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What is a Remote Keyless System?

By J.M. Densing
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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A remote keyless system is a device that allows the operation from a distance of vehicle functions by using a unit that sends signals to the car from a wireless transmitter. The device works via a control unit in the vehicle and a transmitter commonly known as a fob or a key fob that has buttons to activate the functions of the system. One common type is a remote keyless entry system to unlock car doors and open the trunk or cargo area. Another type called a remote keyless ignition system is able to start a car using the wireless transmitter.

The device known as a remote keyless system actually consists of two separate units. One is a control unit placed in the vehicle and wired to the systems that it will interact with and control. The other is a wireless transmitter known as a fob that sends signals to the control unit. The fob usually has a separate button for each function the remote keyless system is able to perform, and it may be a separate unit or built into the car's ignition key on a factory installed system. Some systems are able to work from up to 1000 feet (0.3 km) away under ideal conditions, and car owners are often able to use them from inside their homes.

Most new vehicles are offered with the option of an installed remote keyless entry system; the devices are available for purchase as an aftermarket accessory as well. This type of remote keyless system is usually able to unlock car doors and open the trunk or cargo area with the touch of a few buttons, thereby allowing for easy entrance, loading, and unloading. Many vehicle owners like the added convenience the system offers because it eliminates the need to physically insert a traditional key into the lock on the door. The system may also help to protect the finish of the area near the door handle from scratches from the key and reduce wear and tear on the lock cylinder.

Another type of remote keyless system that is rising in popularity operates the vehicle's ignition. Known as a remote keyless ignition system, this device is able to start the vehicle from a distance, thereby allowing the engine to warm up and the interior to reach a comfortable temperature before entry. The engine is started using a button on the fob, but the car can't be put in gear for security and safety reasons. To put the car in gear and drive it, the owner needs to insert the actual key in the ignition or properly operate a push button starter system.

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