How to Use Remote Start

How to Use Remote Start
Sawat Banyenngam/Shutterstock

If you know the benefit of remote start, you know how you can never live without it. When the heat is unbearable or the air is freezing, remote start can heat or cool your vehicle’s interior to the perfect temperature before you set foot inside it. But what’s really behind this simple magic button on your key fob, and how does remote start work?

What is remote start?

Like most consumer electronics today, remote start isn’t simply a button or gadget. It’s a complicated system of technology that allows you to securely start your locked vehicle from a distance by using a remote key fob or smartphone app. Most systems permit you to turn your vehicle on (and off) and automatically cool or heat your car based on the outside air temperature. More advanced systems add additional levels of car security and convenience features.

Aftermarket remote start has been around since the 1980s, first introduced by Fortin Auto Radio, based in Montreal, Quebec. The 2004 Chevrolet Malibu was the first car to offer it as a factory option. Since 2016, more vehicles have been factory equipped with remote start. Although initially reserved for more expensive vehicles, as of 2019 91% of vehicles are equipped with standard or optional keyless ignition systems.

In some cases, remote start requires activation as part of a telematics service from the manufacturer, such as Mercedes-Benz’s mbrace or OnStar. As part of the telematics service, a smartphone app can also control remote start.

Unfortunately, unlike power windows and door locks, keyless ignitions and remote start haven’t reached the level of being a necessity. Some recently manufactured autos, such as the 2022 Chevrolet Colorado WT don’t come standard with either convenience. So, what if you have a vehicle without a remote start system? Can you add a remote start system? Does it matter if you have a keyed or keyless ignition? As it turns out, current technology allows you to add a remote start system to your current car, regardless of the type of ignition.

How does remote start work?

A remote start module or system has to be installed in your vehicle. The system uses software that sends a specific encrypted signal to an installed receiver inside the car. Encryption prevents someone or something from decoding it and sending an identical frequency, and starting your vehicle remotely without your authorization.

When the receiver accepts the signal, it activates the systems to which it’s connected and mimics the engine’s start sequence. It allows the engine to start, settings like heating or cooling to activate and confirms that the doors are locked. To let you know its job is done, the system will give you a confirmation through the flash of your vehicle’s headlights, a sound or both. If you’re using an app, a notice will appear in the app.

Most systems keep your vehicle running for at least 15 and up to 45 minutes without you or your key inside. Although manufacturer remote start systems are becoming more user-friendly and customizable, aftermarket remote start systems provide more options like:

  • Up to a three-mile range
  • LED screen key fobs
  • Customizable start controls

How much do remote start systems cost?

Some earlier remote systems required a monthly fee and were packaged along with elaborate monitoring services. Today’s systems usually don’t require a cost to operate unless you want to use a phone app. However, on basic trim automobiles, there is still a cost. A 2021 Chevrolet Traxx LT does not come standard with a wireless key and remote start. Still, it’s available as part of a $450 LT Convenience Package option. On model trims that are most popular, remote start systems are often included in the vehicle’s purchase price.

But what if you didn’t purchase your car with a keyless system and want to buy an aftermarket remote start? Based on a brief survey of remote start dealers, the least expensive, short-range remote starter installed on a nonluxury vehicle will range from $249.99 to $399.99. The quoted price will largely depend on the year, make and model of your car.

When using an installer, it’s essential to ensure that the system is compatible with your car. Additionally, you’ll want the system and installation to have a warranty. It’s also critical that you have a clear understanding of the labor costs before purchase.

Is remote start safe?

Understandably, you may think that an unattended car with the vehicle running would welcome thieves to steal it. Thankfully, this scenario isn’t possible. There are more than a few fail-safe system checks to keep this from happening.

  • The first thing a remote starter does is lock the car doors.
  • The shifting mechanism is disabled.
  • If someone does enter without the key and they touch the brake pedal, the engine shuts off.
  • If the hood is opened after a remote start, the engine shuts off.

These systems ensure the possessor of the key is the only person able to drive off with the car after a remote start. Although you may consider a remote start system merely a convenience, it’s also much more secure than starting your car and leaving your key inside.

But there are other safety issues you’ll need to be aware of with your new remote start system. The NHTSA has noted (and is taking steps to address) some potentially tragic dangers of remote start systems. Some have been related to engine shutdowns while driving, but most are related to owner forgetfulness.

More often than not, owners will forget to turn off the motor before leaving the car because today’s engines are quiet. In a closed garage, a running engine can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. There have also been instances of injury and property damage after owners forgot to put the car into park before opening the car door.

The convenience of remote start systems has proven to provide comfort and safety benefits. But, as with most technologies, the ultimate fail-safe device is the user.


About Bumper

At Bumper, we are on a mission to bring vehicle history reports and ownership up to speed with modern times. A vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases you'll likely make, and you deserve to have access to the same tools and information the pros use to make the right decisions.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.