How Remote Car Starters Work

During the blazing hot dog-days of summer, or the bone-chilling cold of winter, remote car starters work wonders for making your car comfortable. Without one, in the winter you have to bundle up to rush outside into the arctic blast of a cold-winter day, fumble with your keys as your hands go numb to unlock your door, and try to pry open your frozen door. Your teeth chatter as you start your car, then you rush back inside where it’s warm while you wait for the car to warm up. But if you have installed a remote car starter, you push a button from inside where it is warm and cozy, and wait in comfort till you are ready to get into a warm, defrosted vehicle. But how do remote car starters work?

Remote car starters bypass the ignition switch, essentially allowing a control unit to “hotwire” the car to start by remote control. Several components must be installed and work together to make this possible.

The common components in remote car starters are:

  • Transmitters- the key fobs that have the remote buttons.
  • Receiver- the control unit that is installed in the car, generally under the dashboard.
  • Relay set- controlled by the receiver, to handle the connections to bypass the ignition switch.
  • Hood Safety Switch: If the hood is open, the remote car starter is disabled to prevent injury when someone is working or checking fluids.
  • Wiring Components: Fuses, wiring connectors, antennas, zip ties, and other installation items.

Also, for many modern cars with anti-theft, you must purchase a separate kit specific to your make and model of car to bypass the anti-theft feature that prevents your car from starting if it were “hotwired”.

As a safety feature, remote starters cannot be installed in manual transmission vehicles. There’s not a reliable way for the control unit to verify the vehicle is not in gear. The last thing you’d want is to try to start your vehicle, and watch it take off with no one driving.

The transmitter is a miniature radio device that transmits an encoded signal telling the car to start. The antenna installed inside the car receives the signal, and carries it to the control unit. The control unit compares the encoded signal and verifies that the signal is from you. You wouldn’t want a thief or a neighbor to be able to start your vehicle! Once the signal is verified, the control unit blinks the parking lights on your car so that you can see the command was received.

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