Earlier today General Motors announced they will recall all the 511,528 current-generation Chevrolet Camaros on the road because they say a driver can inadvertently switch the car off by hitting the key fob. It turns out I have a 2014 Camaro SS press car in my garage right now, so I went out to see if I could duplicate the problem.
The short answer is yes, I was able to turn off the Camaro by hitting it with my knee. But there are some caveats involved with doing so that I need to explain.
First, I really like the Camaro SS 1LE I'm driving for the next week. It's quick, it looks great, it's got an excellent shifter, it handles pretty well for its size, and sounds excellent; it's already on my short list for "Best Cars I've Driven In 2014." So I was bummed to learn about the recall, but I wanted to see if this problem with the ignition could easily be duplicated in normal conditions.
Actually, it's not a problem with the ignition at all, according to GM; that part meets all their engineering standards and is unrelated to the "ignition switch from hell" currently plaguing the Cobalt and other models.
The problem with the Camaro is its key fob. It's a big, long, rectangular "switchblade" thing that sticks out pretty far from the ignition tumbler, and it's what could get jostled loose by your knee. When you take your Camaro in to get serviced under this recall, GM will replace that key with one that is separate from the fob.
But when I took the car to a D.C. Municipal Services parking lot this afternoon (a few cops were parked there too, which is why I didn't do burnouts afterward) I was skeptical that I would really be able to knock the key loose with my knee.
Sure enough though, and to my great surprise, I was able to do it after a few tries. Take a look at this crappy iPhone video I made and see for yourself.
Alright, onto those caveats I mentioned. At least based on where I have my steering wheel situated, I don't think this problem is easy to replicate in normal driving.
I was sitting a little lower than normal when the car was parked, and I was also deliberately trying to hit the key fob with my knee — how often is that going to happen to you when you're on the road? Probably not often, if ever.
I also had to hit it pretty hard. A few lighter attempts at first didn't do anything, so I don't think it's going to get knocked loose if you just tap it. Also, I've driven several cars where the fob is long like this and sticks out; it may not be a GM-specific issue.
In normal driving, my knee was about four or five inches from the fob itself, so I feel like you're unlikely to hit it if you run over a bump or something like that. I kept asking myself, would this have happened if I didn't know about the issue and wasn't trying to do it on purpose? I don't believe so. But in the event of a bad crash, maybe your leg could fly up and hit it.
Therein lies the real problem, though: like the Cobalt before it, if the Camaro is off or in "accessory" mode, the airbags will not work, according to GM. Remember, that was the primary reason 13 deaths were linked to the Cobalt ignition switch defect.
So far three crashes with four minor injuries have been potentially linked to this issue, GM says. As I've said before, while recalls may look bad in the news, it's good that they're taking care of these safety issues and not leaving problematic cars on the road.
Should this put you off Camaro ownership? Nah, I don't think so. I plan on continuing to drive mine while I have it — it's too damn fun not to — but I'll just be a little more mindful of this when I'm behind the wheel. And if you own the car, yeah, you're gonna want to get the key swapped with the new one.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find a better parking lot for those burnouts.
If you own a Camaro, and you've encountered this problem or think it's a non-issue, tell us in the comments.