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When it’s cold out, the last thing you probably want to do is trudge through bitter wind, snow, or rain to warm up your car. And when it’s hot, chances are high that you don’t relish the thought of climbing into a sticky vehicle with burning metal seat belts. With the help of a remote car starter, you can turn on your car’s AC, heat, window defrosters, or whatever you need — all from the comfort of your home.
But a cozy driving climate isn’t the only benefit of owning a remote car starter. With this device, you can control your vehicle’s system via a smartphone app. You can enhance the efficiency of your vehicle by warming the engine properly before driving. And if you lose your car in a parking lot, a remote car starter can help you find it.
At BestReviews, we want to help you find the best remote car starter for your needs. To ensure that our product recommendations and reviews remain free from bias, we never accept complimentary “samples” from manufacturers.
At the top of this page, you’ll find descriptions of five of our favorite remote car starters based on hours of product research. If you’d like to learn more about remote car starters and what they have to offer, please continue reading this shopping guide.
A remote car starter allows you to start your vehicle from a distance. You don’t have to climb inside and turn a key.
To use this technology, a wireless starting device will be installed in your car. The starting device is equipped with a radio receiver that allows it to receive signals wirelessly.
Some also have a transmitter, allowing for two-way communication. You start the car with a button on a key fob from up to several hundred feet away. The key fob sends a signal via RF (radio frequency) technology.
Or you can use a smartphone app to start the vehicle, transmitting over a cell signal.
Remote car starters offer features beyond simply starting the vehicle.
Some remote starters automatically lock the doors when you remotely start the vehicle. Others require you to press a button to lock the car before you can engage the remote starter.
Even with the remote starter activated, the car may not drive until you insert a key. Alternatively, you may need to have the key fob on your person and press the car’s start button to begin driving. This is a precaution to prevent someone from stealing the running car.
Costs for installing remote car starters on newer vehicles typically are higher than for older models.
A vehicle will typically run for 5 to 15 minutes after you press the remote button. If you don’t enter the vehicle and start driving within that time, the car will shut down. Some vehicles allow you to set the time period before shutdown. Others use a preset time period that you cannot change.
Some remote starter setups can send and receive information about the car, such as the current interior temperature. Normally, this type of feature would be monitored through a smartphone app linked to the remote starter.
It’s possible to install a remote car starter on your own, but it is tricky. Having experience working on vehicles is helpful.
When you install a remote starter, other features will often be available. You may pay a little extra to have some of these features.
Manufacturers also offer car remote starters with no extra features, usually at a lower price.
When seeking a professional installer, look for one that is MECP-certified.
You typically have two options for installing a remote starter.
Some auto manufacturers include remote starters when the vehicle is built. This change occurred in the market within the past few years.
Some remote car starters are aftermarket products. This means you purchase a remote starter from a physical or ecommerce store. The unit is then installed in your vehicle.
Car manufacturers cannot void your vehicle warranty for installing an aftermarket remote car starter. However, if damage occurs to the car during installation, it will not be covered under warranty.
Understand that some new vehicles with significant anti-theft features cannot accommodate aftermarket starters. In that case, you’re limited to an OEM device.
Before you purchase a remote starter in the aftermarket, make sure it’s compatible with your vehicle model. Most cars are compatible, but if you have a new vehicle, it’s worth double-checking compatibility.
Additionally, the installation process for a remote starter can be tricky, even for experienced installers. Each vehicle model is a little different, which further complicates matters. Without proper installation, the starter will not work or may work sporadically. Or worse, the vehicle could sustain damage.
You’ll find three types of key fobs available in the remote car starter market.
A one-way remote car starter is the cheapest option. It only sends signals from the remote key fob to the starter receiver installed in the car. This is the most basic type of remote starter and may only have one button. Even if the one-way remote has more than one button, it won’t receive information from the car.
If you pay to have a remote car starter installed, be sure to ask about warranty guarantees. Without proper installation, these units can have sporadic performance results.
A two-way remote key fob sends signals to the receiver but also receives information from the vehicle, keeping you updated on which functions are active. A two-way remote may use LED indicator lights to provide updates, or it may display messages on a screen. These units are pricier than one-way remotes.
Newer remote car starters may give you an option beyond the remote hardware key fob. Instead, you control the system through a smartphone app. The app communicates with your vehicle via cellular signal. You may need to pay a monthly or annual fee to provide cell service for the receiver installed in the vehicle.
Some of the best brands of remote starters are: Audiovox, AutoPage, Avital, Bulldog, Clifford, Directed Electronics, Python, and Viper.
If you select a one- or two-way fob, seek a professional installer who can give you one remote control unit.
In other words, the installer should be able to move all functions of the original key fob (such as locking the door or opening the trunk) onto the remote starter fob.
Alternatively, you may be able to install the remote starter functions onto your current vehicle key fob.
If you have a newer vehicle, it likely will require two keys to allow for a remote car starter installation.
You’ll find a wide range of costs for a remote car starter. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering how much to pay.
Some units are available for as little as $30. Others cost $300 or more. The more you spend, the more features you should receive. For example, if you want a remote car starter with an alarm function, you’ll pay more. A one-way starter should cost less than a two-way starter.
Before you pay someone to install a remote starter, obtain a cost estimate. Ask whether this is a total installed price or whether extra parts may be required at a separate cost.
Expect a starter unit for a newer vehicle to approach the upper end of the price range. It costs more to incorporate the newer anti-theft features of these vehicles.
Depending on the vehicle model, installation of a remote car starter can take up to several hours.
Don’t forget about installation! You could certainly try to do this yourself to save some money, but it’s not easy. In fact, some mechanics refuse to install car starters because of the difficulty involved.
You may wish to seek a certified installer to do the work. Expect installation to run from $50 to $75 per hour, and be advised that it can take one to four hours.
Q. Are there times I won’t be able to use the remote starter?
A. Remote car starters should work in most types of weather. However, your remote starter may not work in the following situations:
Certain car anti-theft systems are active
The hood is raised
The transmission is not in park
The battery charge is low
The Check Engine light is on
(Usually the last two apply only to OEM-installed remote car starters.)
Q. What affects the range of a remote car starter?
A. Some remote car starters claim a working distance of a few thousand feet. However, you’ll rarely experience this type of working distance. Real-world conditions yield a much shorter working distance — usually a few hundred feet.
If you are inside a building, you can expect to lose up to 50% or 75% of the quoted working distance. Buildings with significant electrical interference can further inhibit the range of the unit.
Q. Are any kinds of vehicles not appropriate for remote car starters?
A. The majority of remote car starters are aimed at automatic transmission vehicles, but you can find remote starters that work with manual transmission vehicles. You just have to find the right remote starter, and it may require some extra parts. The same goes for a diesel engine vehicle. Specific remote starters are made for diesel vehicles, but they may need extra parts. Notably, installation on these vehicles can be tougher than on other vehicles.
Q. Can I save money by installing a remote car starter myself?
A. Although it is possible to install a remote car starter on your own, it’s a difficult process. You will need some working knowledge of auto repair and parts installation. And because you’re working with the electrical system of a car, it can be a dangerous process. You could cause significant damage to the electrical system if you make a mistake.
It’s also more difficult to perform the installation on a newer model than an older model of vehicle. Only undertake this task after careful consideration of the potential risks.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.