In a Canadian town, people’s car fobs have stopped working

There may be only one place in the Northern Hemisphere where people aren’t talking about the cold: Carstairs, Alberta, north of Calgary.

They’ve got a mystery in the town of 4,000. Car fobs — those keychain devices we use to unlock or start our cars — have stopped working near a grocery store.

It’s been happening for weeks near the Westview Co-op grocery store. People park, do their shopping, and then can’t get in their cars or get them to start.

They rush back into the store to buy a battery for the fob, figuring that’s the problem. That’s not the problem.

“It’s just bizarre. People are actually scared to go to the Co-op now because they don’t know if their cars are going to start,” Laura Strate, who works a the dollar store across the street, tells the CBC.

“People start getting on there and saying, ‘OK, I’ve been to the Co-op. Is anyone else having this problem?’ And all of a sudden we have 160 people commenting, ‘Yes, that happened to me last week,’ or ‘That happened to me today,'” Strate said.

“I would say it’s been probably a good month where people have known there is a problem and it’s not just someone that says, ‘Oh, my car doesn’t work at Co-op.'”

Electricians were called in. They couldn’t figure it out. They even shut all the power in the store down to see if that would fix the problem. It didn’t fix the problem.

Fortunately, perhaps, Canada has a Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development. It’s on the case now.

We want to provide our Guests an update regarding the interference which has impacted key fobs at our Carstairs Food…

Posted by Westview Co-operative on Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Townspeople called the Mounties, but they said the mystery isn’t their priority.

  • >>Townspeople called the Mounties, but they said the mystery isn’t their priority.<<

    Their priority is finding THIS guy:

  • Postal Customer

    Every fob should have a key that can open and start the car.

    • Barton

      I agree. I’m completely wary of only having a fob for my vehicle. More because I’ve got a history of dropping keys into the water….

      • Postal Customer

        What I mean is, they DO have a key. I believe they all do. Both my Toyotas do.

        • John

          We have a Toyota with a Fob, and there’s a way to use a key (I’ve never taken the time to figure out how – it’s my wife’s car).

          • Joseph

            Driver’s door has the physical key lock access (the other 3 doors don’t). I’ve got a Toyota as well.

    • Brian Simon

      Mine has a key that will open a door, but I’m not aware of a way to start it with a key.

      Which is when my luddite side kicks in…

      • jon

        My nissan if you push the fob right up against the button it will use NFC to authenticate and start the car… even with a dead battery in the fob.

        (NFC is still wireless… but it works on a different frequency… more like the security badges you scan in most office buildings now.)

        • Glsai

          My Hyundai is the same way. If the battery is dead in the fob, putting it up against the start button will work.

    • Ben Chorn

      New cars don’t have keys…. they have button ignitions.

      • Jerry

        At least with my 2013 Mazda, there is a key hidden in the fob and a panel you remove on the steering column to manually start the car.

    • fromthesidelines21

      In our town and country you remove the push button for ignition and then use the FOB as a key.

    • My 2001 Audi has both, but needs an active FOB to start (ignition disables without the FOB).

  • MrE85


  • Mike Worcester

    Oh, Canada…

    It’s gotta be aliens…

  • Jim in RF

    I love that there’s a Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development. So Canadian. In a previous career I worked a lot with the U.S. Census bureau and Stats Canada. No comparison between them regarding professionalism and initiative to be helpful. The U.S. group was still keeping track of how many boiler makers and gandy dancers there were.

    • Guest

      Ah yes, Gandy Dancer…..good railroad job if you can get it.

  • It’s pretty much got to be radio frequency interference. Those fobs use UHF, with Asian cars using different frequencies than domestic brands. I wonder if one is affected more than another. If I lived there, I’d use a fob known to be affected, then try using it in different locations, moving outward from the store. You could probably test by using the alert function on the fob instead of the lock. As for the RFI source, it could be a piece of equipment that has partially failed due to the cold – maybe some sort of amplifier on a utility pole or a switching power supply (they’re everywhere.) Of course it would be nice if someone from that Ministry would show up with a spectrum analyzer, but it’s really not an emergency, so…

    • jon

      $20 will get you a software defined radio on amazon.

      With that and a laptop you should be able to get a pretty good idea of the noise floor and with a directional antenna triangulation should be pretty straight forward.

      Call the local ham radio operators, tell them there is a fox hunt, you’ll have a bunch of volunteers pinning down the source of the problem

      • Brian Simon

        Crowdsourced nerds for the win!

  • lindblomeagles

    I guess cars still need human beings too.