Getting into your car on a very cold or very hot day can be a truly unpleasant experience. Depending on your car's capabilities and the weather, it might take several minutes for the temperature to reach a comfortable level. If you find yourself making a short drive -- like to the grocery store, for instance -- then you might not reach that ideal temperature during the course of your ride. That applies to the ride back, too.
Using a remote car starter lets you circumvent that inconvenience. If you turn your car on before you get inside, you can allow the air conditioning or the heat to run long enough to bring your car to a pleasant temperature before you even get inside. Just brave the elements until you reach your vehicle, then you'll find a cool (or warm) oasis behind the steering wheel.
Of course, setting a comfortable temperature isn't the only advantage to getting a remote car starter system. Purchasing and installing a device that lets you turn your car on from a distance offers many benefits, like increased security and the ability to melt snow and ice with a defroster. Let's take a look at the best remote car starters on the market, based on expert selections and customer reviews. And make sure to read on after that for pro tips on picking the right system and remote starter installation.
Viper is one of the most trusted names in automotive accessories, so it's no surprise that one of their devices offers the best overall remote car starting experience. The Viper 5706V lets you turn your car on and off at a range of up to one mile, and the two-way key fob receives a signal in return that tells you that your car has started.
That's just scratching the surface of what the device does, though. The Viper 5706V's key fob has an LCD display that offers status information regarding your vehicle, such as an internal temperature reading (under Active Temp Check mode) that helps you decide if it's time to get in, or if you need it to get a little cooler (or warmer). Don't worry about forgetting about your running car, either -- the engine will shut off automatically, but you'll get a reminder alert three minutes before it does.
The Viper 5706V is also a full security system, with a shock sensor that activates if anything happens to your vehicle. This causes an alarm to sound, but also sends an alert to your remote control notifying you of the sensor's activation.
Having a remote starter system installed can be expensive (more on that later), so you may want to save some money on the device itself. You also may decide you simply don't need so many of the options and features that pricier models offer. In that case, the Avital 4105L car remote starter is an ideal choice.
The Avital 4105L offers remote start capabilities at a distance of up 1,500 feet, and while the one-way starter won't confirm that your car has been turned on, you'll get two identical key fobs that connect to the starting device. Using these fobs, you can turn on your vehicle, lock it, unlock it, and pop the trunk.
The device is one of the most popular complete automatic car starter systems on Amazon, with an overall rating of 4.2 stars out of five. Satisfied customers cite its ease of use and straightforward list of options as positives.
Today, many high-end remote car starting systems have smartphone connectivity with dedicated apps that allow users to get information about (and control) their cars using their phones. Typically, these require a monthly fee, but they can offer unique features that standard key fobs cannot.
The Viper VSM550 SmartStart Pro is one such system, although take note -- it's not a fully functional remote car starter. It's an accessory that works with an existing starter to provide app support that enhances the starter's capabilities. The app itself provides GPS and monitoring information, and can work with multiple cars (if each has its own control module).
Perhaps the app's handiest feature, though (and the one that gives the device victory in two of our categories), is the satellite-enabled remote start. By tying the remote starter to a GPS, users can start their cars from "virtually anywhere" -- there's no maximum remote transmitter range to worry about. If you routinely need to start your car from more than a mile away, this feature is a game changer.
Some remote car starters can be set to a state known as "valet mode." When a car is in valet mode, the remote start feature is turned off. The key fob can generally still be used for keyless entry to lock and unlock the doors, but an actual key is necessary to start the vehicle itself. Many drivers prefer valet mode when their car is being used by an automotive professional -- hence the name.
The Avital 5105L model is a step up from the remote start system that ranked as our best budget device, and has a valet mode designed to limit its capabilities at your discretion. The key fob itself is similar to the 4105L's, with distinct buttons for remote start, lock, unlock and trunk release.
Avital describes the 5105L as the brand's best one-way start system, so if you want a step up from the 4105L -- and you're looking for a device that offers valet mode -- the 5105L may be the ideal choice for you.
