For anyone living in an area where heated seats or air conditioning is a must-have feature, remote engine start (RES) should be on their “gotta have it” list. Why? Because it allows you to start your car’s engine from inside your home, office, or other location within range of your key fob.
Being able to warm up a car’s engine in frigid temperatures remotely comes in handy. However, the real benefit lies in warming the car’s cabin on bitter-cold days and cooling it down on hot ones.
What is Remote Start?
Remote start is a function of your car’s key fob. The feature allows you to start the engine from outside the vehicle, provided the fob is within operating range. Not only can it start the engine, but in doing so, it engages the vehicle’s climate control. Therefore, it can warm up the cabin when it’s cold outside or cool the interior when the temperature is hot. Some RES systems allow your smartphone to act as the transmitter. This functionality may require a paid subscription service through the car manufacturer.
How Does it Work?
Typical drivers only need to know which button on the fob to push and how long to hold it down. Otherwise, as far as you are concerned, the rest might as well be magic. However, if your inner geek is screaming for some details, read on.
Although operating the RES is quite simple, getting the desired result is rather complex. A control module or receiver is required to capture and translate the fob’s signal. It requires proper wiring into the vehicle’s ignition and starter mechanisms. Moreover, it requires connections to the vehicle’s battery, brake, and tachometer wires. Another RES requirement is a bypass module to initiate the start without setting off any vehicle alarms or anti-theft protections.
RES operates over the same radio frequencies as your fob’s remote lock/unlock function. Whether through a separate button on the fob or some manipulation of the lock or unlock button, the fob signals the RES control module. Once the control module receives the appropriate signal, it initiates the start sequence as though a key was engaging the ignition.
Remote Start in Extreme Temperatures
Remote start is one of those convenience features that doesn’t help your car operate more safely or efficiently but does enhance the passenger experience. Let’s face it: Having the cabin temperature exactly where you want it every time you enter your car is convenient. However, remote start shines its brightest in outrageously cold or hot temperatures. In other words, on those tongue-stuck-to-the-flagpole or fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk days.
Remote Start in Cold Weather
You can appreciate remote car starting if you’ve ever entered your vehicle on a frigid morning and had to drive five miles before the heater finally kicks in. It allows the climate system to circulate warm air into the car, making it toasty when you are ready to go. However, remote start benefits in other ways, too.
You never feel the need to leave your car running with the key or fob in it, inviting theft.
A heated cabin brings windshield and window glass heating, making snow and ice removal easier.
Driving a car with a cold engine adds extra wear and tear to engine components. Allowing the fluids to warm up a bit before driving reduces stress on many engine components.
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Remote Start in Hot Weather
Entering your vehicle on a super-hot day is like climbing into an oven. That’s literally, not figuratively. As the motionless air in your car heats up, the interior temperature can be 20-30 degrees hotter than the ambient outside temperature. Remotely starting your vehicle lets the climate control re-establish a comfortable temperature level. There are other advantages of remote start on a steamy day:
You don’t need to roll down the windows to let the car “air out” before driving it.
Surfaces like the steering wheel and leather or vinyl seats don’t burn you.
Running the engine for a few minutes before driving allows the fluids to warm, lubricating the engine and causing less wear on the engine components.
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Is Remote Start Safe?
The sad truth is just about any digitally connected device is hackable. However, every RES system uses a separate and unique radio frequency, which is usually encrypted to defeat hacking. In turn, the RES system has its own security protocol. Typically, it includes securing the doors when the RES is engaged to prevent a third party from entering the vehicle without the appropriate key fob. Furthermore, the RES system will shut itself down if a third party gains entry and attempts to drive the car.
Most RES systems are programmed to shut the engine down after a preset amount of time if the operator with a valid key fob doesn’t enter the car. This function is convenient if you become distracted after remote starting the car and forget it is sitting somewhere with the engine running.
Of course, drivers should follow some best-safety practices. For example, do not engage the RES when the vehicle is in a small, enclosed space, such as an attached garage.
Which New Cars, Trucks, and SUVs Have Remote Start?
Usually, vehicles equipped with a manual transmission do not offer RES. Likewise, fully electric vehicles (EVs) don’t have remote start systems. However, most EVs have available or standard remote climate control to warm or cool the cabin before entering.
RES is standard or available on nearly every luxury model.
Most mainstream carmakers have models for sale with remote start functionality at some trim level. You are less likely to find RES on the lower grades of entry-level models. But even the $18,590 Nissan Versa SR has it. Here’s a rundown of mainstream brands with remote start features:
Buick: Every 2022 model has it available.
Chevrolet: Every 2022 model has it available.
Chrysler: Both 2022 models have it available.
Dodge: All 2022 models have it available.
Ford: It’s available on all 2022 models.
GMC: All 2022 models have it available.
Honda: Accord, Civic, CR-V, Insight, Odyssey, Pilot, and Ridgeline.
Jeep: Every 2022 model has it available.
Kia: All 2022 models have it available.
Mazda: Only offers RES through a connected services subscription.
Mitsubishi: Outlander and Eclipse Cross require a connected services subscription.
Nissan: All 2022 models have it available, except the 370Z and GT-R.
Ram: Every 2022 Ram model has it standard.
Subaru: Every 2022 model has remote start available. The BRZ requires a connected services subscription.
Toyota: Only offers RES through a connected services subscription.
Volkswagen: All 2022 models offer remote start, except the Golf R. The Golf GTI requires a connected services subscription.
Can You Add Remote Start to Your Current Car?
Used cars built this century (2000 or later) likely have manufacturer-made RES kits available through a local dealer’s parts department. So, if RES was available on your model when new, buying the factory kit is the way to go.
Alternatively, there are many aftermarket kits on the market. One advantage of an aftermarket RES system is its range. Often, these kits can transmit signals farther than the typical factory-installed system in new cars. Those rarely have a range beyond 100 feet or so. An aftermarket system usually can reach 1,000 feet or more, and some kits estimate their reach in miles.
You’ll find choices ranging from about $50 for a basic kit to $600-plus for more sophisticated systems.
Intrepid backyard mechanics or people experienced with electrical wiring diagrams may be able to install an RES. However, modifying your vehicle’s electrical system is a significant undertaking. Our advice is to have a professional install it. Installation costs will average around $200, but it depends on the sophistication of the RES system. Some retailers like Best Buy and Walmart sell and install RES systems. A retailer offering installation might be an affordable alternative to doing the work yourself.
Is Remote Start Worth It?
What determines the worth of anything is how much you are willing to pay for it. In other words, how much value does it hold for you? If you live in San Diego, California, where it seems to be 70 degrees Fahrenheit all day long every day of the year, you probably won’t find much value in RES.
On the other hand, residents of Mesa, Arizona, will appreciate running the air conditioning before entering the car because of consistently high temperatures. Likewise, it’s desirable to run the heater and defroster for a few minutes before getting behind the wheel in bitterly cold winter temperatures in Minot, North Dakota.
Chances are, you don’t live in either of these extremes. However, the hotter and colder the temperatures are where you live, the more value you’ll receive from a remote engine start system.