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I Had to Teach a 16-Year-Old to Start a Car With a Key

It’s commonly discussed that the manual-rolling window is an automotive feature that has more or less died, but have you considered the key? The key is rapidly going the way of the dodo, as it’s being replaced by fobs and push-button starts. Many future kids may not have any clue how to start a car with one — and, in fact, this is already happening.

This exact thing happened when I went to sell my old Volkswagen Jetta. I sold it to a mom and dad who bought it for their 16-year-old daughter, who had just received her license. About five minutes after I walked away to meet the Uber I called to get me home, I received a phone call from the girl’s mom, who said that the car wouldn’t start. My heart dropped — because even though it wasn’t my responsibility, I didn’t want to have to deal with someone who thought I ripped them off. I walked over to the car where the daughter was sitting in the front seat looking really confused.

“I can’t start the car” she said.

I looked over, and I saw the VW switchblade key fob sitting in the cup holder.

“Well, you have to use the key,” I replied.

She picked up the fob, looking for a place to insert the entire device all around the driver’s seat. That’s forgivable, since the VW switchblade key fob doesn’t immediately look like there’s a key that pops out.

So I showed her how to do it.

She did, and then looked all over the place for the ignition. In a Jetta, the ignition is in the exact same place as it is in almost every other car. I showed her where that was. She then put it into the tumbler, and sat back and prepared for the car to turn itself on. It obviously didn’t.

“You have to turn it.”

She turned it, but only enough to turn on the accessories.

“You have to turn it, but then hold it until it starts.”

Ignition! She thanked me and then drove away. I walked away baffled that I had to walk this 16-year-old girl through every minute step in the process of turning on the car. Then it dawned on me — her dad had a Tesla Model S, and her mom showed up in a Mercedes GL. She had never driven a car that didn’t have a push-button start, and she probably cared so little about cars that she never noticed how her parents started a car when she was younger. She may end up being one of the earlier examples of this — but sure enough, as the push-button start trickles down to pedestrian cars, our children may never know another way.

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  1. I was the other way around.  I once rented a Prius for a work trip and couldn’t figure out how to start the thing at first .  Turns out you had to keep the Key Fob near you, press the brake, and then press the engine start button.   I almost forgot to take the Key Fob with me once or twice since I was used to a real keyed ignition.

    It was also weird having such a quiet vehicle with a wimpy sounding horn, but the fuel economy was pretty good. 

  2. Before I learned how to drive a manual, my previous boss asked me to move his car for him.  It was a 5-speed manual transmission Ford Tempo, and I thought it was broken because it didn’t start when you turned the key.  Thankfully, my dad taught me how to drive a manual transmission shortly after this incident.

  3. I had a similar experience when I bought my 1974 Cougar in 2007. The first time I went to start it the day after buying it I turned the key and nothing happened. I was confused and panicked that I had been ripped off. Fortunately my parents were there and explained I needed to pump the gas pedal first. I’d never driven a car with a carburetor before.

    March of progress and all that.

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