What is Remote Engine Start in a Car?

Jessica Shea Choksey | Oct 18, 2021

Those with the remote engine start (RES) feature for their vehicle will tell you it's a joy to have, especially in very hot or frigid weather. This king of all convenience features allows a car owner to start their vehicle from inside their home, office, or virtually anywhere, allowing it to either warm up or cool down automatically. And in wintry conditions, not only can a driver ease into their warm car without the discomfort of sitting in frigid temperatures, but RES also eliminates the need to wait for the engine to heat up; the vehicle's owner can drive off without any delay.

Remote Engine Start RES

How to Use Remote Start

Although remote start technology is complicated from a mechanical perspective, it is effortless and straightforward from the user's standpoint. It generally requires either one or two pushes of a button on a key fob or a 'start' command on a smartphone app. In both cases, the vehicle needs to be within a specific distance for the system to operate.

With a key fob, RES may have a range of operation anywhere from 400-700 feet, easily encompassing a driveway or a curb in front of a typical home. But for those who live in apartments or work in commercial office space, their car may be well out of the system's range or in a separate structure altogether. In these cases, a smartphone-based remote start app will work best, allowing a range of up to one mile, and in some cases, even further.

When the driver presses the button on the remote start key fob, it sends a signal to the ignition system in the car to start the vehicle. In addition to starting the engine, this signal also activates any heating, cooling, or other functions the driver may have switched on ahead of time. However, a smartphone app goes one step further and gives the owner control over specific features in the car—such as climate—and the ability to make adjustments in real-time remotely.

Theft Prevention and Security

The radiofrequency used to start a vehicle is unique to that vehicle. It is usually encrypted, so a would-be thief cannot hack it. The remote start system locks a vehicle's doors once the engine starts so that no one can enter. If someone does get into the vehicle and depress the brake pedal to put the car in gear, the system will shut down the engine.

A vehicle can only drive when the owner enters with the key on their person. At that point, they can put the car in gear and drive off.

With most remote start systems, the engine will shut off if the driver does not arrive and get in the car within 10-15 minutes of having been started. And if the driver changes their mind, most key fobs and smartphone apps have a "kill switch" to turn the vehicle off.

Acquiring Remote Engine Start

Remote engine start is available on many vehicles as a standard or available feature. Cars that offer more advanced telematics and connectivity will generally have remote start as a smartphone app-based feature.

Remote start can also be an after-market purchase. An owner can buy and install a remote start system on their own. Basic remote start systems will offer key fobs, while more sophisticated systems will incorporate smartphone functionality. In either case, the physical install can be somewhat intricate and tedious. Without wiring experience and baseline knowledge of how an ignition system works, self-installation could be challenging.

For those who want it done right the first time, professional installation may be the best choice. Yes, it will cost more than a DIY approach, but it buys the car owner the peace of mind that the system will operate correctly.

Warnings and Watchouts

A vehicle owner should be aware of certain limitations and hazards of RES:

  • Do not start a vehicle that is in closed space such as a residential garage
  • Do not start a vehicle that is under a vehicle cover
  • Remote engine start may not work in extremely cold temperatures
  • In some cases, if there are physical obstructions between the owner and the vehicle, the owner may have to move to another location to operate the system


Some might call remote engine start the automotive equivalent of a magic trick. Although it may appear, at first, to be an over-the-top convenience feature, this innovative functionality can serve as a significant aid to a vehicle owner's daily routine, especially in hot and cold climates.

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