Why did my car’s key fobs stop working?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader whose key fobs stopped working after the car was serviced.

A Fiat-Chrysler Key Fob.
–Fiat-Chrysler

Q. Our two key fobs stopped functioning on our 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser. Oddly, this happened after the car was serviced. Is it possible for us to revive the fobs ourselves without taking them to the dealership? 

A. This is a bit odd that both fobs would stop working at the same time. Although my wife had a Volkswagen once that, after it was about eight years old, required me to reprogram the fobs every year or so. With your PT Cruiser, you may be able to program the fobs, providing the fobs work. The first thing you need to do is make sure the fobs are transmitting. Some auto parts stores have displays to test key fobs. I have seen them near where they sell replacement batteries for fobs. If the fobs are transmitting, the next step would be to try programming the fobs to the car. Here is the typical procedure for your car. You do need to follow the directions step-by-step. Step 1: Press the [LOCK] button five times at two-second intervals to resynchronize the transmitter. Step 2: Turn the ignition to the run position (allowing the ignition chimes to stop). Step 3: Using the original transmitter, press and hold the [UNLOCK] button on the transmitter for between four and 10 seconds. Step 4: Continue to hold the [UNLOCK] button and press the [PANIC] button. A chime will sound to indicate that the transmitter programming mode has been entered (Allow three seconds for the chime to sound). Step 5: Press a button on all transmitters to be programmed into the system, including any previously programmed transmitters. A chime will sound when each transmitter has been programmed. Step 6: Turn the ignition to the OFF position to exit the transmitter programming mode. If this doesn’t work, you will need to go to the dealer or perhaps a full-service automotive locksmith. 

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Q. I have a car that I inherited from an aunt in Florida. The car runs great, but the paint looks terrible. The car is a red Chrysler Sebring convertible. The trunk and hood look bad. The clear coat on the paint is all white and chipping off. I went to a body shop and they suggested sanding the paint down to the color coat then re-spraying the clear coat. I like the car, but the price was $1,800. I’m not prepared to spend that much money on this car, even though the car cost me nothing more than transportation to get it home. I tried waxing the car, but that only made the problem worse. Is there anything I can do?

A. The body shop gave you the correct answer for a professional repair. If you’re not too fussy about the overall results, I have seen people use synthetic scrubbing pads (similar to what you would use in the kitchen) to remove as much flaking paint as possible. Then clean the paint using an electric buffer and polishing compound. When you have the paint cleaned up as much as possible, add a good quality wax. This won’t make up for the failing clearcoat and there will be some white spots, but from a distance the paint will have a shine and it will look much better. 

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Q. I have been following your advice (watched your video) about protecting myself when refueling my car and avoiding COVID-19. I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my cup holder and use it after refueling. I had someone in my car, and he said he heard reports of hand sanitizer spontaneously combusting due to heat. Is there any truth to this or just an Internet tale? 

A. I did a little research on this subject during the height of summer and I can’t see how it would happen. Even though there is alcohol in the hand sanitizer it won’t spontaneously combust until well above 500 degrees. Even on the hottest day parked in the sun your car’s interior is not going above 180 degrees.

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to jpaul@aaanortheast.com. Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at northshore1049.com.

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