I have noticed a dangerous design flaw perpetrated by most...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1994

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have noticed a dangerous design flaw perpetrated by most auto manufacturers, but not often noted in the public press. Don't you just hate the way the auto manufacturers now make ignition keys with the extra long shafts? The long key can become a positively painful projectile pushing against one's privates. It was started by the German and Japanese car makers, who came out with extra long keys, and who now have fancy leatherette handles requiring a pocket the size of a lady's handbag to carry them. What's behind this trend?

RAY: Since the Germans and Japanese started it, I'd have to assume they're trying to get even for World War II. They're probably snickering everytime you impale yourself on that key, Orlando.

TOM: Actually, the real reason is security. Our Director of Lock, Key, and Banjo Studies, Paul Silvius, tells us that in the old days, most car keys had about six "cuts," or protrusions. Now, the average is eight to ten, which means the locks are harder to pick. Plus, there are more possible combinations to choose from, so it's less likely that someone else's key will work on your car.

RAY: Of course, that's more or less irrelevant these days, since lock smiths are the only ones who pick locks anymore. Car theives tend to just break the window, since it's a lot faster and requires less skill.

TOM: But aside from the security issue, we've also noticed that there's definitely a "prestige" factor involved. That is, the more expensive the car, the more substantial the key is expected to be. We recently drove an Infiniti J-30 luxury sedan, and that key was not only huge, but it felt like it weighed about two and a half pounds.

RAY: And I think when people pay a lot of money for a car, they expect an equally substantial key. So I guess it's our own fault, Orlando. This is what we get for our "bigger is better" mentality; poked in the privates.

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