We usually get quite a few questions regarding anti-theft systems along with remote car starting systems right after the holiday season. This is probably due to the fact that most people think they make cool Christmas presents. While any funky electronic gadget can be a cool thing, (especially if you’re a guy – no offense), there can be some positive aspects but also some major headaches that go along with these toys. This blog entry is not to promote or trash any after-market system. It is to merely educate.
Anti-theft systems are designed to do one thing – deter auto theft. While most do a pretty good job of doing just that, they can also cause a lot of annoying problems when they act up. Your car might not start. The system may suddenly kill the ignition while you are driving, causing your car to stall. The alarm may go off when you open the door with the key and not shut off. Or, the alarm may go off for no reason at all.
Factory installed anti-theft systems are usually more reliable and less apt to misbehave than after-market anti-theft systems. One of the reasons for this is how the system was installed in the vehicle. The factory systems are usually integrated into the body control module (BCM) and powertrain control module (PCM), and are designed to prevent the vehicle from starting if someone attempts to start the engine without the key. Many factory systems will also sound an audible alarm (the horn or a second hidden horn) and flash the lights if someone opens a door without first unlocking it with the key or keyless entry fob. Most aftermarket systems are designed to do the same thing, but may also include a remote starting capability, GPS tracking if a vehicle has been stolen, and even remote disabling.
The main problem with aftermarket installations is the installer. Yes – there are many solid professionals in the field, who are properly trained and do a quality job. By utilizing their expertise, you shouldn’t have any issues with the system as long as it is working properly. But if the installer does a hack job of splicing into the wiring, he or she may create a variety of potential problems. Tapping into the wrong power circuit may rob voltage from a critical system, causing other problems that may seem to be unrelated to the anti-theft system. We’ve heard of aftermarket anti-theft systems setting engine misfire codes because it was cutting out the ignition for a split-second or two while the vehicle was being driven.
Another issue with some aftermarket anti-theft systems is the quality or durability of the electronics used in the systems. A lot of electronics come from China these days, and some systems use recycled chips and other components, or ones that are very poor in quality. Consequently, a year or two down the road, the electronics fail and the system starts to cause problems or go on the blink completely. The only fix for this is to do your research – buy a system that has the longest possible warranty and best reputation. The devise may cost more up front, but will save many headaches (and money) down the road.
Remote car starter systems can also offer some nifty benefits as well as some inconveniences. One of the biggest selling points of these systems is you can start your vehicle from the comfort of your home (or work or wherever) and have either the A/C or heat kick on while the engine is warming up. This means you can be either roasty-toasty in the winter or cool as a cucumber in the summer when you finally take off in your four wheeled chariot.
However, the same rules apply with remote starting systems as do with anti-theft devices. Again, look for a quality product with a good reputation and warranty. Some of these systems can also come as a kit, complete with an installation CD. However, before you go and purchase one of these, talk to a professional installer. While most kits cost $100 or less, many do not come with the necessary module needed to work with any given vehicle. This module will add to the expense. It is also a good idea to let an experienced pro install the system. The remote starter has to work with any pre-existing factory installed anti-theft devise or there will be a myriad of problems. If there is an after-market anti-theft devise already in the vehicle, that will only make installation that much more time consuming.
Here’s some final food for thought – or a silver lining if you will. Many newer vehicles (made from 2010 and newer) have the capability to have both an anti-theft and a remote starting system from the factory or dealer – and it can all be contained in one key fob. Even if you’ve already taken delivery of your newer vehicle and it only has the factory anti-theft system on board, there’s still a very good possibility of the dealer adding the remote starting system (which will work better because it’s all factory parts) and simply reprogramming the existing key fob. The entire process may also be cheaper than going the after-market route.