New York's "automotive Bermuda Triangle"

Cars are mysteriously dying in a few block radius around New York City's Empire State Building. Many people think the phenomena is caused by the 30+ transmission antennas on the spire of the 102-story building. Officials from the building deny there's a problem. From the New York Daily news:
“We get about 10 to 15 cars stuck near there every day,” said Isaac Leviev, manager of Citywide Towing, the AAA’s exclusive roadside assistance provider from 42nd St. to the Battery. “You pull the car four or five blocks to the west or east and the car starts right up...."

Automotive experts and engineers believe the problem stems from radio frequency interference that’s “jamming” the remote keyless entry systems of cars.

The remote keyless entry systems operate on specific wavelengths assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, which governs the bands and bandwidths of TV, radio, telephone and other transmissions.

The FCC said it has not received any complaints regarding interference affecting autos in midtown, and Empire State Building officials don’t believe the claims.


  1. I have a firsthand experience that this kind of phenomenon really does happen near the Empire State Building.

    A few years back (?1997?) I parked my car within a block or two of the Empire State Building and when I tried to start my car up again, it wouldn’t power up.

    A doorman from the hotel/apartment building next to where I was parked noticed my unfortunate predicament and asked if I had an alarm system hooked up to my car…I replied that yes, I had. He went on to explain to me that the radio waves from the E.S.B.’s antennae/microwave transmitters were jamming up my car’s alarm system.

    He suggested that I locate the alarm kill switch receiver, located somewhere under the dashboard, and direct my keychain alarm on/off switch directly at it (within inches), in order to turn off the alarm.

    It worked.

  2. #1: I don’t think cars can be turned off remotely though. Besides, even if the remote can do that, it will just mean that the car driver will be unable to turn their car off when they are around the building – and for that we don’t have the data to prove or disprove.

    Nevertheless, it only affects those who drives expensive keyless cars. :)

  3. Could it be the result of an anti-terrorist jamming system? The Empire State bldg, once again the tallest in NY, is probably assumed to be a prime target. I wonder if there’s a local jammer, designed to prevent remote detonations, that’s having an effect on the security systems in the dead cars, or even interfering with the computerized “brain” in their engines.

  4. This was several years ago, but I noticed a similar (though less drastic) phenomenon in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. There’s a particular section of W. Erie where the remote on certain car keys would never work. I always wondered if it had something to do with the suspected-mob-front, never-open restaurant/bar across the street.

  5. Seeing as the building is quite tall, it seems unlikely that cars near the base of the building would have trouble from the antennas, but not cars farther away as well… Especially since you have to move away from the building slightly to get line of sight on the transmitters.

    I’m sure that there is some interference going on, but people should look for a source closer to the ground.

  6. Well, as any good Doctor Who fan will know, you should first check under any fresh pavement for tiny alien spaceships.

    Seriously, though, could this be the result of those cell phone jammers that are becoming popular? I realize it’s a different frequency but as those devices aren’t legal anyway they could be knocking out a good bit of the spectrum.

  7. maybe there’s a connection with the recent post about extinguishing fire with sound waves.and maybe the next step is to encase the area in plastic and stereo speakers and extinguish all cars.

  8. Robert B, you’re telling us that the Empire State Building emits waves that jam up car alarms?!

    The question in that case is not how to stop this from happening in midtown, but rather how do we blanket the whole city with this stuff?

  9. I remember reading years ago, I think it was in New Scientist, about a road in the UK where lots of mysterious breakdowns were happening. It turned out to be BBC transmitters close by. I think the signal was getting into the electronic ignition systems.

    I also remember in a ham radio magazine years ago how someone new car wasn’t getting the good fuel economy it should. It turned out to be the owner’s ham radio transmitter messing up the engine management computer.

  10. I can’t speak to the Empire State Building specifically, but I can confirm that powerful radio waves (microwaves) can affect automobiles.

    There was a large FAA radar installation several miles north of a town I used to live in. If you drove along the highway by the radar dome and got caught in the radar sweep, it could definitely affect your car. Depending on the particular make and model, anything from the air conditioner to the radio to the entire engine could fail temporarily.

    Although I’m no physicist / auto mechanic, there’s clearly something going on between the microwaves and the electrical components of the car. (I mean, this is why high-powered microwave ovens have warnings about getting your pacemaker too close to them!).

    Of course, my experiences with this radar predated keyless ignition by at least a decade, so there could definitely be other factors involved.

  11. This used to happen all the time with ‘rolling code’ BCM systems. Basically, the car sits outside a cellphone tower which is sending it the equivalent of a million different access codes, which the computer thinks are attempts to enter the car. It quickly overloads the allowable attempts and freezes the locking. Towing the vehicle out of the range of the cell phone tower proved effective in the cases I was familiar with, for the vehicles made by the EvilDoerNefariousAutomotiveMultinational I worked for at the time but the problem looked like it was solvable when I worked there (about 7-8 years ago) so I assume if this is the problem in NY then it might be slightly older cars affected.

  12. Something similar happens at Telstra Tower on Black Mountain in Canberra, Australia. There are warning signs in the car park that the tower can interfere with your engine’s immobiliser system – it got our old ’92 V6 Commodore sedan every time.

    If your car gets stuck, you’ve got three choices: disable your immobiliser, push your car to the end of the car park, or go see the staff in the tower who have tip sheets on manually disabling the immobiliser in pretty much every car ever made.

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