Am­a­teur ra­dio en­thu­si­asts hunt for faulty re­mote car starters

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Swift Current - BY MATTHEW LIEBENBERG — mlieben­[email protected]­t.com

The mem­bers of the South­west Am­a­teur Ra­dio Club have added a new item to the list of club ac­tiv­i­ties.

Th­ese am­a­teur ra­dio en­thu­si­asts have re­cently been us­ing their equip­ment a num­ber of times to track down faulty re­mote car starters in Swift Cur­rent that were caus­ing in­ter­fer­ence with other de­vices.

“We ran into the first one about a year and a half ago,” club mem­ber Ray Gowan said. “There were quite a few com­plaints from peo­ple in the area that couldn't start their cars with their com­mand starters. No­body un­der­stood why that would be. So we got look­ing into it and re­al­ized there was some­thing trans­mit­ting right on the fre­quency that they used.”

They used their ham ra­dio skills and got in­volved in a bit of a de­tec­tive game for a cou­ple of months be­fore they were able to lo­cate the re­mote car starter that caused the prob­lem.

“We're get­ting bet­ter at it too,” he said. “The first one took a long time, but we've de­vel­oped some equip­ment.”

They are us­ing a spe­cific brand of hand-held di­rec­tional an­tenna, which they feel is best for their needs to track down the in­ter­fer­ing transmissi­ons from a faulty re­mote car starter.

This an­tenna has a re­ceiv­ing el­e­ment as well as other el­e­ments to re­flect and di­rect a sig­nal back to the re­ceiv­ing el­e­ment. The dif­fer­ent an­tenna el­e­ments have a tri­an­gu­lar ef­fect to op­ti­mize the re­cep­tion of sig­nals.

“So it's sim­i­lar to the way a dish works, not quite as ef­fec­tive, but it's good enough,” he said. “This seems to work quite well for what we need.”

The an­tenna is then sim­ply con­nected to one of the club’s hand-held ra­dio re­ceivers, and so far they have been able to pick up sig­nals from faulty re­mote car starters with this setup.

“What hap­pens is there's a trans­mit­ter just locked on trans­mit­ting on a cer­tain fre­quency,” he ex­plained. “Once we find where that sig­nal is, what fre­quency it is, then we can get a read­ing with this. De­pend­ing on where we point, you get stronger and weaker read­ings. So with tri­an­gu­la­tion and a cou­ple of good di­rec­tions, you can hone in on where it is.”

Th­ese tri­an­gu­la­tion and track­ing meth­ods are sim­i­lar to the trans­mit­ter hunt­ing ex­er­cises that club mem­bers will teach to lo­cal scouts dur­ing the an­nual Jam­boree on the Air (JODA) in the fall.

“We prac­tice ra­dio di­rec­tion find­ing at our JODA event,” Gowan said. “It's some­thing that am­a­teurs do, look­ing for hid­den trans­mit­ters. It's an in­ter­est­ing part of the hobby and this falls right into the same type of thing.”

Ac­cord­ing to club mem­ber Lloyd Fehr th­ese hunts have been good for team build­ing, be­cause they have to work to­gether to lo­cate a ve­hi­cle. At the same time the club sees it as a way to pro­vide a pub­lic ser­vice to the com­mu­nity.

“I want peo­ple to be safe and I want our club to be known as guys who ac­tu­ally go and help peo­ple,” he said.

He felt this is an is­sue that can po­ten­tially be­come more sig­nif­i­cant, due to the grow­ing num­ber of de­vices that send out sig­nals on var­i­ous fre­quen­cies.

“More ve­hi­cles are us­ing wire­less tech­nol­ogy,” he said. “We're al­ways us­ing our cell­phones, we're us­ing Wi-Fi, we're us­ing Blue­tooth. Those are three dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies right there that we're us­ing and 15 years ago it wasn't nearly as much.… If some­thing is broad­cast­ing badly or not do­ing what it's sup­posed to, then that's when the prob­lem starts.”

This is­sue re­ceived some sig­nif­i­cant me­dia and pub­lic at­ten­tion ear­lier this year in Carstairs, Al­berta, when a re­mote car starter caused in­ter­fer­ence in a gro­cery store’s park­ing lot. The South­west Am­a­teur Ra­dio Club ac­tu­ally con­tacted am­a­teur ra­dio op­er­a­tors in that area to tell them about their ex­pe­ri­ences in Swift Cur­rent.

It took a few weeks be­fore the cause of the prob­lem in Carstairs was iden­ti­fied by In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Canada (ISED, for­merly known as In­dus­try Canada).

The South­west Am­a­teur Ra­dio Club has spo­ken to the ISED of­fice in Regina to make them aware of what the club has been do­ing in Swift Cur­rent.

“They do rely on am­a­teur ra­dio peo­ple,” Fehr said. “They want more in­for­ma­tion about it, so they can help if other peo­ple call in with com­plaints about that.”

Af­ter the ini­tial case about 18 months ago, the South­west Am­a­teur Ra­dio Club dealt with this is­sue at three other oc­ca­sions. They were never able to pin­point the source of the sec­ond com­plaint of in­ter­fer­ence, but they sus­pected it was a ca­ble tele­vi­sion sig­nal leak.

“We think it was one of the trans­mis­sion lines that was not prop­erly ter­mi­nated and was cre­at­ing a lit­tle bit of a prob­lem, but they fixed it and every­thing went away,” he said. “We think it was a box that was not prop­erly shielded.”

The third case was dealt with by Fehr, who op­er­ates a ve­hi­cle elec­tron­ics in­stal­la­tion and re­pair busi­ness in Swift Cur­rent. He was con­tacted by some­one from Man­i­toba who was vis­it­ing fam­ily in the city, and who sus­pected his ve­hi­cle had a faulty re­mote car starter.

“We un­plugged it and we ac­tu­ally saw a bro­ken wire on the an­tenna,” he re­called. “So we took the wire out, put a new wire in, charged him for the new wire, and they were happy, be­cause they were driv­ing around for months and there were peo­ple who couldn't un­lock their doors and they fi­nally re­al­ized it was them af­ter we talked.”

The most re­cent case dealt with by the club was the most in­ter­est­ing one. The ini­tial com­plaints were about in­ter­fer­ence in the park­ing lot at a lo­cal mall in Swift Cur­rent, but club mem­bers were never able to lo­cate the ve­hi­cle. They even­tu­ally picked up the in­ter­fer­ing sig­nal near Fehr’s down­town busi­ness and tracked it to a ve­hi­cle that was parked on a nearby street.

“Ac­tu­ally, our whole group was lis­ten­ing on that fre­quency and couldn't hear it and then we heard it,” he said. “That was ex­cel­lent. That felt good to be able to help other peo­ple with that one.”

Any­one who wants to con­tact the South­west Am­a­teur Ra­dio Club about this kind of is­sue, can send an e-mail mes­sage to [email protected]

Pho­tos by Matthew Liebenberg

Top: Lloyd Fehr of the South­west Am­a­teur Ra­dio Club uses a spec­trum an­a­lyzer in his work­shop to il­lus­trate the ef­fect of sig­nal in­ter­fer­ence on a cer­tain fre­quency.demon­strates the use of a di­rec­tional an­tenna to find an in­ter­fer­ing sig­nal.

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