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Key to a good car is a real key

I miss actual keys and I know I’m not alone on this one. Really.

Very few of today’s new cars actually come with a real key. Instead, there’s a fancy little remote unit, called a fob, that tells the car to start when you push the start button.

I love the key … hate the start button. Actually, I really have nothing against the start button, per se, but I just don’t really see why we got rid of the key in the first place. And neither does the guy who drops the new cars at our office to review.

He recently brought a Subaru XV Crosstrek (with a key) and picked up a Ford C-MAX hybrid (no key) that we had been driving. During these swaps, the vehicles will be running as we generally check over the condition and move laptops and briefcases from one to the other.

Well, about 20 minutes (and 20 miles) later, we discovered we still had the remote thingamajig for the C-MAX. Now, in the old days – and in case of the Subaru – you couldn’t go anywhere without the key. And while we got a hold of the driver and suggested he come back for the fob before he got much farther down the road, the simple fact is that if he had stopped for gas, lunch or actually made it to the end of his two-hour commute and shut the C-MAX off, he would have been dead in the water since there would have been no way to restart the car.

I have to say I have no idea how a car would be built to drive anywhere without the key in it. There was a small dash warning, as it turns out, but I think there should have been flashing red lights, sirens and a very perplexed computer voice (a frantic Siri, perhaps?) stating the not-so-obvious, “You do not have the key … Get the key now!” It should be an obvious thing to put in a car since car keys are probably the most lost item in the universe … and it’s the car you’re driving away in without the key.

A fluke, you say? It actually happened twice with the C-MAX in one week. And it has happened before to us with other cars, so the C-MAX can’t take all the blame, and some vehicles do a better job than others of telling you that you, in fact, are driving away without the key thingamajig.

It used to be – and in the case of this particular Subaru – that you always knew where the key was if you were traveling because the car couldn’t run without it. “Yup, there it is, safe and sound in the column,” jingling away with the other keys in your life. Now, however, I have a hard time going more that five minutes without frisking myself in the car, checking my purse, the floor or the console to find the stupid key thingamajig. I don’t know about you, but having a panic attack every five minutes wondering if you left the key in your other pants, or if it fell out of the car somehow while you’re driving, is just not fun. At all.

If only these cars came with an obvious key holder. The old cars - and the Subaru – had a very obvious key holder. It’s called the ignition.

Now, everyone is worried these days about the distraction of how to work a touchscreen while driving, but I would submit that the prospect of traveling for two hours without the actual key in the car is just as serious a matter. We’re talking about time wasted searching for the key when you’re actually in the car, time wasted driving home to find the key in your other pants/jacket/purse, and the potential to be stranded, hours away from the key, without being able to start the car again.

I understand that by removing the actual key mechanism from a car that it’s harder to steal, but even a fake key with a fake ignition AND a start button would be better in all its idiocy if it meant not driving off without the key fob. It’s aggravating and stressful which means that no matter how the Subaru XV Crosstrek drives, looks or works, it gets an A+ in my books, just for having a key.

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