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Everything You Need to Know About Remote Car Starters

BY: Dan Delagrange | Sep 29, 2017

It's freezing outside. Your car's been out there all night, where the snow and sub-zero temps have turned it into a very large refrigerator. You're dreading going out there to start it, crank the heat, and scurry back inside while it warms up.

If you've been in that scenario countless times and are wondering how to forever rid yourself of it, the solution is a remote car starter. Not sure what that is, or how much it costs, or how you can get one for your car? Keep reading our guide to find out.

What is a remote car starter?

Remote car starters are, basically, what they sound like: a wireless, radio-controlled tool that starts your car's engine from a certain distance away.

  • Most often, these gadgets come in the form of key fobs, or little remote controls with buttons for engine ignition and, sometimes, other functions.

  • The distance from which one will work will usually be listed on the item's packaging. Some models will work within a distance of 500 or 1,000 feet, while more robust starters come with ranges stretching as far as a mile.

  • In addition to starting your car, some models will also let you lock and unlock the doors, turn on the heat, pop the trunk, warm up your seats, or even control things from your phone...

  • ...but not every model will. Many models include extras like keyless entry, but be sure to read your device's specifications to be totally sure about what all it can do.

How does a remote car starter work?

Remote car starters work via radio frequency. A box is connected to your car's ignition switch and other basic startup mechanisms. When you press the ignition button on your key fob or remote, it sends a signal to the box to turn on the systems that start the engine. The radio signal is unique to each model, so you don't need to worry about pressing a button and accidentally cutting the ice cream man's engine.

How much does a remote car starter cost?

A good price range you can expect for a remote car starter is somewhere around $50 to $200. There are a couple very important notes you should keep in mind here, though:

  • That usually does not include installation. The installation process can run as high as a couple hundred bucks more, so be sure to (1) do some research on how much it'll cost to get one installed on your car and (2) factor that into your budget.

  • Brand and extra features will make things pricier. If you only need to start your car and warm it up from inside the house, do a little digging to find a model with those basics only—it'll probably help you save.

How do you install a remote car starter?

In short: you shouldn't. That is to say, you should probably get a professional to do it. Remote starters might seem basic in a sense—some models even come with instructions on installing one yourself—but remote starter installation is best left to someone whose job it is to do it. Why, you ask?

  • Older makes and models can complicate things. Most newer cars come off the line better equipped for add-ons like remote starters, but the '72 Chevelle in your garage wasn't made with these in mind.

  • Even still, the alarms and built-in theft deterrents on most cars today often need to be bypassed (more on that below) when installing a remote starter. Unless you're a highly skilled auto technician, you probably won't know how to do that.

  • Do you have a European make, hybrid, or stick transmission? Those are other issues only a pro should be tasked to navigate when installing a remote starter.

What are bypass modules, and why are they so important?

In short: a bypass module is a device installed in your car that allows a remote starter's signal to start the car. And odds are you'll need one on your vehicle if you plan on getting a remote car starter. So bottom line: bypass modules are important, and they affect how much you'll end up paying in total for your remote starter. Here's why:

  • Many of the anti-theft modules mentioned earlier require a specific, physical key to be in the car's ignition for it to start. Since the point of a remote car starter is to, you know, start it remotely, a bypass module is required to "trick" the engine into thinking there's an actual key in the ignition when you press the button on your key fob.
  • Beware services that don't explicitly include a bypass-module installation. If it turns out your car needs a bypass module (over 95% of cars on the road do, FYI), that service can cost you up to an additional $150 after the remote starter has been installed—not a very fun surprise.
  • The good news is that there are lots of deals on our site that do include a bypass installation in their up-front cost. See the section below for some of our best remote-starter deals around the country.

Our Best Remote Car Starter Deals Right Now

Now that you've got the basics, why not shop around and get one installed? There are tons of remote car starter deals on our site all the time. Below are some standout deals we're currently featuring. Don't see your city? Click here to browse remote-starter deals in your town.

  • Minneapolis: $169 for a remote car starter with a basic bypass module and installation at Mach 1 Car Audio & Security ($349 value)

  • Chicago: $215 for an Avital 4113 remote starter with unlock function, bypass module, and installation at Lucky's Car Wash ($429 value)

  • New York: $149 for a Viper remote car starter, one remote, basic bypass module, and installation at Ideas First Automotive ($299 value)

  • Boston: $299 for a Viper four-button remote starter with two transmitters, bypass module, and installation at Boomer Boston ($599 value)
  • Philadelphia: $149 for a remote car starter, basic bypass module, and installation at One Stop Car Audio ($299 value)

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