It's winter (and you're not in California or Florida). You park your car on the street and it snows three inches. It's now 10 degrees―and you've got to get to work. You bundle up, trudge through the snow to your car, get snow all over your front while you scrape ice off the windshield, and get into a 10-degree car. Once you start the engine, you sit there shivering for five minutes waiting for the engine to warm up and some heat to emerge from the vents so you and the windshield can defrost.
If this sounds familiar, and you don't like the memory, your winter mornings could be much cozier if you invested $40 in a remote starting system for your ride. The same is true for those whose summer driving experiences involve climbing into a 110-degree oven―strange, it looked like your car―and burning your legs on the seats (Californians and Floridians, take note).
A remote starter allows you to start your car or truck using a key-fob remote control―without going outside. If you left the heat or A/C on, it turns on when the engine does. Your car can warm up cool down, so it's nice and comfortable when you get in. A bonus is the warmed-up car thaws the ice on the windshield, too. And in hot regions, seats will be cooled off and you can touch your steering wheel without oven mitts.
Here are some basics:
- Systems range from $40 to $400, depending on whether they are combined with an alarm.
- You can install it yourself or pay an installer to do it.
- Some work only on automatic transmission or fuel-injected engines; others work with all kinds of transmissions and fuel types. Make sure the system you purchase is compatible with your car.
From your comfortable vantage point inside, press a button or two on the remote and your ignition starts. Your parking lights flash to signal it's worked. To prevent a thief from driving off in your running car, the vehicle remains locked until you unlock it. You must also turn the key in the ignition before you can put the car in gear. If you change your mind, the remote starter can also turn off the engine, or the brake pedal acts as a kill switch.
That's the simple, inexpensive version. But count on any gadget to be modified, improved, and tweaked to the point of becoming a major investment, if not a status symbol. That $40 remote starter is now available as a $400 luxury add-on that can include a complete security system with alarm, two-way alarm notification, a different frequency each time you use the remote, the ability to transmit up to a mile and through concrete walls (in case you need to start your car from another part of town), an LCD status display, a temperature sensor that will start the engine if the outside air temperature drops below a certain point (think Alaska), and more.
Some high-end models also offer:
- The ability to adjust the the engine cranking time in tenth-of-a-second increments.
- Automatic alarm disengagement and door unlocking when the system recognizes you're nearby.
Most drivers won't need all the specialized features and the price tag that goes with them. A salesman might tell you that you can't live without everything, but the basics might be all you need, like:
- Remote engine starting
- Remote start visual notification (parking lights flash)
- Door lock and unlock
- Power trunk open
- Programmable starting (how long the engine will run)
If you're into it, you can opt for additional convenience and security functions, including a full alarm system. Among the more advanced features:
- Status check
- Car locator
- Remote valet
- Turbo (fast warm-up)
- Code hopping
- PIN touchpad
- Digital clock
- Interior temperature check
- Driver paging
- Panic siren
- Proximity unlock
- Alarm functions
- Starter kill and anti-hijack
- Full-color LCD remote with animated display
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of remote starter systems available from scores of manufacturers such as Clarion, Bulldog Security, Galaxy, Ready Remote, and Viper. Before you buy one, research the systems online and read user reviews. Many remote starters can be had for well under $100. You might need an adapter for some vehicle models (to bypass your car's built-in antitheft system during remote starts); these can range from $40 to more than $100.
Use these resources to research what to look for in a remote start system, the systems out there, and where to buy them.
- How to Buy a Remote Start System: This excellent article can help you find the perfect system―and have it perfectly installed.
- Comparison shop on Amazon.com: Read user reviews and buy from the Amazon.com store.
- Comparison shop on eBay: Get comprehensive product information and bid for systems in online auctions.
- Read user reviews on NexTag: See what previous buyers have to say.
- Buy remote starters on Shopping.com: Find affordable systems here.
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