What is the benefit of remote starting cars?

I came across this tragic item of a person who was killed when a car that had been remotely started moved.

A New York man has died after being crushed by an empty car accidentally started by remote control.

Michael Kosanovich, 21, had been standing between two parked 2002 Lexus IS300s, on 6 December, when one of them had been started remotely by its owner, police said.

The car rolled forward and he was pinned between the two vehicles.

Bystanders tried to push them apart but as they did so, the car rolled forward and crushed him again.

Mr Kosanovich was taken to hospital with severe trauma to his torso and legs, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD). He died of his injuries on 7 December.

The NYPD said Mr Kosanovich had been inspecting one of the vehicles at the time of the accident, intending to buy it.

There must be a failsafe mechanism that prevents a car from moving when started remotely so I presume this was due to malfunctioning of the system. The car was a 2002 Lexus and the manufacturers say that this model was not made with this feature and so it must have been retrofitted incorrectly. Adding functional and non-cosmetic features that are not part of the original manufacture is usually a dangerous thing.

This made me wonder as to the benefits of this feature. The time saved by starting it remotely hardly seems significant. In very cold or very hot climates, one can see how starting it remotely with the heating or air conditioning turned on might bring the interior of the car to a comfortable level before one gets inside. Getting into a very hot or cold car is not pleasant but it does not take that long for the temperature to become comfortable, so it seems like a marginal benefit. But manufacturers warn that cars should not be remotely started if the operator is “unaware of the circumstances surrounding the vehicle” which means that one should be near the car and that would take away the benefit of being able to heat and cool the car before getting it.

Is there any other benefit to this feature that I am missing?

Another feature that seems to have limited utility is keyless ignition where the car can be started as long as the key is merely close by. A friend of mine said that she likes it because it saves her having to rummage around in her purse for the car key. But this feature also has a serious defect in that thieves have ways of capturing the wireless code and stealing the car.

Another problem with keyless ignition is that when people lose the habit of physically removing the key from the ignition, they may get out of the car and go off with the engine still running, something that can happen since nowadays engines are so quiet when idling. If the car is parked in an enclosed space, carbon monoxide can build up and there have been cases of people with attached garages dying from carbon monoxide poisoning because they had inadvertently left the engine running and the gas had seeped into their homes.

What technology gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.


  1. Matt G says

    My partner had a car from 2004 with the lane-change style of signal lever. All-the-way up signals right, but push up slightly signals four times, which probably covers the typical time it takes to change lanes. The problem is, once you’ve activated it, you can’t stop it except by signaling left. If you change your mind about the lane change, you then make people think you intend to left instead of right. Further, the mechanism failed in some way and had to be replaced. Yet another solution in search of a problem.

    Anyone else getting annoyed by all the new shapes and behaviors of taillights and signal lights?

  2. says

    “But this feature also has a serious defect in that thieves have ways of capturing the wireless code and stealing the car.”

    They don’t even have to do that, they can just snatch the car while it’s still running and drive blithely away to the chop shop. I bought my first car with this feature 10 months ago, and just a week later I dropped my partner at work and was five miles away before I started wondering why that little light kept blinking on the dashboard. Very fortunately I realized that the light was telling me that the key fob was still in my partner’s pocket (he had driven to his workplace), so I was able to turn around and go back to get it. But if I’d gotten all the way home and turned the car off, I would have been screwed. I’ve often wondered how far I could have driven before it shut down.

  3. Mano Singham says


    I wondered about the same thing, and thought that perhaps once it started, the car could be driven as far away as possible until it was switched off.

    Someone I knew dropped someone else off at the airport and then drove away and realized later that the key fob was with the traveler. He had to drive back to the airport and fortunately got there before the other person had boarded the plane but had to have him come back out of security and give him the fob.

  4. Mano Singham says

    Matt G,

    Yeah, I have the same four-blinker thing. In my case it is just three blinks which seems a little too few since I like to give plenty of notice of lane changes and a fourth blink would be nice. But I too have had the experience of accidentally triggering it and not being able to stop it.

    I too have noticed the increasingly imaginative lights on cars.

  5. Jazzlet says

    You can get shielded pockets to put keyless fobs in to prevent them being cloned.

    I can see being able to turn on the car and warm it up being useful in really cold areas where it’s not just a matter of comfort. We once had all of the doors on a car freeze shut while we were at Allendale’s New Year celebration up in the hills of Northumberland. Fortunately the tailgate wasn’t frozen shut and Mr J was limber enough to climb in that way, and then was able to push the doors open, otherwise we’d have been stuck outside it in freezing conditions. Although it was nothing like the weather you get in many other places it was cold for the UK.

    I wonder about the safety for other road users of some of the extremely bright headlights you see on the newest cars, particularly pedestrians, as any streetlighting is completely overwhelmed so it’s even more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians. Also as a pedestrian the car lights can be quite bright enough to mean you can’t really see once they’ve gone. I know in the UK there is a minimum brightness for car lights but I am not aware of any maximum.

