Text by Heather Armstrong
You’ve slept in, you’re already late for work, there’s no time to go out and start the car, and it’s cold, very cold. What’s missing from this picture? Besides the obvious answer of a better alarm clock, it could be a remote starter.
Remote starters can mean less wear and tear on your vehicle and a warmer or cooler vehicle interior when it’s time to set off on your journey.
When remote starters were first introduced you might have been able to install the system yourself or with the help of a handy relative or neighbor. However, newer vehicles, which feature complex computerized electronics and built-in anti-theft devices, require professional installation. Splicing into the wrong wire could not only blow electronic components damaging the vehicle but also put your safety at risk if incorrect wiring compromises the safe running of the vehicle.
If you are purchasing a new vehicle and would like a remote starting system you may want to consider having it factory installed.
For older vehicles or after-market installations, if your trusted mechanic isn’t interested in the job (mine wasn’t – he says he has un-installed lots of systems just to get a vehicle working), he or she can point you in the right direction. The key is to find authorized installers of the remote system you are interested in purchasing. Names like Astrostart, Compustart and the more familiar Command Start systems can generally be found in the audio electronics section of major electronics stores. Ask to talk to a specialist or look up information on-line about the variety of systems available. You will note that warranties are usually void if systems aren’t installed by authorized dealers.
Today’s remote starter systems range in cost from $200 for a system requiring basic installation to $1,000 for a more complex installation. The more complex the system and vehicle: the higher the price. At the high end of the price range are two-way paging systems that report back to you when your vehicle is running. These systems are rated for up to 5,000 feet, but, generally provide a range of 2-3,000 feet if there are any obstacles between the remote and the vehicle. Vehicles that are already equipped with anti-theft features, such as the Manitoba Public Insurance Immobilizer, have to be interfaced with special chips or accessory modules that allow the remote starter to work without compromising the vehicle’s security system.
Today’s remote starting systems have security and safety features built in. Anyone entering the vehicle must insert the ignition key and turn the ignition to on, or the engine shuts off as soon as they touch the brake or if the engine revs over 3,000 RPM. Most systems will also shut down the engine if the hood is opened and after a selected run time, generally 15 minutes, is reached. A master on/off switch can be used to disable the system when your vehicle needs to be serviced. Even if someone gains control of your remote, they can’t operate the vehicle unless they also have the key. Once a new remote is programmed into the system, the old remote can no longer be used to start or unlock the vehicle.
The main considerations when choosing the best option for your vehicle are: the range or distance you will need to start your vehicle from and whether the vehicle already includes an anti-theft system.
Other features to consider include: a user controlled cold start timer, programmable run times, anti-grind (i.e. you can’t accidentally grind the motor when you insert the key after the vehicle has been remote started), keyless entry, driver door priority (just the driver door opens when keyless entry is used), 2 way paging, an included security system, or, vehicle security interface options to ensure the continued safe operation of vehicles already equipped with security features.
If you start having problems with a remote system that worked fine previously, manufacturers usually have trouble shooting advice included in instruction manuals or on-line.
For example, if your vehicle no longer responds when you depress the remote button (engine cranking or signal light flashing) verify that the remote is actively sending a start signal (LED flashing). If the LED is no longer flashing, try changing the batteries in the remote. If the remote LED is flashing make certain that the wire leading to the receiver (antenna) is in good working order. Usually when a system no longer responds it is because of either a remote or receiver problem. If both test as functioning then there could be a more serious problem that will require servicing by an authorized installer. Burnt out fuses or newly installed anti-theft features that are being improperly bypassed are other common problems. The best and safest advice is to contact an authorized installer.