Types of remote starters for cars
When remote starters for vehicles first came out in the early 1990s, everyone joked that they’d only be suitable for drug dealers, mobsters, and heads of state, since they all had to worry about car bombs.
Fast forward to 2022 and most car manufacturers include remote engine start (RES) on their vehicles. The world realized that it’s pretty wonderful to point a tiny gadget at your car from inside a warm, toasty house and have it start instantly.
The fact that it warms up and turns on the heater for you makes it even better. In hot weather, you can turn on the air conditioner from inside. Certainly, RES comes in handy for those trying to avoid car bombs, too.
In the 30 or so years that remote starters have existed, auto manufacturers and aftermarket designers diversified the options available to consumers.
Today, instead of a one-size fits all solution, you can shop for a wide range of types of remote starters for RES systems. You won’t find a “best remote car starter” because the best one for you, works for you and does what you need it to do.
What is it?
A remote car starter works with the RES on your vehicle to start the engine from a distance.
The distance varies from 500 to 5,000 feet, depending on the RES, remote, and whether or not the system experiences interference from objects in the way. The transmitter and the vehicle need a clear communication path.
These devices also commonly unlock and lock the vehicle remotely. Some of these devices can also let the vehicle owner control the seats, liftgate, trunk release, and climate controls of the vehicle from a distance.
The Types of Remote Starters for Cars
Choose from four main types of remote starters.
These types function together, so you can purchase a two-way communication remote starter that uses an app start key fob, or a one-way communication remote starter that uses the same fob. Your options among types include:
- one-way communication remote starters
- two-way communication remote starters
- remote start key fob remote starters
- app start fob remote starters
When making your choices, your personal preference in remote car start is the only thing that matters. One type of remote starter isn’t better than the other – just different.
1. One-Way Communication Remote Starters
The term one-way communication remote starter refers to a remote control device that transmits a signal to your vehicle’s remote starter and its keyless entry system. This type of remote can only send messages.
The only downside to this is that you will need to check manually whether the vehicle received its message. This might mean opening a window or door to determine if the vehicle started properly.
You may be too far away to determine whether or not it started. The lack of confirmation of receiving the start command is the only downside to this type of remote starter for your car.
2. Two-Way Communication Remote Starters
The term two-way communication remote starter refers to a remote control device that transmits and receives signals to and from your vehicle’s remote starter. It can also work with your car or SUV’s keyless entry system.
This type lets your vehicle send a confirmation message or signal about a vehicle situation. You will more frequently find a two-way system using an app starter system.
The app leverages the LCD screen on your phone to increase interactivity. Choosing a system that uses this type of interface can significantly increase the availability of features that the system offers.
3. Remote Start Key Fob Remote Starters
The term remote fob starter refers to a standalone device that fits in the palm of your hand. Most remotes fit onto your keychain.
You hold these between your thumb and index finger and control the vehicle via buttons on the device. The remote will have as many functions as it has buttons. A fob typically works best with one-way communication systems.
You typically won’t get many features with this type of remote starter. The size of these gadgets precludes using very many buttons on one. Most of these key fobs have five or six buttons on them, so they can hold five or six features.
4. App Start Fob Remote Starters
The term app start fob remote starter refers to an app you install to your smartphone that lets you control your vehicle’s remote starter. This can come as a one-way or two-way communication device, but typically works best as a two-way device.
The starter’s manufacturer designs the app, which frequently handles more than just the remote start system. Features vary by the system manufacturer.
This type of starter lets you receive confirmation from your vehicle that it has started. The newest of the app start fob remote starters can work from up to one mile away.
Fortin, an auto radio company in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, introduced the remote starter for vehicles in 1985.
Not long after the first remote control starters appeared from Fortin, other manufacturers also started producing them, as did automobile manufacturers.
Auto manufacturers usually make a RES system an option on higher trims of mid-level and luxury vehicles. You can also add them as an aftermarket option to a vehicle.
How complex is a remote starter to operate?
The manufacturer does the tough part. To use a remote fob, you will only need to push one or two buttons on the device, which the user manual will explain. When using an app fob, you will only need to tap a “start” button, typically.
What is the typical range of a remote key fob?
Most of these tiny device fobs feature a range of 400 to 700 feet. The range reduces when you’re in a commercial area or a parking garage.
How do you prevent vehicle theft while using a remote starter?
Each vehicle built has its own encrypted radio frequency that the RES system uses to start a vehicle is unique to that vehicle. The encryption helps thwart hackers.
As the RES activates when you click the remote fob or app, the security system also ensures that the vehicles’ doors are all locked. This means that the vehicle is completely locked before the engine starts.
When you enter the vehicle, you must use the key to start the car. This thwarts a thief who might gain entry because if they depress the brake the engine shuts off. Only a person with the car’s physical key can start the vehicle.
You can use a car alarm with a RES system. In some cases, you can set up the car alarm to work with the car remote starter app.
How long do you have to reach your vehicle once you remotely start it?
While the systems vary from one manufacturer to the next, most remote start systems provide the driver with 10 to 15 minutes to reach the vehicle after it has started.
Can you remotely turn off the vehicle, too?
Yes. Most of the remote start key fobs and remote start apps provide a kill switch, so you can turn off the vehicle remotely. If you forget something at the office, you can remotely turn off the car and go back for whatever got left.
Can you add remote engine start to a vehicle that didn’t come with it?
You should not try to add an aftermarket remote starter yourself regardless of what any advertisement or packaging states. You can have a professional add RES to your vehicle as an after-market purchase.
This is true even of vehicles that don’t offer RES as a trim option. Hiring a professional mechanic with experience in remote start installation is important though, because the task requires significant wiring experience and ignition system knowledge.
You can choose an aftermarket system that uses a basic key fob system or an advanced system that uses a smartphone app. This option works well if you would like to add RES to an older model vehicle, whether it is a manual transmission or an automatic transmission.
Are there times when you should not or cannot use an RES system?
Yes, RES systems do have limitations and hazards of use. You should know these ahead of time, so you can safely use your remote starter system. RES isn’t designed for:
- use in closed spaces, such as residential garages or parking complexes
- use under a vehicle cover, tarp, or carport
- use in extremely cold temperatures
- use in areas with many physical obstructions between the vehicle and the fob
Even though there is no arctic start, you’ll typically be able to use the RES in normal winter temperatures.
How long does installation of a remote car starter require?
Installing an RES to a vehicle typically requires a half a day of work. Expect to drop off your vehicle and return to it in about four hours. Some systems take a little longer to install. You sometimes may need to leave the vehicle with the mechanic for a day.
What should you take with you when you drop off the vehicle to have remote starter installed?
Your mechanic will need both of the keys you have for your vehicle. You’ll also need to bring any remotes you use for the vehicle.
Some of the newer model vehicles require an interface module that needs both keys present during the installation so they can both get programmed for RES use.
Does installing a remote car starter void the vehicle‘s warranty?
No. The federal government protects you from a manufacturer voiding your warranty because you installed an aftermarket part.
As long as you have it installed properly and by a professional, your vehicle warranty remains intact. If the salesperson argues that, remind them that the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act protects consumers. You can have an aftermarket remote starter installed.
Can you replace a factory key fob with one of greater range?
Yes, your mechanic can install an aftermarket fob that is programmed to work with your RES. You can also add to the security feature options that work with the fob.