  6. says

    I am fortunate to own a well looked after 1994 Mercedes station wagon that has all the computing power of a Casio watch. If I can still buy parts for it and no-one hits it, I’ll keep it on the road until self driving electric cars are someone else’s problem. If I’m going to be in a car that thinks for me it had better do a thorough job of it.

  7. M. Currie says

    Automatic transmission cars should have a neutral safety switch that prevents the starter from engaging in gear. Most AT cars also have an interlock that prevents you from taking the key out when it’s in gear. The incident in which a person was crushed thus would seem to rely on a couple of unlikelihoods at once -- a car that was allowed to remain in gear with the key out, and was allowed to start in gear. Someone must really have messed that one up.

    But if it was a manual transmission car, there is a great likelihood it was left in gear. I have had many manual cars, and always left them in neutral, and always had working parking brakes, but a surprising percentage of people do not, and habitually leave them in gear. Almost every time I would have a car inspected, or tires replaced, etc., I would come out later to find it parked in gear with the brake off. I had a Jeep with a clutch safety switch, which would have to be bypassed for remote starting to be possible at all, so that, while it can help prevent runaways when driving, doesn’t help a bit for remote starting.

    Many people here in the north country like remote starters because they don’t like to get into a cold car. If you can start it remotely and leave the doors locked, you needn’t worry that someone will step in and drive it away. That’s all kind of silly in a way, since a car warms up faster when it’s driven, and it’s actually better for it to let it warm for a minute or less, and then just drive it off. Warming up the engine also does not warm up the rest of the running gear, so people tend to drive off blithely as if it’s all warmed up, when it really is not.

    There are a number of good reasons not to have remote starting, and one other, which occurs with some frequency, is that if a car is parked in the rain or snow, many people don’t bother to turn off the wipers. Cut to the next cold morning, when the wipers are frozen in place, but turned on. By the time the owner has stumbled out to his well-heated car, the wiper motors have either blown their fuses or burned out.

    My wife has a Honda with the lane change blinker, and I find it very annoying. Older cars had a position that would allow you to hold the signal without latching, just right for lane changing if you’re paying attention. And aren’t we supposed to be paying attention?

    However, I notice on this and a few recent cars, although the lights are very bright, they are very well controlled for area. The Honda’s low beams have a sharp cutoff below an oncoming car’s windshield. Newfangled lights are much more precise than the old ones.

  8. says

    Getting into a very hot or cold car is not pleasant but it does not take that long for the temperature to become comfortable, so it seems like a marginal benefit.

    …to adults, maybe. However when our youngest was 3 when I became her stepmom, and while the older (then 7) could deal with a very cold car (albeit with a lot of complaining), the younger just could not deal with a -7 degree car and would freak out. She just didn’t have the cognitive ability to recognize that the engine has to heat up before we turn on the heat (or it would just blow the cold air around, making it feel colder with an in-the-car “wind chill”) and then when we had the heat on, that doesn’t mean the car is instantly warm, but just because the car is cold NOW even though the heat is on, that doesn’t mean the heat isn’t working and it doesn’t mean the car will still be cold in 5-10 minutes.

    And she could be LOUD about all this … right up until the air finally became warm. It really, really was upsetting for all concerned.

    While I wouldn’t want to pre-start a car in the vast majority of cases because of emissions and fuel waste, I could imagine a couple of years there when it could have helped a great deal in preventing our littler child from enduring real psychological suffering.

    And, again, I’m not sure why it was so traumatic to her, because she would go ice skating, but I think that when she was “indoors” she had an expectation of warmth that didn’t apply outside. Like, if she was cold and outside, she knew she could always go back inside when it got too bad, and so it was easier to tolerate knowing there was a solution under her control. But when she was “indoors” inside the car and it wasn’t warm, then she was really frantically worried that there was no solution -- that she was just doomed to get colder and colder and colder forever.

    Apparently loud crying at cold cars started when she was about 2 and continued a little past age 4, while anxiousness and constant impatience for the car to warm up continued another couple of years after that. It wasn’t until she was nearly 7 that she could ride in a cold car with minimal complaint and use her normal voice to ask questions like, “Are you sure the heat is on?”

    If you’re an adult without a relevant health issue, however, I really think that this remote-start feature is just bad news all the way round.

  9. seachange says

    It is weird to think of ‘leaving your key in the ignition’ to me, because the cars I know of with this feature have ignition buttons. The key is never inside of anything but the owner’s pocket.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    Is there any other benefit to this feature that I am missing?

    You apparently don’t read enough Carl Hiaasen novels. A character in one of his books (I don’t recall which title), a Miami cocaine importer, routinely had his housekeeper go start up his car and warm it up for about ten minutes -- on the off chance that one or another of his competitors had installed explosives with a timer, activated by the ignition, in his vehicle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *