How Does a Remote Start System Work?

By Stephen Lilley

How Does a Remote Start System Work?


A remote keyless ignition system, or "remote start system," is a fairly complex system designed to start a car without the driving actually having to physically go to the car and turn on the engine. This has a variety of benefits, the main being that it allows a person to start their car and have it warm itself up without leaving their house.

The user controls the remote start system via a tiny remote, not unlike the remotes many drivers have to activate and deactivate their car alarms. The remote sends a very specific signal to installed pieces of equipment inside the car. This frequency is generally encrypted, which prevents someone from figuring it out and sending an identical frequency and starting your car remotely without your authorization.

Engine Ignition

The actual remote starter is a small piece of equipment that is installed in the car itself. This is the box that, when it receives the signal from the user's remote control, switches on the appropriate systems. The box must be connected to the ignition switch, the power wire, the ignition wire, the starter wire, the brake wire, the car's ground wire, and the tachometer wire. This sounds complicated, but all these wires are easily identifiable and are typically found in the exact same spot in the car.

When the starter receives the signal from the remote, it switches on all these systems. It allows the engine to start, which allows preset settings like heat to come on and begin to work. It also locks the doors, and typically blinks the lights for visual confirmation that it is working.

Preventing Theft

A common misconception with remote car starters is that they invite thieves to steal running cars that are unattended. This is not so. A variety of failsafe devices prevent this from happening. For starters, the first thing a remote starter does is lock all the car doors. Secondly, as there is no key in the ignition, it is impossible to shift gears on the car to take it from "park" to "drive." Thirdly, the second someone presses on the break pedal without the key in the ignition, the remote starter shuts the engine off. A tamper switch is also placed under the hood of the car, shutting down the engine if someone opens the hood after the car has been remote started. All of these ensure that nobody but the car owner will be able to drive it after it has been started via remote control.