Cheat codes aren't just for cruising past bosses in video games; there are cheat codes for a lot of cars, too, that can get you past the annoying ping of a seat belt chime, access diagnostic info only your mechanic can usually see, or give you control over features like traction control and GPS lockout. On recent and higher-end cars with in-dash computer consoles, turning off or re-configuring some of these features is just a matter of getting to the right menu. Others require some odd combinations of key turns, pedal pumping and seat-belt latching that can feel like an interpretive dance version of the Konami code. Here's how it works.
We've covered how to handle your Check Engine light, how to hot-wire your car, and how to escape your car in some bad situations. The tricks below dig a little deeper into shutting off everyday annoyances and unlocking hidden options in your car. Proceed with caution; even if they bug you, a lot of these features were intended to keep you and other drivers safe, so give it some thought before you turn them off.
Manual Unlock Codes
Many vehicles have safety features you would just as soon do without, like traction control that gives you zero traction in some conditions, or persistent chimes to remind you of things you can remember on your own. These features can usually be turned off, either for good or just when they're getting in the way, but it's not always simple. Automakers' unlock codes are often odd rituals of shifting or toggling while keying the ignition off and on, and pumping or holding pedals just so many times. There's nothing intuitive about these unlock codes, but they can free you of annoyances and outright hazards.
Disable Traction Control in Toyota Hybrids:
The Prius, Camry Hybrid, and possibly other models have some issues with snow, ice and other slick conditions. Electronic Stability Control is designed to individually brake wheels that are slipping, but if all four wheels are on a slick surface, the result can be no wheel motion at all even with the accelerator pressed to the floor. To turn off traction control until the next time you start the car:
- Without holding the brake, press the power button twice to ON mode.
- Push the gas pedal all the way to the floor, twice (make sure you're in Park).
- With the parking brake set, shift into Neutral and, again, pump the gas twice, all the way to the floor.
- Shift back to Park and, again, pump the gas twice, all the way to the floor. You should see some response on the LCD, varying by model.
- Hold the brake pedal and start the car.
The video above demonstrates this method in a 2009 Camry Hybrid. It's possible that driving without traction control increases wear and tear, and you probably don't want to do this dance every time you start the car, anyway, but it might get you out of a tough spot.
Turn Off Seat Belt Alerts and Reverse Alerts:
The infernal ding is the bane of many a driver's existence, but it can almost always be disabled and this code you'll usually find in the owner's manual. The specifics vary, but for most vehicles it's a matter of rapidly buckling and unbuckling for anywhere from one to three sets of one to twenty repetitions, sometimes in combination with flashing the headlights or toggling smart controls. The video demonstrates the mid-2000s Subaru method.
The Prius is worth mentioning, because the same method with a slight variation will disable another common peeve, the reverse alert chime.
- Turn on the car, cylce ODO/TRIP to ODO, then turn the car off.
- Power on, then press and hold ODO for at least 10 seconds.
- Still holding ODO, buckle then unbuckle the seat belt.
- If the speedometer displays "b-on," use ODO to cycle to "b-off"
To turn off the reverse beep, replace step three with shifting into Reverse and then back into Park.
Turn Off Automatic Door Locks:
Automatic locks are very similar, but instead of buckling and unbuckling, you're locking and unlocking. Again, your car's method should be in the owners manual, or you can likely find it more quickly by typing "disable seat belt" or "disable automatic locks" and your car's brand in a search box and finding what works for your model or year. All or nearly all of these methods can be reversed by repeating them. For temporary relief from a seat belt chime, quickly buckling, unbuckling, and re-buckling your seat belt will often silence it until the next time you get in.
Unjam Your Ignition:
Sometimes people, especially Honda Civic owners, get into their car and try to turn the key, but it won't budge. It can be baffling and panic-inducing, but the cause is simple; you parked with the wheels cut too far to the side. Part of the steering mechanism inside the column is physically blocking the ignition switch. To free it, hold the brake to the floor and work the wheel side-to-side, continuing to try the key as you go.
Access Hidden Menus
Cars have relied on increasingly complex electronics for decades, but more and more now feature a touchscreen right on the dash. As with a lot of smart products, though, end-users are often shut out of some higher functions. In most cases, getting access to the menus intended for factory QA and dealership mechanics just gets you more information on how your car's performing, and lots of cryptic settings you probably don't want to touch. Sometimes there's a gem or two in there, though.
Disable Motion Lock in Older Lexus and Toyota Navigation Systems:
If you have a Lexus or Prius older than 2006 with in-dash navigation, you can access the service menu by hitting the Menu button, then DVD, then tapping the corners of the screen in this sequence: upper left, lower left, upper left, lower left, lower right. You should see an Override button in the Service Menu, which will allow you to enter GPS information while the car is in motion until the next time you shut off the car. This menu was removed in more recent models, upsetting a lot of Lexus owners over at lexusoverride.com.
Turn on Prius Back-Up Camera Any Time:
YouTuber Chazz8Tube demonstrates how to access the Service Menu in his Prius v5 and activate the back-up camera.
Access BMW Diagnostics and Alert Settings:
Chris Parente breaks down the menu options in his BMW E39 M5 on his Work, Wine and Wheels blog. These options will likely apply to any recent Bimmer, and along with turning off chimes and seeing detailed GPS information, Parente used the voltage information to determine that he needed a new battery.
Physically Bypass Unwanted Features
Lexus owners aren't the only ones upset about being locked out of their GPS when the vehicle is moving, and some drivers have taken the matter in their own hands by pulling apart the console and digging into the wiring. Obviously we don't want people plinking away at their GPS while they're driving any more than we want them texting, but the solution to that problem is the same as it was for paper maps - hand it to whomever's riding shotgun.
To get that option back, Corvette owner Ray Kawal spliced a $3 switch into the wire leading from his navigation unit to the wheel motion sensor, so he (or his passenger) can cut the feature off at will. Other drivers have adapted his method to the GMC Acadia and from there to the Buick Enclave, so if you're facing the same annoyance you can probably work out how to apply it to your own model.
On the beater end of the spectrum, some of you driving older models are still afflicted with automatic safety belts, risking strangulation every time you get in the car. The simplest answer to disabling attack belts appears to be unplugging them. You'll need to remove either the interior door panels or the pillar trim and locate the wires leading to the belt motor. There should be a connector you can just squeeze to disconnect. Instructables user TimAnderson breaks down step by step how he got it done in his 1996 Ford Escort.
Even if you don't drive any of the cars we mentioned, you might have a better idea of what's possible and where to find it. Your owners manual is one place to look; if you don't have it, search out a PDF online. If you can track down a service manual for your model range, it will probably have even more tweaks and hacks hidden between the engine diagrams. As with many products, forums are another great resource; you'll find enthusiasts even for models you might not expect to inspire enthusiasm, and often they've discovered or invented tweaks of their own.
Do you know any cheat codes, or can confirm more models for the ones we covered? Let us know in the comments. Title image remixed from travis manley (Shutterstock).