Last Friday, my 2002 Olds Alero began behaving badly. Shortly after Lori returned home with the car from having taken it to the church, I attempted to leave the house and found out that it would not start. About eight months back we had a similar problem that ultimately ended with a new fuel pump at a final cost of $500. I dreaded the fact that it was going to have to go back to the shop.
The following Monday, we gave a call to the mechanic who worked on it last and they came and picked it up. They had tried to start it before they left and to no avail. By the way, it would turn over but never fire. I checked spark plugs, banged on the bottom of the gas tank, and even pushed the car to a more level surface, all in hopes to convince it to start. Well, here’s the mystery. When the car arrived at the shop after being towed, it started right up. They couldn’t figure out what caused it to fail to start. No matter what they tried, it would stop working again. I had them service the car, changing oil, oil filter, air filter, and the inspection sticker. Still worked fine. So I decided to go pick it up.
When I arrived, I noticed it was still in the garage. I assumed it would have been moved out since it was working fine and they knew I was coming to pick it up. I sent my ride on home and went inside to find out that it had stopped working again. They finally decided that it had something to do withe Passlock II system. Apparently, there is some theft deterrent system on my vehicle that will cause the engine to not fire when there is an error in “reading” the key. I’m not sure of all the details. In other systems there is a chip in the key, but for my system, it is simply using some sort of magnetic field to “read” the shape of the key. In the end, it was receiving the wrong information and not starting.
At first, they thought they’d need to replace the ignition cylinder but eventually decided that it could have been one of two different parts. They hunted and hunted to determine which part it was. During the hunt, the car began miraculously working again. Unfortunately, as long as it works, they can’t determine what is failing. Their best guess is wiring involved in the Passlock II system.
After reading some forums online, I realized that this is not an entirely uncommon problem and their is a (relatively) quick fix that explains the mysterious healing. When it misreads the key and disables the ignition of the vehicle, you can force the car to re-learn your key. Leave the car off with no key for 10-20 minutes. Insert the key and turn to On. Leave in the ignition for 10 minutes. Then it should start. It is likely this will happen again, but at least we have a solution. I just hope it doesn’t happen at a time when I am in a hurry. For now, I guess we are waiting for it to fail again. In the meantime, I’ll drive it around until it fails.
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