The Toyota Smart Entry & Electronic Key System

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SUBJECT: Toyota Prius 2004+ model Ignition Key System
TOPIC: The Smart Entry & Electronic Key
OBJECTIVE: Explain the operating features of a Toyota Smart Entry & Electronic Key system and the procedures for dealing with this at an emergency incident.
TASK: Develop recommended procedures to be implemented by responders when confronted with a Smart Entry & Electronic Key system at a vehicle crash scene.

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Courtesy of Toyota Motor Corp.
Toyota’s 2004 model year and newer Prius vehicles can come equipped with a Smart Entry & Electronic Key system that will challenge responders at crash scenes.

Fire and rescue personnel are increasingly becoming aware of the important changes made by Toyota Motors in its Prius hybrid vehicle from the original model that debuted in 2001 and the second-generation hybrid that first appeared as a 2004 model. “Sales of Toyota Prius’ are about to top 100,000 units. We’re set to launch two new hybrid models, the Lexus RX 400h and Highlander Hybrid,” said Jim Moran, Los Angeles-region technical service and training manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. In addition to changes in the gasoline-electric hybrid system of the new Prius as compared to the original vehicle, another important but not as publicized new technology is now available: the Smart Entry & Electronic Key.

As an optional feature, any of the second-generation Toyota Prius vehicles can be equipped with this special ignition key. This normal-looking key, built into a typical black plastic key fob, actually operates on a unique new technology that responders should be aware of.

The operator can use the metal key in the normal manner to unlock the vehicle or can push the unlock button and remotely unlock the Prius doors. Nothing out of the ordinary here. However, once inside, the entire key fob is inserted into a slot in the instrument panel to “arm” the ignition. To start the Prius, a large button labeled “POWER” is pushed.

The smart key also contains a miniature transmitter that communicates automatically and constantly with the vehicle’s door-lock mechanism and ignition system.

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Courtesy of Toyota Motor Corp.
A metal key is carried inside the black plastic key fob. The remote lock/unlock buttons work like a typical key system. The difference is the wireless transmitter located inside this unit.

Let’s say the operator of the Prius has the smart key in his or her pants pocket or purse. While walking toward the locked vehicle, the vehicle automatically recognizes that the key is coming closer to the car. As the operator, with the key still in the pocket or purse, reaches the side of the car, he or she can unlock the door by simply touching the door handle. A special component, called the “touch sensor,” is built into the backside of either front door handle. Touch this door handle and the sensor unlocks the doors automatically. The smart key is still in that pocket or purse.

Once seated inside the Prius, all the operator has to do to start the vehicle is to press the button on the dash labeled “POWER.” One push and the accessory mode is activated. A second push and the ignition starts the car. Remember, all this time, the smart key is still in the operator’s pocket or purse. The operator never had to actually touch the key, just the door handle and then the POWER button.

How does this interesting new technology affect vehicle rescue responses? Consider one possible scenario while making patient contact inside a Prius. The responder may find that there is no ignition key, yet the vehicle may either be running or be in the “READY” mode, as Toyota describes it. The gasoline engine may start and the high-voltage electric motor is energized. The vehicle can move if the accelerator pedal is depressed or the brake pedal released. Where you would normally be able to turn the ignition key OFF, the key might not be there. It may be in your patient’s pocket.

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Courtesy of Toyota Motor Corp.
The entire Smart Entry & Electronic Key fob can be inserted into the slot visible in the instrument panel to the right of the steering wheel. Once inserted, the POWER button above it is pushed to start the Prius.

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Courtesy of Toyota Motor Corp.
Whether the Smart Entry & Electronic Key is in the slot in the dash or in the operator’s pocket, the vehicle can be started with a push of the POWER button. The green READY light in the upper instrument cluster illuminates when the vehicle is energized.

In another situation, a responder may encounter the vehicle in the READY mode and observe the black plastic smart key fob inserted into its special slot in the instrument panel. If the vehicle is in the READY mode, the responder will be unable to remove it from the key slot and there is nothing to turn as you would have with a standard ignition key system.

In both circumstances, the responder must press the POWER button located on the instrument panel to the right of the steering column to shut off or “power-down” the vehicle. At that point, view the instrument cluster at the center of the dashboard nearest the base of the windshield. The green READY light should go out when the ignition is shut down. If this light is “ON,” then the vehicle is active and most likely in “sleep” mode. Be careful. It can move forward silently.

Visit the Toyota website or the University of Extrication section of Firehouse.com to obtain a free electronic copy of the 23-page Toyota Prius 2004 model second-generation Emergency Response Guide. It provides further details on this and other features of this vehicle along with recommended emergency procedures for response personnel.

TASK: Study a 2004 or newer model Toyota Prius gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle that has the optional Smart Entry & Electronic Key system and develop recommended procedures to be implemented by your responders for dealing with a smart key vehicle crash scene.

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Courtesy of Toyota Motor Corp.
The Smart Entry & Electronic Key is shown inserted into the key slot. It cannot be removed until the POWER button is depressed once to shut down the vehicle.

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Courtesy of Toyota Motor Corp.
If the green READY light is illuminated, the vehicle is energized. If the gasoline engine is not running, then the Prius will be in “Sleep” mode. Be cautious. Get this vehicle shut down for safety.

Ron Moore will present “University of Extrication: Safe Parking” at Firehouse World 2005 in San Diego, Jan. 31-Feb. 4.


Ron Moore, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the Firehouse.com “MembersZone” and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the Firehouse.com website. Moore can be contacted directly at Rmoore@firehouse.com.

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