GM’s Extended Parking: Can a Car Drive Without Its Key Fob?

Generally, when I set out to do a car review, it involves doing a lot of groundwork and a great deal of planning. Plus coffee. Gallons of coffee.

There are occasions, though, when the universe throws together a series of random acts that ends up producing an unexpected test in which we think you would be interested. Or, one of us does something completely boneheaded and decides to write about it.

The latter, combined with a relatively new feature GM has quietly introduced on some of its cars, is the case today.

First, a quick lesson in electronics. Keyless push-button ignition operates based on low-frequency radio ID. The car’s key fob is essentially a transmitter equipped with a specific electronic ID tag. That signal is amplified with a battery in the key fob, which helps explain why the range of the fob decreases as its battery wears out. Antennas transmit the electronic ID from the key fob to the receiver module.

Alright, class dismissed. Back to the story. A cold morning last month, I was tasked with picking up a couple of family members from the Halifax Stanfield airport. This was fine, as it had been eleventy billion months since I had last enjoyed their company. As with most airports, Halifax Stanfield is actually nowhere near Halifax, located about 60 minutes away from my home.

If you’re a Canadian, you know what the weather is like at this time of year. Spring-like temperatures are quickly followed by a rapid plunge into Skadi’s deep freeze. With this in mind, it is at this point my morning started to unravel.

After completing the 10-yard dash from my front door to the driver’s seat of a 2019 Cadillac XT4, my spouse kindly decided it was too frigid to continue my journey without a heavier jacket. As always, she was correct. Sprinting to the driver’s window with my Carhartt coat in hand, she traded it to me for my far-too-light windbreaker. Newly warm, I put the Cadillac in gear and set off for the airport.

You can see where this story is going.

The drive down Highway 102 was uneventful, with Nova Scotia’s beautiful sunny but cold scenery on full display. The good-looking XT4 was a pleasant companion – you can read a full review from our man Craig Cole here. Hauling into a free space at the airport parking lot, I jabbed the start/stop button to turn off the Cadillac only to be rewarded with KEY NOT DETECTED notification.

Crap. The key fob was in my other jacket, the one I left back at home an hour away.

Boneheaded move on my part. I will protest, though – telling the driver that the key is missing only when they try to turn the car off is less than helpful. I had driven nearly 100 km and since the keyfob left the car without the door being opened, no warning presented itself on the entire journey. Surely, not having a key is worth screaming about.

Deploying my pair of brain cells, I decided that instead of parking the XT4 and going into the airport to greet my family, I’ll hang out in the parking lot and pick them up at the door. Because I probably won’t be able to start the car again without the key fob. So if I don’t turn off the engine, I should be OK, right?

Nope. Enter a relatively new feature from GM. It’s called Extended Parking … and I had plenty of time to learn about how it works.

If a vehicle equipped with Extended Parking is left running with the transmission in Park and the keyfob is not present, the whole thing shuts down after just 30 minutes of idling. Even if the car’s key fob is present – in the cupholder, on the seat, in your pocket – the car still shuts down after 60 minutes.

You can see why this was a problem. The unexpected shutdown at the 30-minute mark scuppered my wait-it-out plan. Would it have been OK if instead of parking, if I drove around more or just kept the car in Drive with my foot firmly pressed on the brake? Probably.

A poke at the OnStar button connected me to a nice representative who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help, not that I could blame them for not doing so. I could’ve been a thief, for all they knew. I came to the slow realization there was only one solution.

“Hello? Hi. Um, I know you just got off night shift buuuuuuut … can you bring me my windbreaker with the key fob in it please?”

Yes. My long-suffering wife drove an hour to deliver the keyfob to my (now cold) hands after pulling a night shift as an overworked nurse. I remain eternally grateful for being married to a goddess. Adding insult to injury, my those family members I was supposed to pick up had to loiter on benches at Halifax airport while I bothered my wife to help fix my mistake.

According to a bit research, GM introduced Extended Parking on some of its cars so far back as model year 2013. To be fair, the feature does cut down on pollution created by idling vehicles and may even prevent carbon monoxide accidents.

What did I learn from all this? Well, apart from double- and triple-checking my pockets for the keys to whatever car I’m piloting before I turn a wheel out of the driveway, there are two main takeaways. First, I’ll attempt to deflect some embarrassment by saying car companies should program an obvious message that flashes and whoops and hollers and perhaps even pours cold water on the driver if they move the gear selector to park but the key fob is not detected — most cars do warn you with beeps and a message. I understand why they wouldn’t program the engine to shut down; that could be dangerous.

Second, even though few people do it, reading the owner’s manual is important. Extended Parking was plainly described in detail on page 192 of the XT4 owner’s manual, after all. It’s buried halfway through a 400-page tome, but it was in there. Sure, there could have been a few more dashboard warnings but, ultimately, this one is on me.

Also, my wife is the most patient person in the world.

a version of this post first appeared on AutoGuide

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