The Commute

An informative and entertaining discussion on our ferries and highways with Kitsap Sun reporters.
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Trying to Unlock Keyless Entry Mystery

March 23rd, 2010 by ed friedrich

Many people have learned through experience that when an aircraft carrier rolls in or out of Bremerton, their electronic garage door opener or remote keyless entry for their car might stop working.
It happened again Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, when the USS Nimitz popped in to pick up supplies and family members for a cruise to San Diego.
Chelsea Browning, office manager at Kitsap Garage Door in Bremerton, said she got 25 to 30 calls about remotes going on the fritz. She told them there was probably interference coming from the shipyard and it should go away soon.
It was more of the same at area car dealers. Aaron Taylor, service writer at Grey Chevrolet in Port Orchard, said 10 people came in or called because their fobs weren’t working, and Bay Ford service adviser Dawn Moore said keyless entries wouldn’t unlock any cars on the lot, including hers.
“To everybody who came in we said wait two days and they’ll go back to normal,” Moore said. “They wanted to buy new ones or buy batteries and we said you’re going to waste your money, don’t do that.”
The Navy checked with the Nimitz folks, who said it wasn’t them. Maybe the tugboats or Coast Guard cutters that accompany it were causing the interference.
It’s not that big a deal, really. People can just pop the key out of its fob and unlock the door manually, or get out of the car and operate the garage door. My car is too old to have a fob, and I’d just as soon not have electric windows and door locks, but that’s another story.
Even if it is the carriers, the Navy owns the radio frequencies that are being interrupted. Consumer gadget-makers, including those of garage door openers, have been allowed to borrow them if they keep their signals weak enough to accommodate the military, according to an old Washington Post story.
In 2001, keyless remotes wouldn’t work on thousands of vehicles around Bremerton, Port Orchard and Silverdale from March 21 to 26 and for several hours on April 12. Speculation was that the carrier USS Carl Vinson, which had recently returned to Bremerton, was causing the interference, but Navy officials said there was no evidence that a Navy ship was causing the problem. Nobody every figured out the cause.
And way back in 1995, the Nimitz’s radar scrambled the Kitsap Sun’s satellite data reception and it wasn’t able to print its stock tables. The Nimitz was preparing to go to sea after a long overhaul, and the crew was testing its systems. The paper and Navy had a deal that radar testing would only occur during the day because most of the paper’s material was transmitted at night.
The paper had similar problems two years earlier as the overhaul of the cruiser USS California drew to a close.
It has to be more than a coincidence that a big Navy ship is coming or going, or getting ready to come or go, every time the remotes go dead. It’d be nice to be the guy to pinpoint the cause, but maybe more fun for it to remain a mystery.

6 Responses to “Trying to Unlock Keyless Entry Mystery”

  1. Christine Duncan Says:

    If I wanted to prevent someone from detonating a bomb remotely, I think I’d jam all frequencies that could possibly be used. If you look back over the last several years you’ll notice that the US military is already using this technology. No mystery, just the changes in the world coming a bit closer to home.

  2. Brian Says:

    I live in Coronado CA and the Nimitz has just recently arrived. While at the mechanics today he stated that there’s been a rash of car fobs not working (mine included).

  3. katy Says:

    So what did the mechanic say to do about it? I live in Coronado, too and my car remote will not work.

  4. Betty Says:

    I also live in Coronado and fairly close to the carrier piers and my garage door remote entry devices did not work for two days and are still having intermittant problems.

  5. Betty Says:

    A friend familiar with radio waves showed me how to walk up to my unopened garage door with the remote entry devise in my hand and click it at the point where the side of the garage door abuts the garage structure and tada the remote worked. His explanation was that the electronic transmissions from the carrier block/weaken the remote’s signal to the point where it can’t penetrate the garage door but by aiming at the door/wall intersection, the remote’s signal can travel through the air pocket. If you have “airtight” garage doors, this probably will not work.

  6. Colleen Smidt Says:

    You just get used to it living in Bremerton especially near the downtown area. It has happened to us on all of the times and dates Ed has listed above. It is the only time that I ever have to actually stick the key in the door lock of my car. It’s like that other fading skill those of us above a certain age all used to have…the ability to get up and turn the knob on the TV to change the channel.

    When it happened this last time, I did run a small experiment and called OnStar to see if they could unlock my car. That signal must be different because it did work even while my fob did not.