Government investigates mysterious dead zone
A dead zone in Amherstburg where keyless ignition vehicles sometimes won’t start is under investigation by federal officials and a local radio frequency enthusiast who thinks he may know the cause.
“These occurrences are relatively rare,” said Hans Parmar, a spokesman with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
Under the Radiocommunication Act, the federal government has the authority to determine if there’s harmful interference, including interference affecting vehicles and other devices that use radio frequencies and to “take necessary action to resolve such cases,” he said Monday.
Parmar confirmed Tuesday that spectrum management officers have been dispatched to the area to determine the source of interference.
The Star’s story on Saturday about the mysterious dead zone intrigued Lucas Jones, a Windsor financial adviser, who has a keen interest in radio frequencies.
So with two antennas on the hood of his car and special software defined radio (SDR) equipment hooked to his laptop computer, he drove to the Sandwich Street dead zone residents said was in a plaza with the Canadian Tire gas pumps and across the street where there’s a Walmart and a Canadian Tire store. He said he got “quite a few strange looks” Monday night.
“I thought it would be a fun experiment to see if I could figure it out,” Jones said Tuesday.
He thinks it’s related to a Detroit radio station but not one that is actually broadcasting at the 315 megahertz frequency that many car key fobs would use. Using his equipment, he could sometimes hear the radio station and see spikes on that frequency Tuesday.
He thinks something called harmonics, think of ripples of unintended copies of the original broadcast, are causing the interference. It’s a byproduct of a strong signal, and in his hobby he often has to filter out FM signals to focus on a particular frequency, he said.
He figures he might be on to something because he heard several car alarms go off Tuesday in the plaza.
One of those was Laura Piper’s Chrysler Town and Country van. Her fob wouldn’t open her van door, which she thought was a battery issue so she used the key inside the fob. That set off her alarm.
With a Star reporter’s help, Piper was able to stop the alarm and start her van only by touching the front tip of the fob to the start button. “It’s so weird,” Piper said.
The Amherstburg resident said she regularly shops in that area and has never had it happen. She said it’s embarrassing and she wouldn’t have thought to point the key fob at her start button.
Jones said if he can come up with a theory for the interference, he’s sure investigators with better equipment will be able to figure it out. He found stronger interference across the street at the Walmart parking lot, even though more people have reported issues in the plaza with the gas pumps. He had no problems with a keyless ignition Nissan Altima he was using Tuesday in front of the Canadian Tire gas pumps.
He said the interference would depend on the location, the weather and the strength of the key fob’s battery. It may be that the interference is stronger elsewhere but if there isn’t a parking lot there, people wouldn’t notice.
“Interference like this is very unusual,” Jones said.
Amherstburg Coun. Don Mcarthur reported the issue Friday to the spectrum management and telecommunications division of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. He said he got a call from an investigator Monday morning. “We have the right people looking into it,” Mcarthur said Monday.
Mcarthur parked his keyless ignition Jeep Cherokee at the Sandwich Street plaza Sunday night as a test and didn’t have any issues.
The Spectrum and Telecommunications Sector is responsible for researching and regulating spectrum, which includes investigating interference. It also regulates telecommunications equipment and works with other organizations on the safety and security of existing and future telecommunications infrastructure.
In an email Monday, Parmar said “it could be a range of potential issues, including defective devices that have gone off-frequency or devices in close proximity to other transmitting devices that overload its circuitry.”
Lucas Jones uses his laptop and software to monitor raw radio frequency data to try to explain strange interference at an Amherstburg plaza Tuesday. Several motorists complained that the fobs of their vehicles were disabled.
Lucas Jones used his laptop and software to monitor raw radio-frequency data on Tuesday to try to explain a strange interference in Amherstburg that is affecting keyless vehicle starters.