Patrick Lam

Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Director, Software Engineering Programme
University of Waterloo
email: patrick.lam@uwaterloo.ca (no unsolicited commercial email)
phone: use email instead!

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Random Anecdote

Antitheft system

February 5, 2008

From: Patrick Lam
Date: 02/05/08 22:13
To: cbse@lists.uwaterloo.ca
Subject: [Cbse] Special arrangements for lecture tomorrow

Hi all,

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I will not be able to get to
Waterloo before tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. [...]

It turns out that the circumstance was, in fact, under my control. While driving back to Waterloo, I noticed that the car antitheft system was, unusually, blinking while the car was going; usually, it only blinks when the car is powered off. But nothing strange seemed to be going on.

Stopping the car to get gas near Brockville worked fine. Starting the car again did not: everything seemed to work, but it just wouldn't start. This was fishy, as we had just gotten the starter replaced. How odd.

I fiddled with the car for a while, as did Chad, who worked at the service station. No luck. It just wouldn't start. My dad didn't have any ideas either.

Since I had no more ideas, Chad called for a tow truck, who took me to Brockville. Of course, the garage wouldn't open until tomorrow morning, so I got to stay at a nearby motel.

The next day, the mechanic at the shop took a look at the car, but couldn't find anything wrong with it at all. He suggested that we try to enter the code for the antitheft code, but I didn't know it, since it ought to have been deactivated with a kill switch. My father gave me the code, but it didn't cause the car to start. So he fiddled with it some more.

It turns out that the trick to entering the code is to also enter a '*' at the end of the code. If you do that, the car starts just fine. You can also flip the kill switch back to its 'off' position. That works too.

I hate antitheft systems. Their net value is strongly negative for a 1995 Corolla; this particular one cost me about $300.

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