10 carmakers sued over keyless ignitions

Suit alleges carmakers knew risks but marketed vehicles as safe

Published: August 27, 2015, 11:00 AM
Updated: August 31, 2015, 2:33 PM

Honda Fit push-button ignition

Several media sources are reporting that 10 automakers are being sued by 28 U.S. consumers over potential fatal flaws with push-button ignition systems.

Filed in Los Angeles federal court to U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte, the suit names BMW (including Mini), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Ford, General Motors, Honda (including Acura), Hyundai (including Kia), Mercedes Benz, Nissan (including Infiniti), Toyota (including Lexus) and Volkswagen (including Bentley), as defendants.

The suit alleges that automakers concealed the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning in more than five million vehicles equipped with keyless ignition systems. If a car engine is left running in an enclosed space when their drivers walk away with the keyless remote on their persons, the exhaust fumes could prove deadly, with 13 deaths in the U.S. reportedly attributed to the circumstances when vehicles were left running inside garages attached to homes.

Twenty-seven complaints have reportedly been filed with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about keyless ignition safety, dating back to 2009.

The 28 named plaintiffs in the suit allege that the 10 automakers cited knew about the risks with the keyless ignition systems (which allow a vehicle to be started without a key, so long as the remote transponder is located inside the vehicle, and allow it to keep running even when the vehicle is out of the perimeter reach of the remote) but chose to market the vehicle feature as safe.

As proof, the suit alleges that GM and Ford filed for patents for an inexpensive automatic shut-off for unattended engines, but never developed or implemented it. Most vehicles with keyless ignitions emit audible and visual warnings that the engine is still running thought the key is no longer in the vehicle.

The suit, which is seeking class-action status, further alleges that vehicle resale values are diminished as a result of the keyless ignition feature, and asks that all current and future vehicles be fitted with a fail-safe device, as well as seeking compensatory and punitive damages.