Tell me about remote starters for cars.
February 10, 2008 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about remote starters for cars.

I'm thinking of getting a remote starter for my older saturn, but honestly dont know much about them other than marketing claims. Can some remote starter owners tell me about cost, installation, everyday usage, things to watch out for, etc? It sounds like such a tempting toy, especially in the winter. The car is an automatic and has a factory alarm.

The only catch here is that I park on the street so the radio on this device has to be good enough to start the car from 100' or so. I usually get a space in front of my building but not always.
posted by damn dirty ape to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have one that came installed in my Malibu. I've used it a few times, but yeah, what it does mostly is waste gas without too much real benefit. Unless you live someplace with an actual winter, I'm not sure why anybody'd want one.
posted by the dief at 4:24 AM on February 11, 2008

They may be prone to the same problems as a remote key, see this thread on problems with a remote key not working.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 4:32 AM on February 11, 2008

Aftermarket remote-starters cost about $250-400, installed. At the low end, you'll have to turn off your alarm, because the remote-start will set it off, and you'll have to use a key to unlock the door. Pay more, and those are not problems. The one I have has a powerful transmitter - it can start the car from an office in the middle of the second floor of a steel-and-concrete building. Mine is a lower-cost one. It can start the car and run it for 15 minutes automatically when the temperature drops below some preset number. (I don't remember what number, because I don't use that feature.) Normally, it runs the engine for 15 minutes, or until you touch the brake pedal. That last prevents someone jumping in the car and driving away, since you have to step on the brake to put it in gear. The antenna is glued to the inside of the windshield. I've had the windshield replaced twice since the remote was installed, and they managed to not damage the antenna.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:44 AM on February 11, 2008

Well, it's -35 here this morning (no windchill).

It's pretty nice to get in your car and not have a solid frozen brick for a seat.

Ours is OEM, dealer installed - I've heard stories of the aftermarket units becoming a bit wonky over time (car starting randomly, car not starting etc)
posted by davey_darling at 5:42 AM on February 11, 2008

As part of the security system, to prevent hotwiring, many modern cars need the key to be inside the car to start. They use RFID or something similar to detect the fob remotely. If you've ever wondered why there's a key-in-a-car symbol on your instrument panel, that's this system telling you something.

This is relevant because you have to bypass this feature to get a remote starter working. No key, no start. The solution is usually to stash a spare key in the car. (Yes, really.) This works, but you use up a spare key (which are expensive), and now it's even easier to steal the car if someone breaks in.

Just something to keep in mind.
posted by smackfu at 5:53 AM on February 11, 2008

Do you have a manual or an automatic? I've looked into getting one in the past, but I was told that you cannot have one on a manual (need the clutch pressed to start, etc).

For the people mentioning gas wasting: it was 11F this morning with a -30F wind chill. I would have sold my mother for a remote starter this morning.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:36 AM on February 11, 2008

... many modern cars need the key to be inside the car to start.

This is not relevant because "my older Saturn."

Do you have a manual or an automatic?

Please read the question before answering, because "The car is an automatic."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:48 AM on February 11, 2008

They aren't perfect, but if you live where you have a real winter they are wonderful. You'll want this installed by the dealer or by someone who installs a lot of remote starters. An experienced installer or the dealer will know what's likely to be a problem for your make and model. He can also get you around most of the problems mentioned here. It may cost you a bit if the installer needs to replace the alarm also.

In terms of theft, it's worth thinking about how you warm up the car now. Do you go out start the car and sit in it with your keys for 15 minutes? Or are you more likely to go start the car and run back in the house with your key in the ignition and the doors locked? When it's bitterly cold, this is a strangely common practice in some neighborhoods.

Personally, I solved the need for a remote starter by moving from the frigid cold Northeast to Southern California. :)
posted by 26.2 at 7:39 AM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a car-stereo shop put mine in. The dealer would have been much more expensive.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:45 AM on February 11, 2008

Good installers can integrate with most known alarms and key issues.

(for others who are considering this and are worried about the key in the car thing, the key usually has to be very near the existing lock, or inside a transducer thing. Not just in the glovebox. One way to solve the problem in a relatively secure way is to buy a key blank, but don't get it cut. They are usually available cheaply on ebay. Then the installer or dealer can program your car to accept the chip in the key. But the key will not start the car itself.)
posted by gjc at 8:10 AM on February 11, 2008

I'm quite fond of my two-way system (the keyfob indicates the vehicle's status and confirms when the vehicle has started). It's more expensive, but well worth it when the significant other is trying to catch a glimpse of her car out a window to make sure her one way system started. I've started my vehicle from 1/2 mile away. -55 here last week.....really glad to have it.
posted by GoodPuppy at 8:43 AM on February 11, 2008

We just had one installed at Circuit City in my wife's Acura MDX. It cost about $350 with installation and required her to go to the dealer to get a spare key to put inside the car, as described above. I don't think the spare key was very expensive - it's not actually cut to fit the car's lock.
posted by thomas144 at 8:47 AM on February 11, 2008

I have one OEM from Saturn and I love it. This morning it was 9 degrees with a -15 wind chill, but I started my car from inside, sipping my coffee, and ten minutes later got into my toasty enclave with nary a shiver. You don't need to have the key inside, but you do need to press the "lock" button on the fob before starting, presumably so nobody can jump in and steal your car while its running. Other than that, I have no complaints.
posted by drinkcoffee at 9:49 AM on February 11, 2008

But wait, aren't you not supposed to just let your car idle like that? The owner's manual of my 2008 Saab recommends starting out as quickly as possible after starting the car. Here's an article that discusses the issue of remote starters and idling in depth. Of course, I have heated seats... that helps.
posted by dammitjim at 11:39 AM on February 11, 2008

Ours is OEM, dealer installed - I've heard stories of the aftermarket units becoming a bit wonky over time (car starting randomly, car not starting etc)

Best Buy installed one in my dad's brand new Ford truck and it used to start up randomly in the middle of the night. Also, it started locking all the doors with the engine running which led to lots of lock outs.

On the upside...toasty buns!
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:00 PM on February 11, 2008

Excessive idling probably isn't good for the car. And a warm-up of longer than a minute or so isn't necessary. But there's nothing wrong with letting it run for 5 minutes to make it more comfortable for the driver. As long as the car isn't in the garage...
posted by gjc at 4:12 PM on February 11, 2008

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