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"passlock" system failure -- car turns over, but won't start

8.0

pretty bad

Typical Repair Cost:

$450.00

Average Mileage:

105,000 miles

Total Complaints:

1 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. dealer replacement of "passlock sensor" (1 reports)
2001 Chevrolet Suburban electrical problems

electrical problem

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2001 Chevrolet Suburban Owner Comments

problem #1

2009Jun 09

Suburban LT

  • Automatic transmission
  • 105,000 miles

A D V E R T I S E M E N T S

I bought this Suburban used at about 60k miles, and drove it to 105k before I even experienced this problem once, but once was all it took, because when you can't start your own car for no true mechanical or electrical reason other than an unexplained f*&# up of your "own" theft deterrent system, you've obviously got a problem that has to be dealt with ... immediately, and the likelihood is very high the fix is going to cost you a lot of money.

It seems that owners of the Malibu with "Passlock" have experienced these kinds of problems far more frequently. Why that is, I have no idea. "Passlock" is Chevrolet's trade name for its proprietary computerized theft deterrent system. It basically works like this. A microchip is embedded in your car's original ignition key by the OEM. There is a companion sensor built into the ignition cylinder system. When you put your key into the ignition cylinder to start the car, the sensor is SUPPOSED to "read" the microchip in your key, and tell the car's computerized "brain" that the key is a match, and that it's OK to let the car start.

If the key is a hardware store copy without the OEM microchip embedded in it; if someone is attempting to "hotwire" the ignition; if the original key or the embedded microchip is damaged; if the sensor is defective or broken, or if some related component in the ignition cylinder system is messing up and preventing the sensor from working properly, your car's "brain" will interpret the failure of the sensor to "read" the key as an attempted theft of the car, and disable your fuel pump. Result: you will most likely get "security" prompts on your car's idiot panel, the car will turn over, but it will not start, and no number of attempts or stomping on the gas pedal will have any effect.

Since this had never happened to me before, both I and my regular mechanic were baffled at first by what was going on. We were further baffled when we found that after sitting a few hours, the car would mysteriously start again and run like a champ, as if nothing had happened, and then, do the same thing again just minutes later. However, it was careful attention to that series of events (particularly the combination of the starting problems with unusual "security" alert activity) that tipped us off to the potential of a theft-deterrent system failure.

Fortunately, my towing costs (first to my regular mechanic, then from his shop to the local Chevy dealer) were covered by AAA (saved about 140 bucks there), but the dealer diagnosed the problem as a "bad Passlock sensor," and has now estimated parts and labor for the repair at $450. In a word, that SUCKS, GM. A component like this should NEVER fail, and if it does, you should fix it ... for the life of the car.

All these computerized gizmos that automakers have incorporated into our cars are great when they work, but when they don't work, they are a huge, expensive pain in the a@@, certain to cause buyers to re-think coming back next time they need a car. The thing I loved about my 1961 Volkswagen "bug" was that when it wouldn't start, there could only be about 4 reasons why, and I could figure out most of them myself.

I never tried the "leave the ignition on for 10 minutes" trick to get the Passlock system to automatically reset itself, because I didn't even start researching this before bringing the car in to the dealer, and because I'd rather have the defect FIXED (at least ONE time) than have to wait ten minutes every time I want to start my car. But if the dealer's repair doesn't completely and permanently eliminate this problem, I'm going to be looking for a way to disable the Passlock system completely, and/or get rid of the car.

- mwietstock, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

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