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Designers, Please Explain This Feature

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday season, we went on a good old-fashioned road trip – well away from where all those horrible fires have been happening.  In keeping with old-fashioned road trips, we decided that this was a good time to give our 2000 Ford Falcon  AU a chance to show its paces. It’s been my husband’s doer-upper and mancave tinkering project for a while now, so why not? It certainly behaved itself nicely on the road and was comfy for long journeys.  However, it had one little design feature that puzzled me and certainly gave us something to talk about during the more tedious stretches of the road once we’d exhausted the topic of how appalling the fires are, what caused them, the smoke haze, etc. etc.

The feature in question in the boot.  The boot doesn’t have one of those old-school buttons that unlatches the boot on the boot door itself. Instead, you have to unlock the body of the car and put the key in the ignition and turn it on one click then press a button on the dashboard – which is rather faded on this 20-year-old vehicle.  Slightly fiddly, yes, but no worse than what you have to do with my mother-in-law’s Suzuki Kizashi  that uses an auto-unlock key fob.  The automatic key fob might seem like a brilliant idea when you’re approaching the back of the Kizashi with your hands full – and my mother-in-law loves this feature – but it’s a bit of a nuisance when you want to send one of the kids to go and get Gran her cardy out of the boot please, dear.  This means that the keys have to come out of wherever Gran’s put them and it takes a less experienced person to hold the fob in exactly the right way before the boot’s opened and Gran has to go and show the kiddies how to do it properly.

Anyway, back to the boot of the Falcon.  Despite the need to have the keys in the ignition to open the boot from the outside, the boot itself has a mechanical boot hatch release lever.  On the inside of the boot.  In a sedan.  A sedan where you can’t open the boot mechanically from the outside and where the body of the car has to be unlocked before you can open the boot. When on earth will you use this lever?

The lever is no good in the all too common scenario of accidentally shutting your keys in the boot. In fact, if you unlocked the Falcon’s boot, took the keys out of the ignition, locked the doors and then accidentally dropped the keys in the boot before slamming it shut, you would be in the poop, as you would have access to neither boot nor cabin.  So the mechanical lever was no good for that situation.

If you couldn’t get out of the car doors for some reason but you were inside the cabin of the sedan, you could possibly exit via the boot.  In the unlikely scenario that you opened the boot, took the keys out of the ignition again, then shut them in the boot, you could do the same. This would require you do fold the rear seats of the sedan flat and move the luggage out of the way first. Fortunately, the seats do fold flat, allowing access into the boot, although I haven’t tried this myself. The load-through slot that appears when you fold down the arm rest and the cupholders is far too small for anybody over the age of three to squeeze through. You could, in theory, reach the mechanical lever by reaching through the load-through slot but only if (a) you had arms like an orangutan and (b) the suitcases and the picnic basket aren’t in the way, as the boot release lever is nearer the front of the boot.

The only time that you would be able to use that release lever is if you were riding inside the boot of this sedan and the hatch door was closed.  Again, when would this happen?  In the rather dangerous and illegal case where you’ve got a sixth person needing to ride in the car and you’re out of seatbelts, you could smuggle that person in the boot.  This is NOT RECOMMENDED (although I’ll admit to having taken a passenger this way once over 20 years ago – and it wasn’t in Australia, either).  However, even then, the passenger riding in the boot wouldn’t want to open the hatch and get out while the car is moving.  He or she would have to push open the load-through slot and ask the driver to stop. Then the driver could also push the button to open the boot as well, so the lever wouldn’t be used anyway.  However, if everybody else had left the car and someone was still inside the boot, they could let themselves out – and the only times we could see this happening was if someone was trying to stow away on a ferry or sneak into, say, a music festival or military base without the gatekeepers noticing.

After much discussion, we figured that the only time you’d really want to use the inside boot release lever is if you had been kidnapped and shoved in the boot, and you wanted to alert other road users to the fact so that you can be rescued – or so you can jump out of the boot.

I am somewhat aghast that the designers built in a feature that is only useful in the case of being abducted or when doing something illegal.  Did they really think that cases of kidnapping are that common? Did they design a car that’s useful for sneaking in unofficially or for people smuggling? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING????

