Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ford Unsolved Mysteries

I make a good living generating replacement keys; especially on Fords with their PATS programmable key systems. I don’t claim to be an expert on how those electrons vibrate, twist and turn in order to come up with an acceptable recognition sign so the computer will permit the fuel injection module to work; I simply follow the instructions that came with the programming computer and hope like the Dickens it works.

The basic PATS system came out in 1996; starting with a small percentage of Taurus and also on the Mustang GT model cars. Once it was determined that the system actually worked it spread throughout and has been improved upon, altered and convoluted until the present where not even Ford fully knows what goes on inside their own cars.

This past week I’ve had a chance to be humbled by some strange goings on. The first was on a 1998 Mustang using PATS II transponder keys. The woman called to explain that her “EX” boyfriend ran off with her only key and refused to give it back. I just love domestic issues; but, seeing as how he wasn’t going to be around while I would be working on the vehicle I decided to go ahead and make her a set of keys. The price was agreed upon before I arrived.

I got to the job and looked at all the locks and noticed an aftermarket alarm system had been installed. I immediately asked if it had “remote start”, something that would require a little more effort. I also explained that who ever had installed the system must have recently come down from the trees to join the human race; looking at the variety of duct tape, electrical tape among the spaghetti bowl of wires shoved up under the kick panel on the driver’s side. I made sure she understood that all my efforts might not provide her with a car that would start depending on how badly the original wiring systems had been corrupted. I was right; after going through the ten minute program the computer showed a fault in reading the new keys, this was after it showed that all the old keys had been erased. I accepted her money and let her know that she needed to take it to the nearest Ford Service Center to have their electrical mechanic restore the system to factory wiring.

Two days later I got a call from her; the old boy friend was no longer “EX” and he gave back the original key. “The old key starts just fine. Will you give me a refund or make these new keys work too, they don’t do anything.” I have to tell you, I have no answer why the old key would start the car since according to my NGS machine all keys had been erased. I also used my T-Code programming machine and had the same results. I told her to get with me and we would settle up.

This afternoon I got a call to make keys for a 1997 Mustang that was on the PATS I programmable key system. The key had been broken and the plastic that used to hold a transmitter was empty. He told me that it had been that way for months and that sometimes the car would start right away while other times he had to try a couple of times before it would work. I had my doubts as I generated a working key since he’d broken off the part that had the mechanical cuts.

I like to use the E-Z Reader; having developed a real liking to the way I can have the exact cuts in a matter of moments. I progressed the last two cuts while sitting in the driver’s seat as I explained how Ford 8 cut keys worked to the customer. The key turned when I got to 4-3 on the tip cuts; it also started the car, the “THEFT” light remained on solid for three seconds before going out as if it had recognized an authorized PATS key.

“Well, I’ll be darned!” I then turned it off and then back to start; the “THEFT’ light was blinking the way it’s supposed too and nothing. “This is very interesting”, I shared my thoughts aloud with the customer.

“See; I told you, sometimes it starts right away, sometimes I have to try a couple of times.” I tried again, nothing, again and “shazamm” it started right up. I was tempted to hook my NGS machine up to program a proper PATS key, one that I knew would solve the issue; but I wasn’t at all sure it WOULD solve the issue. What if I cleared off the system only to find that the new PATS key wouldn’t be recognized? No, leave it the way it was; what’s the old saying, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it”? I’m not sure it’s not broken; but it still works, well, almost the way it’s supposed to.

I handed him my card and told him to check back later; that I’d write this one up and submit it to Ford. The interesting thing about technology is finding out what happens a few years down the road; what kind of ghosts were built into the system that not even the “en-gin-ears” can explain. I still think, for the most part, Ford’s PATS key systems are a fairly good means to integrate a mechanical key with an electronic anti-theft system at a reasonable price. That having been said, I would never discount the possibilities for the strange and unexplainable when dealing with the invisible world of electronics that have been exposed to the elements here in the Great State of Texas.

Update: I found the Ford Customer Relations Page and sent them a copy of this article as I had promised the customer with the 1997 Mustang, the one that would start sometimes and then wouldn’t. I called him a few minutes ago to let him know that I followed up on my promise and all he could do was laugh.

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