In car parks around the country you'll see executives performing tribal routines

I have just enjoyed a week with one of the most beautiful, charming, characterful cars I have ever driven. The Peugeot 406 coupe proves that not all cars have to look the same, or drive the same. It proves that you don't have to be called BMW, Porsche or Mercedes to create a handsome coupe that costs more than pounds 25,000. It also proves that I can come away from a week's motoring loving a car that, for 30 wretched minutes, was about as active as a football-mad couch potato watching live TV coverage of the FA Cup final.

This new R-reg car wasn't the only one giving problems in early August. The RAC and the AA have received a record number of calls this month from owners unable to fathom the complexities of their immobilisers.

I hate immobilisers in general. Sure, the idea is worthy enough: fit a clever electric circuit breaker into the ignition so that if the wrong guy wants to drive off with your new Wizzo GTi, the engine won't start. Trouble is, for every crook who's immobilised, 1,000 honest owners are stranded. The ancient art of inserting keys into ignition, and turning them to activate engines, is slowly being lost.

Now, increasingly, you have to point key fobs containing magical plippers at cars to open them. Many of the plippers won't work unless they're aimed at exactly the right place. Which explains why, in many executive car parks around Britain, you'll often see besuited executives in front of their new N- or P-reg motors doing strange primeval dances, thumbs and fingers performing odd tribalistic routines. They look like they're paying homage to the God of 20th-century consumerism: the motor car.

Once behind the wheel, the routine doesn't get any easier. Remember when you would simply use the same key that unlocked the car to turn on the ignition and then, once the engine started, you'd drive away?

Nowadays, in many modern cars, such convenience is a thing of the past - as old-fashioned as the notion that banks would respect your privacy, instead of selling your address and details to any two-bit mail-order company.

Now, on many cars, you need to key in a security code, otherwise your car won't start. On others, you must plip the plipper one more time, to bypass the immobiliser and start the engine. On others, you must plip twice when behind the wheel. Some cars automatically shut down if there is a 30-second delay between unlocking the car and trying to start the ignition; others wait longer. To conclude, the simple art of starting cars is now one of the most arcane and complicated in modern-day motoring. (Obviously these immobilising devices were created by childless bachelors, as any parent knows it takes well over 30 seconds, and often a few minutes, to strap young children into the car before you start the engine.)

I got into trouble with the 406 coupe while refuelling. After I'd paid the bill, the car wouldn't start. Suspecting the immobiliser, I discovered that the car would only start if I keyed in the correct code - even though, during my previous six days of motoring, I hadn't used the code at all.

Trouble was, I didn't know the code. I guessed. It was wrong. I tried another code. Wrong. One more guess. Wrong. Then the car emitted a dull, persistent beep, as if to taunt my stupidity. (Three goes and you're out!)

A quick look at the handbook and I discovered that, after three incorrect code attempts, the car's engine automatically shuts down for 30 minutes. The Fina garage at Chiswick has few entertainments for those forced to spend half an hour there.

I have been wrongly immobilised by immobilisers, and the wretched alarms that often aid and abet them, before. I remember once being unable to get a pounds 200,000-plus Bentley convertible going, after dutifully switching the engine off at a railway crossing. Other motorists, whose second-hand Fords and Vauxhalls seemed to be going just fine, thank you, were amused. I was not.

Another Bentley locked itself - keys inside - in a car wash. A pounds 50,000 Jaguar XJR also decided to lock all its doors - but with engine running - when parked across my drive. Fortunately I had a spare set of keys and a spare plipper, otherwise - well, otherwise I don't know what I would have done. Once, in a Mercedes, with family and chattels on board on the way to a weekend break in Wales, the immobiliser just couldn't be persuaded to stop immobilising. It happened after refuelling. No matter how many times I pressed that damned plipper, and in what sequence, the engine wouldn't engage. Finally, inexplicably, it went, and we duly had our family weekend break in Wales rather than at Watford Gap services on the M1. I still don't know why it decided to go.

The other day, my wife was completely flummoxed by an unfamiliar Renault Megane Cabriolet's immobiliser in the car park of a sports club. Had it not been for a couple of big-hearted car-washing guys, who were more familiar with the vagaries of modern car gadgetry, she would probably still be there, plipping plippers, hoping to unlock the magical sequence that would ensure action.

A few car-makers do get it right. Among them is Ford, whose immobiliser is a simple device fitted into the key. If the right key is inserted into the ignition, the engine starts - just like it used to do on old-fashioned Cortinas and Escorts. This prevents hot wiring. But it also prevents car park war-dances and stationary luxury cars on garage forecourts and level crossings.

It may not be quite as thief-proof as complicated plippers and whatnot, understood by only the most computer-literate of car owners. After all, any crook could take off in your Ford, if you leave the key in the ignition. With other systems, the thief would have to push buttons and make strange hand gesticulations before scarpering.

Personally, I'll take the risk. Give me keys and locks any day. And cars that start when I want them to, not when some unfathomable computer programme says it's OK.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions