Can You Unlock Me Now? Good!
Date Added: Jan. 10, 2005
'On-Star, can I help you?' We've all seen or heard the commercials about friendly operators who help motorists in trouble with just a phone call. But On-Star and similar services require fees and certain types of cars. It is popular in urban legend to suggest that those better off than we are don't really have anything we don't - that we can approximate what they have with no extra cost, using what we have on hand. This chain is a juvenile prank designed to get a chuckle out of the thought of those foolish enough to try it.
This only applies to cars that can be unlocked by that remote button on your key ring. Should you lock your keys in the car and the spare keys are home, and you don't have "OnStar," here's your answer to the problem!
If some one has access to the spare remote at your home, call them on your cell phone (or borrow one from someone if the cell phone is locked in the car too!)
Hold your (or anyone's) cell phone about a foot from your car door and have the other person at your home press the unlock button, holding it near the phone.
Your car will unlock. and it works. Saves someone from having to drive your keys to you. Distance is no object. You could be hundreds of miles away, and if you can reach someone who has the other "remote" for your car, you can unlock the doors (or the trunk, or have the "horn" signal go off, or whatever!)
Most likely, this chain letter owes its origins to a misunderstanding of General Motors' popular On-Star service that, among other things, allows an operator to unlock your car remotely in response to a phone call. However, that services uses a combination of sophisticated cell phone and satellite technology, along with human operators, to work its magic. An On-Star operator can unlock your car from miles away because the On-Star system allows him or her to locate the car and access its internal computer. Because of its sophistication, the system is relatively pricey, with the equipment being installed mostly on higher-end GM vehicles and the service requiring an annual subscription fee.
Perhaps one reason this chain letter has proven so popular, then, is that it suggests that the conveniences of OnStar are already at your fingertips and at no extra cost. And it is this sense of frugality that has made this chain one of the most popular things floating around out there, and makes this article one of the most debated on BreakTheChain.org. Many have tried it and swear by it and are very quick to tell me so.
The letter's basic premise - that you can 'beam' your car's remote lock signal through your cell phone - is the primary point of contention. The technology behind both cell phones and door likes provide the strongest argument that this should not work. While both your cell phone and your key chain remote are based on radio transmissions, they operate on very different frequencies.
Your remote door lock keychain remote works by emitting a low-power radio signal to a receiver in your car. The signal is encrypted specifically to work with your vehicle and is very hard to duplicate. Cell phones use a higher-powered and higher-frequency radio signal (800 MHz and up, whereas your remote locks operate between 300 and 500 MHz). Cell phones transmit voice and data – they cannot "carry" other radio signals, which is what this letter is suggesting (unless the author was foolish enough - or thinks you are - to believe that your car lock remote works on audible signals that could be 'broadcast' through the phone's speaker).
Nonetheless, I've had many readers write me to insist that it is possible to unlock your car doors from a great distance using cell phones - most with first- or second-hand accounts of trying it successfully. Few provide details about their "experiments," and among those that do, it quickly became obvious that they were making the critical mistake of failing to ensure that they were out of the normal operating range of the remote transmitter. There are many more accounts on numerous message boards of people who claimed to have tried it and failed.
Nonetheless, people still insist that it is possible and have proffered explanations for why some people have claimed to get it to work from great distances. Complicating the issue is the fact that there are some remote entry systems now available that use a slightly different technology than traditional remote entry and may actually work through this technique. In most cases, however, the technique does not work - which is the largest hole in this chain letter, since it implies that the technique is universal.
Many have offered explanations of why it works in some cases, most of which miss the mark.
The first explanation is that the technique only works on GM vehicles equipped with the On-Star system (regardless of whether you are an OnStar subscriber). However, On-Star firmly denies that its system will allow just anybody to unlock a car via cell phone - something that would be a serious security concern, were it true.
Other readers have claimed that it's the type of cell phone service that matters, citing that it is only possible with T-Mobile phones because that company's network is unique. Upon my inquiry, a representative of T-Mobile would tell BreakTheChain.org only that the company has not tested this feature:
We understand that there is a chain letter about people activating their car doors with their T-mobile phones. We can not confirm or deny this feature. We have not tested this feature on our phones nor do we know know of any other service providers who have this feature. We do apologize that we do not have any information on this feature.
Nonetheless, at least one reader insists that he was told by T-Mobile support that it would work on their network, but not their competitors'. Again, though we can at least conclude that what the chain claims is not accurate, because it claims this will work for everyone.
And, think about the implications if it were true that you could use a cell phone to "carry" other short-range radio signals large distances. We must assume this would work with other devices that use short-range RF - the most scary of which could be automatic garage door opener remotes. These work much the same as the remote door locks in your car. They send a weak, encrypted signal to a receiver on the opener motor to activate it. If what this chain claims is true, then thieves could follow you to work, break into your car after you've exited it, call their accomplice back at your house and 'beam' your garage opener through the phone, giving them access to your home (if you have an attached garage). Thankfully, this scenario is utter malarky, as well, because radio signals and cell phones simply do not work this way. Break this chain.
References: About.com, Snopes.com