Meet our writers

Win $1,000







Advice & More April 2017

Don't Get Locked Out of Your Car

By Bill Siuru

These fobs not only let you secure and unlock your vehicle without using a key, they also let you start the engine remotely, set the driver seat to your desired preferences, pre-cool or pre-heat the interior before your trip, and more.

* * * * *

Just like the habit of putting on your seatbelt every time you enter your vehicle, get into the habit of checking for your keys every time you exit the vehicle.   

If you've purchased, or just shopped for a new vehicle lately, especially an upscale one, you probably noted that the traditional key has been replaced by a "smart key fob.” The fobs contain a transponder and a battery that requires periodic replacement, usually every couple of years. Many vehicles display when the batteries need replacement.

These fobs not only let you secure and unlock your vehicle without using a key, they also let you start the engine remotely, set the driver seat to your desired preferences, pre-cool or pre-heat the interior before your trip, and more. The new BMW 7 Series even offers Remote Control Parking using a Display Key. If you find a parallel parking spot that is too narrow to open the doors, you can exit before parking and remotely park in the space using the display key. Then, repeat the process when you want to leave.

While these smart key fobs offer great convenience, they do have some downsides. First, they are more expensive than a key. Even the simplest ones can cost around $100 including programming. More sophisticated ones like the BMW Display Key can cost about a $1000. Because these newer fobs must be programmed by the dealer or locksmith with special electronic equipment and accesses to highly confidential codes required to service the vehicle security system, this can be time-consuming and inconvenient. It may even require flatbed towing to where this can be done if you don't have a second fob so you can start and drive the vehicle.

Finally, the battery in the fob can die leaving you locked out. Fortunately, the trend is to replace or augment the smart key features with apps on a smartphone. Now, the only problem could be a forgotten password.

The AAA gives some tips on caring for these smart keys to prevent their loss or damage and limit the replacement cost in the event a key is misplaced:

  • Familiarize yourself with the full capability of your smart key and know what to do in an emergency situation. 
  • To avoid keyless-entry remote or smart key failure, replace the battery every 2 years or when recommended by the manufacturer or the in-car low battery warning display.   
  • Don't expose your keyless-entry remote or smart key to harsh elements, especially water.
  • Buy a spare key and store it in a safe location for emergency use only.    
  • For systems with remote start capability, never start the vehicle in an enclosed space where exhaust gases containing poisonous carbon monoxide can be trapped with potentially fatal consequences.   

For most of us who have traditional keys with maybe a simple key fob, the biggest concern is being locked out either because their keys are left in the passenger compartment, in the trunk, or misplaced altogether. While high-tech theft deterrent systems in today's vehicles provide greater protection against theft, they also make entry more difficult when keys are lost. Incidentally, some vehicles will automatically lock after just a few seconds, even with the key still in the ignition, which adds to the problem.

The AAA offers some tips that can save you from being locked out.

  • Always make sure you have your keys in hand when you leave the vehicle, close the trunk or when locking the vehicle using the manual or automatic door locks.   
  • Keep a plastic, credit card-type key or spare key in your wallet, purse or briefcase.   
  • Never place keys on the front seat, in the glove compartment, in the trunk or anywhere else in the vehicle.   
  • Carry keys in you’re a shirt or pants pocket, for example, instead of a jacket you are liable to take off and leave in the vehicle.   
  • Keep the identification code number of the key written down on a piece of paper in your wallet. This will make it easier for a locksmith to make a copy of the key, possibly saving you money.
  • Give an extra set of keys to a family member or to a friend who is traveling with you.   
  • Keep a spare set of keys at work or at a place you visit frequently.   
  • Take the key out of the ignition, and take it with you when filling your fuel tank.
  • Never leave children or pets unattended in the vehicle with access to keys, or with the vehicle.

Though not given by the AAA, here a couple of more tips.

  • If you are in the habit of locking your purse in the trunk rather than taking it with you, make sure keys are in hand before closing the trunk lid.   
  • Just like the habit of putting on your seatbelt every time you enter your vehicle, get into the habit of checking for your keys every time you exit the vehicle.   
  • If for some reason you must leave the key in the ignition, roll down the driver's side window.   


Meet Bill