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What is a remote engine starter? 

In extreme temperatures, it can feel like your vehicle’s interior is uninhabitable. Whether in the frigid winter months of the Midwest or the blistering heat in the southern states, a remote car starter can be used to condition the vehicle interior before you need to leave so it’s more comfortable when you get inside.

Like the term suggests, a remote engine starter is a device that lets you start the engine from a distance by pressing a button on a remote or, on some varieties, in an app on your smartphone or smart watch. It can be a factory-installed option or an aftermarket kit that’s wired into your car’s electrical system, and prices can range from a basic kit under $60 to several hundred dollars.

Here’s what you need to know about how a remote engine starter works, the benefits, and if it’s something you can install yourself.

How a remote engine starter works 

A common remote starter uses a radio frequency to communicate a command to start the engine when the corresponding button or sequence is pressed on the remote key fob. It’s wired into the electrical system to override the ignition so your engine can start when you aren’t in your vehicle.  

However, most vehicles from the 2000’s to current, and many earlier models too, have an anti-theft system installed that prevents unauthorized starts without a chipped key present at the ignition. The remote engine starter also has a module that mimics the security chip as well, bypassing the requirement for an ignition key

Once it’s started, the remote start runs the engine until a predetermined timer completes, and the engine turns off.  

Types of remote starters 

Not all remote starters are created equal or operate the same way. Generally, there are four categories to consider. 

Factory installed remote starters 

Many carmakers have remote start as a factory-installed option that uses the same key fob as you’d use to lock and unlock the doors. It employs already-existing wiring and electronic modules to perform the remote starting operations. Some carmakers also offer the same systems as dealer-installed options.  

One-way aftermarket remote engine starters 

Aftermarket remote starters are accessories added to your vehicle that require additional wiring, a remote start module, and a separate key fob to control your system. Along with starting your car, it can be wired in and set up to control power door locks too.  

The remote sends the command to your car but does not receive a confirmation back, this the term one-way.  

Two-way aftermarket remote engine starters 

Two-way remote starters are essentially the same system as a one-way in how it’s installed. It performs similar functions, but the major difference is the remote itself. A two-way remotes for car starters have either an LED or a screen that provides feedback from your car after it receives a command. Some systems with an LCD screen on the remote can also display the countdown until the engine will shut off.  

App-controlled remote starter 

Some remote start systems, both from factory and aftermarket, can be controlled by an app as well as the remote. App-based controls are cellular-based and require that the remote start has a network connection to operate. However, it means that the range is no longer limited to a quarter mile or so, but can be controlled wherever the operator and the vehicle both have a cellular connection. 

Benefits of a remote engine starter 

There are plenty of good reasons to consider purchasing and installing a remote starter in your vehicle. 

  • It warms and circulates the engine oil. Driving a car with a cold engine can be hard on it, and a remote start allows the oil to become less viscous and flow better. 
  • It shortens the time to reach operating temperature. When it’s started remotely in extreme weather, the interior can warm or cool to a manageable temperature within a few minutes while you stay comfortable inside. 
  • The windows get cleared. When the windshield is foggy or frosty, remotely starting the engine can clear it before you hop in and drive. 
  • It can trigger other accessories. When you remote start, it’s often possible to have your heated seats or steering wheel come on at the same time.  
  • It can help you find your car in a parking lot. When you press a button, the lights will usually flash as a response to the command.  

How much does a remote car starter cost? 

The price of a remote car starter varies depending on the kit you purchase, whether it’s a one-way or two-way system, and if you are planning on installing it yourself or having a professional take care of it. At the low end, a remote starter system will cost around $60 if you don’t have an anti-theft system in your car. The prices range upward from there to more than $500 for a two-way system that has app control and the security override module.  

Installation can also take a few hours or more, depending on your skill level. Even a professional mechanic will need an hour or more to complete the install.  

Where can you install a remote engine starter on your car? 

If you’re searching for where to get a remote starter installed, it can be tricky. Not all shops will install electrical accessories like remote starters. If you don’t have a mechanic you can trust, let AutoZone help you find qualified professional mechanics through our Shop Referral Program

FAQ/People Also Ask 

Can I install a remote car starter myself?  

It’s possible for a DIYer to install a remote start system if the instructions are followed carefully. You’ll also need equipment for making electrical connections and testing circuits. 

Are remote starters easy to install? 

Remote starters may not be the easiest accessory to do on your own. It takes an understanding of electrical systems and troubleshooting, and a mistake can be frustrating and costly to figure out.  

Can you add a remote starter to any car? 

Not all remote start systems can be installed on every vehicle. You should always confirm compatibility before attempting an install. 

How much does it cost to install a remote engine starter? 

Installation for a remote engine start system will range from around $50 for the most basic systems to more than $200 for advanced systems. 

Are remote starters worth it? 

If you live in an area where your car’s interior gets uncomfortable before you get in it, there’s a great chance you’ll find a remote starter worthwhile. 

What is the difference between a 1 way and 2 way remote car starter? 

Two-way remote start systems send commands to your vehicle and receive a confirmation to the remote, whereas a one-way system only sends the command to your car without a confirmation. 

Can remote starter cause electrical problems? 

Most systems today are dependable. Electrical problems typically originate from a poor installation. 

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

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