As car companies like Tesla push the car industry into the future with lightning speed, it’s easy to get left behind when it comes to keeping up to date with what your tech can do.
That unobtrusive little gadget in your hand - the one we are used to refer to as the ‘car keys’ - is so much more than something we use to unlock our cars and start the engine.
If you would like to know more about how car key fobs are aligned with the high tech features of the vehicle it helps drive, you will want to read more about the things you never knew a car fob could do.
Key and fobs through the ages
Did you know that keys are in the top ten of the most commonly manufactured and produced metal items in the world - more than locks? That’s because two or three keys must be made per lock. For every one vehicle in the world, there are two car key fobs - and that’s not even counting all the duplicate car key fobs that have to be cut when someone loses their keys!
The first keys were made of wood and evidence of their use can be found as far back as Egypt over 6,000 years ago. The toothbrush-shaped keys would be inserted into a slot to activate the mechanism controlling the bolt on the other side of the door.
By the time the Roman Empire discovered the need to keep things under lock and key, the items were being made from metal and so small they were easy to transport around in a pocket. Flat keys became the standard in the 1800s, and the next key innovation to come along was magnetic signature cards and fobs.
The word fob comes from the German word, fubbe, which means pocket. In the 19th century, it became very popular to keep a pocket watch on the end of a chain, hidden inside a waistcoat pocket. A ‘fob and chain’ was considered to be a very important part of a gentleman’s outfit.
Now the word means a remote device that is small enough to fit inside a pocket. These handy items allow someone to control a car’s keyless system. Although the ‘key’ part of the fob is still necessary to start some earlier model vehicles, you no longer need to use it to actually access the car’s interior. This is because the fob part of the key uses radio frequencies to send signals to the vehicle and control it.
But that’s not the only function your car key fob has. It is so much more than just a convenient piece of tech - it has a range of secret uses that not many drivers know about. See if your model vehicle has some of these fascinating car key fob features.
The black plastic part of your car key fob might have more than just a ‘lock’ and ‘unlock’ button on it. Some fobs have a feature that enables you to start your car remotely (if you are within activation distance). The button associated with remote engine starting is often labeled with a small circular arrow.
If you are pleased to find out your car key fob has this feature so that you can activate the heater or AC a few minutes before getting into your vehicle, you should know that many mechanics disagree with the practice of leaving a car with the engine idling. Besides the damage an idling engine can do to the environment (especially if you have pets around), it can also strip oil from the cylinders and pistons in your car’s engine. Most mechanics say it’s best to warm an engine by driving the car instead.
If your car interior has built up a lot of stuffy, hot air inside it during parking and you don’t want to activate the AC to cool things down, try pressing the ‘unlock’ button on your car key fob twice. In some models, this makes all the windows in your car all roll down at the same time - which is also a handy feature to know about in an emergency.
The first time you press the ‘unlock’ button should be a normal amount of time; the second time you do it, keep pressing until all the windows have rolled down. Instant fresh air at the push of a button.
Another secret key fob trick happens when you hold the ‘lock’ button for 10 seconds. If your car key fob has the feature, doing this automatically makes the side-view mirrors adjust and withdraw to a more streamlined profile, helping them not to get knocked off if another driver tries to squeeze past.
If you have a newer model car, it might come with an automatic side-view mirror retraction feature already in place; if not, try doing this secret key fob trick and see what happens.
Remember the days when you would have to use an actual key to access your car trunk? It would sometimes lead to all sorts of inconveniences: accidentally leaving the key inside the car trunk lock after slamming the lid shut and walking away; accidentally leaving the key inside the trunk and then slamming the lid shut, trapping the key inside the trunk…the list is endless.
And then came the newer model vehicles that have key fobs that allow someone to open the back of the SUV or hatch with just one click. For those of us who are easily distracted while loading or unloading items from the trunk, check to see if your car has a key finder app or function that you can link to your phone.
It’s hard to find a new model car that doesn’t have a keyless ignition system nowadays. In 2021, 62% of all vehicles sold had a keyless ignition system of some kind. All the driver needs to activate the system is to place one foot on the brake, and then press the ‘stop’ or ‘start’ button on the fob. For those of you who worry about losing your fob which might allow someone else to activate the vehicle, it is possible to buy models with fingerprint identity protection key fobs.
This car key fob feature was initially used to help the driver find their vehicle in a crowded parking lot - one push and the emergency alert system activates, which helps the driver locate the car. This feature can also pull double duty as the best way to scare off potential intruders at your home. The panic button on your car will not only scare off any potential criminal behavior, but it is a sure-fire way of bringing your neighbors’ attention to your garden yard.
However, this feature can also be used to attract attention to something bad happening, especially at night when the area is deserted. It can even be activated in a pre-emptive capacity, but only in areas like an empty parking lot or car park at night - in a suburban area, the only thing setting off your vehicle’s emergency alert system will do is annoy your neighbors.
You’ll be happy to know that some car manufacturers have thought about how to unlock your car when the car key fob battery is dead in keyless vehicles. Check the fob for a hidden key tucked away inside it. Make sure this problem doesn’t occur by getting the battery inside your car key fob replaced every three to four years.
With all this pressing of buttons, you should know the signs that show you your car key fob needs replacing:
- The signal strength is reduced or limited. If you used to be able to activate your vehicle from 15 - 20 yards away, but suddenly you have to move closer to do the same thing, it means your battery has weakened.
- Multiple clicks / harder pressure is needed.
- Consistency is erratic.
If you notice this happening, then it’s time to book your vehicle in for an engine electrical inspection. Part of the service is to check the battery on your fob.
Remember, the more frequently you press the buttons on your car key fob (and pressing them for longer lengths of time too) means the faster your battery will need replacing. If you are taking possession of a used car, ask them when the fob battery was replaced too.
Chat with our experienced Car Key Pros here to answer all of your questions.