Let's keep our serpents straight -- while Viper is a leading name in car accessories, Python (also a Directed Electronics brand) is no slouch, either. The Python 4806P has a complete security system, with the company's Stinger DoubleGuard Shock Sensor serving as its backbone. The device has an integrated alarm system with a siren, as well as horn honk and light flash features. Data from the shock sensor is transmitted to the key fob.
The fob itself, like the one that comes with the Viper 4806V, can start your vehicle at a range of up to one mile. It also has LEDs and a four-button interface designed to provide user data as well as starting and keyless entry capabilities. Plus, if you want an additional upgrade, the Python 4806P alarm is compatible with the SmartStart device and app.
It may sound obvious, but it's worth mentioning that remote car starters work by turning on vehicles' engines. Different kinds of engines will have different remote starting requirements, so if you've got a vehicle with a diesel engine, you'll need a starter system that's specifically designed to be compatible with them.
The Compustar CS8900-AS-BL is a two-way model that's explicitly safe to use with diesel engines (which doesn't mean that it can only be used with diesel engines). It offers a one-mile range, a backup one-way remote fob, and visual and audio confirmation that data is sent successfully.
Currently, the CS8900-AS-BL has 4.7 stars out of five on Amazon, speaking to the device's overall level of customer satisfaction.
Comparison of the best remote car starters
|Best remote car starter overall/Best remote car starter for checking temperature||Viper||5706V||2-Way||One mile||$270|
|Best remote car starter on a budget||Avital||4105L||1-Way||1,500 feet||$53|
|Best remote car starter with smartphone app supporter/Longest-range remote car starter||Viper||VMS550 SmartStart Pro||2-Way||Unlimited||$140|
|Best remote car starter with valet mode||Avital||5105L||1-Way||1,500 feet||$96|
|Best remote car starter for security||Python||4806P||2-Way||One mile||$188|
|Best remote car starter for diesel engines||Compustar||CS8900-AS-BL||2-Way||3,000 feet||$247|
What you need to know about remote car starters
The first thing you need to know if you're interested in a remote car starter for your vehicle is if it's compatible with one. Most aftermarket starters can be installed in most automatic transmission vehicles -- even older ones -- but it pays to check with the manufacturer of the starter in which you're interested (or the retailer selling it to you) before you purchase.
One notable exception to vehicle compatibility involves manual transmissions. Vehicles with manual transmissions can't be purchased with remote starters, but some aftermarket brands advertise compatibility with these automobiles. Just because it's possible, though, doesn't make it a good idea: Using a remote starter with a manual-transmission car presents potential safety issues. For this reason, installing remote starters in manual-transmission vehicles is not encouraged, and some installation centers will refuse to do it.
"Although it is possible to install a remote starter on a vehicle with manual transmission, I would never recommend doing it," says Alex Manos, CEO and owner of Beverly Hills Car Club. Manos is an expert on classic European cars, and his company is one of the largest classic car dealerships in North America. "The reason is that even with better systems that have built-in fail-safes, the car could try to start if you left it in gear. The vehicle can move forward and hit an object in front of it. So for safety and liability reasons, I am against installing remote starters in cars with manual transmissions."
It's also important to note that not all remote starters have the same capabilities. "One-way" models simply send a signal to your vehicle to start -- but if the signal is obstructed or the car engine can't start for another reason, you won't find out about it until you get there. "Two-way" starters send a signal back to your remote control confirming that the car engine has started. Some starters also offer security features, like car alarm systems and the ability to lock or unlock your doors.
Your remote start system is also limited by your vehicle's capabilities. In some cars, if you want to moderate the temperature, you'll need to leave the heat or air conditioning turned on before you shut your vehicle. Vehicles that have climate control capabilities, however, will start adjusting the temperature automatically based on the outside temperature, just as they would if turned on from inside.
One of the areas in which remote car starters differ is in their working range, and there's a huge variety between models. Some cars come with remote starters from the factory, but these typically have low ranges of. Meanwhile, there are aftermarket remote start options with ranges of up to a mile.
While 30 to 40 feet may sound sufficient when your car is parked in your driveway and you're on the couch, it's not always that simple. If you're at a shopping mall on a hot day, you may want to turn the car (and the air conditioner) on before you get outside -- which could mean you'll be well over a thousand feet away on a crowded day. Plus, obstructions cut down your existing range -- when you're inside a commercial building, you're likely to lose 75% to 80% of your range.