If anyone can throw any light on this feature, I would love to know. Please give us your best speculations in the comments!


  1. Peter Wilson says:

    I think the main purpose of this feature was if the Button on the dash didnt work due a fault or a flat battery. I have many fords and have asked the same question. I hope that this answers your question.

    January 15th, 2020 at 10:40 am

  2. Philip Howe says:

    Sadly you were on the right line when you mentioned kidnapping!

    Twenty odd years ago there was a spate of taxi drivers being robbed and left in their locked car boots. Ford Falcons were popular taxi vehicles so I seem to remember this being a safety feature.

    It still happens today – Google Taxi driver locked in boot”

    January 15th, 2020 at 10:48 am

  3. Tim says:

    Children have been trapped in car boots while playing – if the car is parked in the sun on a hot day, the child would be baked alive unless they can get out – the lever is a safety feature. Similarly, station wagons with a cargo barrier installed are required to have an emergency hammer in the load area (for breaking a window) for the same reason.

    January 15th, 2020 at 11:16 am

  4. Nev Daniels says:

    Just a hint with the Kizashi – if you walk up to the boot with the key in your pocket or bag, the boot opens by pressing the button on the bootlid 🙂

    January 15th, 2020 at 11:24 am

  5. John says:

    The purpose of the release lever is to allow anyone trapped in the boot ( think kids hiding) to be able to exit. Quite a number of kids have died by hiding in old style fridges that could not be opened from the inside.

    January 15th, 2020 at 11:39 am

  6. Garry Wylie says:

    I had this situation once in a BA Falcon which has the same set up. Boot release button on dash and release cable in boot.
    I was returning from a holiday in Port Macquarie with my wife when corrosion on the positive terminal of the car battery caused the cable to break away from the terminal connection.
    My tools were in the boot and I had no power to use the dash button, so I folded the back seats down and reached the boot release cable to open the boot and accessed my tools.
    I am 185cm and have fairly long arms.

    January 15th, 2020 at 1:41 pm

  7. Bill says:

    I’ve always thought the internal boot release lever was a safety measure in case a kid got locked inside – playing or for whatever reason. It might be interesting to know the frequency of such incidences AND whether or not the internal release lever is/was required under Australian design regulations. My pet design hate is the impossibility of switching off the radio in our 2017 Mazda (but it seems the same in modern Toatoas) and the dinosaurian GPS that could learn from the simplicity and functionality of the Gamin.

    January 15th, 2020 at 1:49 pm

  8. Paul Fletcher says:

    Your last few sentences are correct. Even though you keep crossing between “boot” and “hatch”, I guess you mean sedan. The law in NSW, if not other states of which I’m unsure, says that all taxis must have a mechanical means of opening the boot from within it and the item must be yellow. That came about after a taxi driver, Roy Savage, was locked in the boot of his taxi by assailants, some 45 odd years ago, and the car was set alight. Unfortunately, Mr Savage died. Most releases were aftermarket but Ford started making them themselves as an optional part. Such part, a piece of wire with a clevis type end to go in the boot latch and a yellow handle are still available and, in fact, fit the Camry.

    January 15th, 2020 at 2:25 pm

  9. Kev says:

    It would seem Ford was quite confused about the boot. My old Mustang has a hidden button inside the cabin that you can push and open the boot anytime, without the keys. That said there is a yellow handle inside the boot that has a picture on it indicating a person pulling the handle then jumping out of the boot and running away! Perhaps muggings, car jackings and kidnappings in the USA are so common that a boot escape (dare I say trunk) is a necessary feature that comes standard.

    January 15th, 2020 at 3:23 pm

  10. Bill Nixon says:

    I have a 2019 Mustang and have not observed this yellow emergency boot opening handle inside the boot. I wonder if Ford has stopped fitting Mustangs with this device. I will have to check. To open the boot in my car you have to press a button next to the steering column or a button in the rear bumper bar, both are electrically operated. If the battery is flat the boot will not open.

    January 23rd, 2020 at 10:03 pm