Mysterious Energy Source Is Killing Car Key Fobs in a Remote Canadian Town

We want to believe.

Canada Grocery Store Car Fob Mystery
Google Maps

The good people in a small northern Canadian town are calling attention to their ongoing war with a mysterious and invisible force that's been killing car key fobs and leaving drivers stranded in the parking lot of the town's largest grocery store, the CBC reports.

For weeks now, dozens of shoppers at the Westview Co-Op in Carstairs, Alberta have walked out to their cars, arms full of grocery bags, only to find that their radio-based smart key fobs no longer work. Sometimes the push-button ignition system will fail to recognize the fob and refuse to start; other times, the fob won't even unlock the vehicle. Stranger still, people have also reported car alarms going off in the lot with no apparent cause.

"It's just bizarre. People are actually scared to go to the Co-op now because they don't know if their cars are going to start," an employee of the dollar store across the street, where puzzled drivers have been wandering in to buy a fresh battery for their fobs, told the CBC.

Google Maps

The scene of the mystery

Unfortunately, a fresh battery doesn't solve the problem—and we'll leave you to chastise drivers for not knowing that many of the so-called keyless-entry systems do have physical backups built in. Aside from aliens, the obvious culprit is some sort of electronic interference, somehow localized in this particular Westview parking lot.

Armchair electricians on social media and elsewhere have raised a number of potential causes—automatic door sensors, shopping cart proximity locks, Wi-Fi, and even some security camera systems have all been reported to mess with smart fob operation elsewhere.

But in an update posted to Facebook this week, the store said that it brought in local electricians to shut down all power to the building, which failed to stop the problem. Management has also reached out to Canada's Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development for help solving the problem. And they're not so keen on speculating about aliens, ghosts, Illuminati, or anything on that plane.

"I think it is frustrating," Westview's asset protection manager Stephen Kennedy said, according to the CBC. "To see the level of frustration for our team and our guests is where our concern is. That's why we are taking extra steps to ensure we are driving the solution."

So if the inference signal isn't coming from the co-op building, or Vega, where does that leave us? The source might be one of the small businesses across the street, though none have automatic front doors. But looking at the map, a more likely culprit could be the freight train line running directly behind the parking lot—specifically, the set of radio-controlled switches used to bring three tracks down to one for a nearby road crossing.

Google Maps

The parking lot is shaded in yellow.

Freight trains are a known source of RF interference. The middle and rear locomotives, or distributed power units in railroad parlance, are often radio-controlled; an "end-of-train device" hanging on the back transits important data up front to the engineers via RF; workers on board communicate almost entirely over the radio; and countless sensors on the train and track monitor for serious problems.

Drone and RC aircraft enthusiasts have been warning each other about this for years—losing control of your very expensive model over a moving freight train sounds tricky. Could this be what's been plaguing the good people of Carstairs? It's just as plausible as any explanation that's been raised so far, though it wouldn't explain why the problems only started a few weeks ago. Also, the interference is constant enough that it can't be caused by a passing train.

So what does that leave? Aliens. Hey, we want to believe.