Many drivers have concerns about how remote car starters will affect their vehicles, but these are largely unfounded. For one thing, a properly installed starter will not void your warranty. By federal law, aftermarket installations do not void vehicles' warranties. Additionally, properly installed starters won't damage your engine. Starters do drain from your battery in order to be able to function, but so do all electrical car accessories. The fact is that installing a remote car starter can actually increase your vehicle's value.
Finally, it's important to use your remote starter safely, which means paying attention to where (and for how long) your car engine is left idling. If your car is parked in a garage and you start it remotely, dangerous fumes will be trapped in an enclosed area (such as your house, if it's an attached garage). Some states also have laws against idling, even in open spaces, in order to protect air quality. Make sure that you are familiar with safety regulations before using a remote starter.
Remote car starter installation
With most automotive accessories, the installation of a remote car starter comes down to a simple question: Do you want the convenience of having a professional do it for you, or would you rather save some money and do it yourself? With remote car starters, the situation is a bit different.
Remote starter installation can be a very complicated procedure, and seeking help from a professional with automotive electrical experience (as opposed to a mechanic) is typically the best course of action. Some dealerships will install them for you.
"It's a common practice [for a dealership] to install a remote starter if requested," says Richard Reina, product training director for CARiD. Reina has spent 30 years working in the automotive industry in sales, engineering and mechanics. "If the factory remote starter is available, I recommend it over an aftermarket version. However, you can also ask if there's a choice between a factory remote and an aftermarket remote: compare prices based on both parts and labor, and don't forget to ask about the warranty for each. However, be aware that on modern cars, an aftermarket remote starter requires obtaining a spare key which must be hidden in the car as part of the install. That's the only way the remote can start the car, because the ignition must be able to communicate with the transponder in the key."
Some starters need a good deal of wiring and rewiring in order to work, while others may require a bypass module to allow your vehicle's computer to recognize the starter as a spare key. Trying to perform these tasks by yourself isn't just difficult, it could also present an electrocution hazard.
"In the long run, [installing your starter yourself] can cost more than paying a professional to install it," says Manos. "If you misidentify the correct circuit, you can cause significant damage to the electrical components of the car. These electrical mistakes can void your car's warranty and will cost you a lot in repairs."
Of course, installation isn't cheap, and the fees from the job may even outweigh the cost of the starting device itself -- remote car starter installation averages between $150 and $500. The good news is that it's a relatively quick job, one which can be done in three hours.
If you have experience working with electronics and you're set on installing your own starter, you'll want to make sure it's compatible with your vehicle and that all necessary accessories are included (such as a bypass module, for instance). Bulldog Security offers wiring information for a vast selection of vehicle makes and models, all free to view. You'll want to consult the appropriate page for your vehicle, then refer to any instructional information that came with your remote starter kit. If none was included and the manufacturer suggests hiring a professional to do the installation, then that is the best course of action.
Five things you need to know before you get a remote car starter
- Does your vehicle have an automatic or a manual transmission? If it has a manual transmission, a remote car starter is not recommended, as it is not possible to wire it to work completely safely.
- What are the laws regarding idling in your state? Some states have laws against unnecessary engine idling, which means that using a remote car starter might be difficult or even impossible. Make sure to get a thorough understanding of local regulations before purchasing a remote start system.
- How long do you need your remote car starter's range to be? Shorter ranges may be fine for starting your car on your driveway, but when in crowded places a longer one might be beneficial. Keep in mind ranges given are maximums, with interference cutting down the numbers.
- Do you want a one-way or a two-way remote starter? A two-way starter sends a signal back to your key fob that confirms that the car has started, which can be invaluable on a very cold or hot day. However, they also tend to be more expensive.
- How are you planning on having your remote starter installed? Are you getting it done at the dealership or will you go to a dedicated installation professional. Remember, self-installation is NOT recommended unless you have dedicated electronics expertise.
Written by Scott Fried for Roadshow.
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