmed properly either by a respected locksmith or the dealership. But either way, a trip to a GM dealership is in order. Perhaps a phone call to make sure they can do it…might need to make multiple calls. Maybe start with a Cadillac dealer, you know, for the best customer service and knowledge of German-ish General Motors Iron.

And since you emailed Steve on a Piston Slap related topic, let’s see what insights The Man has to offer.

Steve Says:

Let me tell you a little story about an old friend and his Mercedes.

Once upon a time I knew a fellow who would buy and sell cars on the side while managing an auto repair shop. Well, one evening he decides to buy a late-80’s Mercedes E-Class at a public auction for a decent price. He gets one key for it.

Only one key. The next day he goes to pick up the vehicle. Dead battery. As soon as they put a jumper on the car the alarm blares, “BWAH!!! BWAH!!!” He tries to start it up with the key. Nothing. Not even a click. Meanwhile the alarm system is blaring like Andy Kaufman at a professional wrestling match. After 20 minutes of fiddling around he has it towed to his shop and directs one of his techs to circumvent the alarm system.

A few too many wires were cut. So for the next three months, the vehicle becomes a statue at the front of his place. Eventually it is brought back to the auction where my friend receives an expensive lesson in cutting corners.

When it comes to the Saturn, your friend is 100% right. You can go to any GM dealer. But they will need all the keys to make it work. I would do that and perhaps get a second duplicate made so you never have to do it again.

Sometimes the cheap way out is a dead end. Just pay “the man”, and let your daughter enjoy one less stress in her ownership experience.

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8 of 71 comments
  • Kitzler Kitzler on Jan 11, 2013

    grzydj, sorry I aroused such repressed anger in you, but whether buick does not immobilize its wheels or not is not moot, my neighbor's four wheels were frozen and the Buick could not be towed but had to be lifted on a Jerr-Dan truck bed.

    • See 3 previous
    • Corntrollio Corntrollio on Jan 11, 2013

      @grzydj It would be hilarious if that was what caused kitzler's complaint. But usually tow truck drivers will slim jim the car to release the parking brake in that situation.

  • None_given None_given on Jan 11, 2013

    Ok, please don't shout at me, because this may sound like blind optimism.. I don't know how the whole key in the steering binnacle thing works, but it sounds to the uneducated like the connection between the steering lock barrel and the ECU has been rerouted to that hidden key, as I cannot believe that the guy installing the remote start would set up a circuit that says: "if the remote starter is used, use the transponder in the hidden key, if a key is used for starting, use the transponder in the key in the barrel". Basically, try using the cut key, it may work without coding, because the transponder in the hidden key is being read whenever the car is started, even if you use a key to fire 'er up. I could be wrong :) Edit: Just read the comment above about the remote not working. It's 1AM over here, had a couple of beers...

    • See 1 previous
    • None_given None_given on Jan 12, 2013

      @MRL325i Ach, worth a try :) Sounds like the installer put in a relay to switch over the transponder circuit to the hidden key when the remote start is activated, and didn't just brutally hack apart the loom. I expected the second option, having seen quite a few crappy alarm installations in second-hand cars down the years.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