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A $4 sticker sold on Amazon is disabling some car engines

A small accessory known as a “bling ring” is messing with a feature on modern ignition systems, preventing cars from starting.

The engine is being started and then stopped at the top. Full Text: ENGINE ENGINE START START TOP STOP
Image: Amazon

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Cars these days come jam-packed with technology, from backup cameras and interactive radios to self-driving features. So, it might come as a surprise to learn that a small $4 sticker sold on Amazon is all that it takes to completely disable some engines.

One Northern California woman named Shiffra Steele found this out the hard way after spending hundreds of dollars trying to figure out why her trusty Honda Element would not start.

In an interview with San Francisco ABC station KGO-TV, Steele said she tried everything to figure out why her car wouldn’t start — from charging the battery to having it towed to a local mechanic and even reaching out to the dealer to get to the bottom of the problem.

Everyone was stumped until Steele casually mentioned the bling ring she’d installed a few days earlier. A mechanic took the bling ring off, and the car started right up.

A car logo with a text "ENGINE START STOP" and an emblem is prominently displayed.
Image: Amazon

Turns out, the bling ring has a metal backing that interferes with a common anti-theft feature that disables the engine in some cars.

Here’s how it works

Most anti-theft car features require a driver to use a key, a fob, or some other device to communicate with a part of the ignition system that transmits a radio signal, then waits to receive a signal back.

If the car receives the signal, the engine turns over. If it doesn’t, the engine does nothing.

The feature limits the chances that a thief can steal a car by hot wiring it or using a screwdriver in the ignition lock. But it also meant that Steele’s bling ring, which has a metal backing, interferes with the radio transceiver from receiving a radio signal from her key.

KGO-TV’s consumer reporter Michael Finney thought that was too absurd, so he tried it himself. He bought the same bling ring on Amazon and showed viewers that a car he used to test it out started fine without the device on the ignition.

Once installed, though, Finney had the same problem that Steele did — the car tried to start but ultimately stalled out.

Steele said she wished someone had warned her about the problem before buying the Amazon bling ring.

Always read the fine print

But Finney noted that a small disclosure on the Amazon listing tells people not to use it if their car has an anti-theft system because “it messes with [the] electrical system and won’t allow the car to start and stay running.”

KnowTechie found the same bling ring that Steele and Finney purchased on Amazon, where a two-pack is available for between $6 and $12, depending on the color.

This image is providing instructions on how to install car bling decor to give a car a new fresh look. Full Text: Product Description Noted for ToBeQueen customer:PLEASE DO NOT APPLY TO CAR IGNITION IF YOUR CAR HAS ANTI THEFT ALARM! It messes with electrical system and won't allow car to start and stay running. ToBeQueen, car bling decor dress up your car a new fresh look. Any problems, please feel free to contact us, we will help to solve all your problem as soon as possible. Fit All Standard Size Ignitions - Key Button (Size 1.5 in.) Versatile use on Ignitions, Knobs, Buttons etc. Multi-use: Key & Button Starters Car Knobs & Buttons Steering Wheels Stick Shifts & More How to install: 1. clean the installation site 2. tear off one of the tape film 3. aim at the bottom of the ring, and press it forcibly 4. tear off the film on the other side of the tape 5. aim at ignition button and press firmly 6. successful and beautiful Package include: 2 rows diamond bling ring x 2 3M adhesive tape x 2
Image: KnowTechie

The device, sold by a manufacturer called ToBeQueen, still has the same warning note about the anti-theft problem. Similar products sold by other companies carried near-identical warnings.

Finney said Steele wants Amazon to pay for her repair bills, but the company hasn’t responded to her request. Amazon did tell KGO-TV it appreciated the station bringing the matter to its attention but also declined to provide a statement.

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Matthew Keys is an award-winning freelance journalist who covers the intersection of media, technology and journalism. He is the publisher of TheDesk.net and a contributor to KnowTechie, StreamTV Insider (formerly Fierce Video) and Digital Content Next. Matthew is based in Northern California.

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