No Boundaries: Next-Generation Auto Remote Starters

Nearly every manufacturer now makes an automobile remote-start system that can be controlled by a smartphone. Meanwhile, thanks to standardized wiring systems, today’s auto remote starters take one-third as much time to install.

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It’s easier than ever before to start your vehicle remotely. Four years ago, only Compustar and Viper sold a mobile application that allowed you to use your smartphone as an auto remote starter. Today, almost every auto remote-starter manufacturer sells an app for smartphones and tablet computers that allows you to start your vehicle from anywhere as long as you have Internet connectivity. It doesn’t matter whether your line of sight to the vehicle is impeded.

Auto remote-starter systems that connect to an app typically cost $400 ($100 less than they used to cost), or you can buy an add-on module for $200–$300 to upgrade most stand-alone models to work with any mobile operating system. An annual fee of $50–$100 is required to use the app’s subscription service, depending on whether you want to monitor the location of your vehicle via GPS.

Automakers are starting to get into the game. If you bought a 2012 or later model-year vehicle, it’s likely that the automaker has an app that allows you to lock and unlock the doors remotely by using your mobile device. Only three of these first-party apps include remote-start capability, however, but that feature should become common in the next 2 years, says Dmytro Koshevy, who is an automotive analyst at market-research company IHA.

For now, first-party remote services cost at least $100 per year. However, General Motors now provides 5 years free OnStar service, which includes remote-start functionality. Koshevy predicts that most automakers will follow GM’s lead and make their telematics services free altogether in the next 2–3 years. Koshevy and other experts tell us that these free services gradually will push third-party auto remote-starter manufacturers out of the market.

Mitch Schaffer, who owns Mobile Edge, which is an aftermarket electronics shop, agrees that some market contraction could happen at the low end in the next 2–3 years. However, he believes that Koshevy’s outlook is overly pessimistic. If your vehicle doesn’t come with a telematics system installed and you want to add remote-start capability, Schaffer says, a third-party auto remote starter is your only option.

“The gloom and doomers once said the same thing about audio systems—that manufacturers were putting better audio systems in cars and it was going to kill the aftermarket,” Schaffer says. “There are still millions of used cars that don’t have telematics, and there will always be ways to improve upon what the car companies are doing.”

Ron Basoff of ScyTek Electronics, which makes auto remote starters, tells us that auto remote-starter manufacturers will keep adding features to their units to stay a step ahead of the automaker-installed units.

Short Antenna, Short Range

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For example, the latest premium and midrange models allow you to operate remotely your rear defroster in cold temperatures and the cooling and heating function in your seats. Premium models also include a geofencing feature that allows you to program speed limits for your vehicle or even virtual boundaries. If a friend or your child borrows your vehicle and drives outside the boundary or exceeds the speed limit, your vehicle’s auto remote starter will send you a text to alert you. In the next 2–3 years, you’ll be able to see your vehicle’s dashboard information, such as your odometer or fuel gauge, on your auto remote starter, says Justin Lee of Compustar, which makes auto remote starters.

HOOK IT UP. Vehicle electronics are more complex than they used to be, but the system that controls the electronic components that are inside a vehicle now uses fewer connectors and wires than ever before.

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) requires all vehicles that are sold in the United States to use a Controller Area Network (CAN) bus wiring protocol, which is an electronics control system that operates and powers all of a vehicle’s electrical components. As a result, in the past 4 years, manufacturers of all auto remote starters designed their units to hook directly into a vehicle’s CAN bus instead of tapping into as many as 20 wires, says Chris Fierek of Directed Electronics, which distributes auto remote starters.

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