Couple close to death after night in car

Alexandra man Brian Smith holds the transponder near his car. Photo by Leith Huffadine.
Alexandra man Brian Smith holds the transponder near his car. Photo by Leith Huffadine.

An Alexandra couple hope others can learn from their near-death experience after being trapped in their new ''keyless'' car in their own garage for almost 13 hours recently.

Mollieanne (65) and Brian Smith (68) are still coming to terms with the early November incident when confusion about operating their Mazda 3 hatchback led them to believe there was no way to get out.

The pair were stuck after a series of ''Murphy's Law'' events, including leaving the car's manual in the house, leaving the transponder outside the car and a combination of stress, night-time, and what they called a lack of information from a car salesperson.

After becoming trapped about 7pm on November 5, their attempts to escape included sounding the horn and trying to smash a window with a car jack.

Mrs Smith said it was Guy Fawkes night, and no-one would have noticed the horn due to fireworks.

When they were freed by neighbours about 7.45am the next day, she was unconscious and her husband was struggling to breathe.

She said they were told by emergency services if they had spent another half hour in the car and they could have died.

Afterwards, Mrs Smith spent three days in Dunstan Hospital. Mr Smith, who considered himself ''very methodical'', said he could not find the unlocking mechanism.

''Once I found out how simple it was to unlock it I kicked myself that I did not find the way out ... I had this mind-set that I did not have the transponder [so I could not get out].''

The car salesperson had made it seem the car would not work without the transponder, he said.

He now knew the manual lock was the same as the inside door handle on many other vehicles.

Mr Smith said his message for owners of ''keyless''cars - not just Mazda models - was to educate themselves on how to operate their car before using it.

Mrs Smith said she had decided to ''go public'' as people needed to be aware of the risks of keyless cars, particularly older people inexperienced in new technology.

She had received phone calls from about five people reporting similar keyless-car experiences.

Mazda New Zealand general manager Glenn Harris said the report of the couple being trapped in the car in that manner was an industry first.

''It's not a design flaw with the car ... what we have said to the network is, with new technologies, don't forget to show customers how to use them in their entirety [and] how to override them. There is always a manual process to override them.''

Mr Harris said he ''completely'' empathised with the couple, and said the company needed to ensure it did not happen to anyone else.

Car locks

While this must have been terrifying, I can't understand how it could happen except through poor design. My keyless car will not electronically lock from inside if the key is not inside the car. 

It also will not lock through the external locking button if the key is inside the car.

In addition the electronic door lock is independent of the ignition being on or off, and the doors will always open from the inside at a touch of the handle, whether locked or not !

I'm not touting the brand, so  I'll keep that secret.

Keyless cars

While I sympathise with this couple in that it must have been a  terrifying experience for them, let's be quite clear for anyone reading this article - the car can be unlocked in the traditional way. There are manual locking and unlocking buttons beside the internal door handles, just as there has been for decades, and you can flick them to lock and unlock the vehicle when you are inside as you have done in in past vehicles. 

Mazda said they have not heard of this happening before, and I am not surprised, it really is not a problem. The only problem was this couple panicked and didn't look for the very obvious solution to their problem. All they had to do was unlock the door just as they have done with every other car they have owned.