Are Remote Car Starters Bad for Your Vehicle?
Are remote starters a harmless convenience, or are they an unnecessary gimmick doing real damage to your vehicle?
In theory, the ability to remotely start your car without leaving your home by pressing a few buttons on your key fob seems like a win-win proposition. Considering the many secret uses for car key fobs, remote starters are one with a few detractors.
There are a few negative perceptions around the idea of starting a car remotely, with some people believing it puts unnecessary strain on engines and others saying it can prematurely drain batteries. But is any of that actually true? And if so, do the harmful effects outweigh the convenience offered by remote starters?
Are remote starters bad for a vehicle’s engine?
There are two schools of thought on whether remote starting can damage an engine. The main difference boils down to whether you believe you should run your car for a short period before driving it in the winter.
In cold climates with long winter months, letting a vehicle warm up sounds like a good strategy for driver comfort and vehicle performance. But some automotive experts believe that pre-heating your car does more harm than good and can actually wear down an engine over time. Plus, it’s actually illegal in a few states.
“In general, using a remote start to warm your car up in cold weather can bring unnecessary wear on your engine,” said Jake McKenzie of Auto Accessories Garage. “Your engine works its hardest when the weather is cold, and nothing will warm it up more efficiently than driving it. When you remote-start your vehicle while you’re still getting ready for work, you greatly prolong the warm-up period. And over time, all of this unnecessary strain on your engine can be damaging.”
Other automotive professionals are less convinced.
“Even though there might be a stigma around remote car starters, there’s no hard data to support such claims,” said Bryan Rodgers, owner of Rodgers Performance. “People may argue that consistently pre-heating your car can put a certain amount of added wear and tear on your engine. But in reality, it actually allows your engine’s oil to heat up, allowing your vehicle to run smoother—limiting the strain on your engine.”
Ultimately, it’s important to note that neither of these arguments are for or against remote car starters. The concern over engine wear—regardless of whether or not that concern is warranted—stems from a debate over starting your car in general, not of how you start your car. (By the way, if yours won’t, here are some of the reasons that might be why.)
If you believe that running your car in the winter before you drive is bad for the engine, don’t do it. But if you like preheating your car, there’s truly no difference—at least to the engine— between getting in and turning the key and doing the same thing remotely.
Are remote starters bad for a vehicle’s battery?
The other knock on remote car starters is that they can damage a vehicle’s battery. This seems to be based on urban myths and bad science. Starting a car is starting a car, and the process of engine ignition doesn’t change when you do it remotely.
There is one instance, however, where a remote starter could needlessly tax your battery. If your car did not come with a remote starter and you want to install an aftermarket model, improper installation could lead to issues with your battery and electrical systems.
“Factory installed starters should not be a problem,” said Lauren Fix of CarCoachReports.com. “Aftermarket starters need to be installed professionally. If there are not installed properly it’s easy to ground out one of the wires and drain your battery prematurely. [The starter] also needs to have a safety switch so that there’s no damage to the electrical system.”
How hard is it to install an aftermarket starter? “It’s a simple as following the directions if you have electrical experience,” Fix said. “If you don’t, have a professional install it.”