What are keyless ignition cars?

Nearly all new cars sold now have keyless entry and keyless ignition. Unlike traditional key systems, keyless ones allow you to unlock your car automatically and start and stop it at the push of a button, offering drivers increased convenience, safety, and security. However, leaving the car in drive, the engine running, and the keyless fob behind is also easier, creating serious risks.

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How does keyless ignition work?

Keyless car systems work by transmitting unique low-frequency signals between a keyless electronic fob or "smart key" and the vehicle's computer. The fob doesn't need to go into the doors, trunk, or ignition. Instead, short-range sensors allow you to unlock your car without manually putting in a key. Some vehicles' keyless entry systems are designed to be completely hands-free.

If your car fob is with you — in a bag, purse, or pocket, for example — you only need to push the ignition start button to go. Since keyless ignition doesn't automatically turn off when you leave the car with the fob or smart key, you'll need to put the car in park and press the stop button first.

Pros and cons of keyless entry cars

Advantages of push button ignition

When used correctly, keyless entry and ignition systems in cars can offer drivers safety, security, and convenience. Your car recognizes a unique fob or smart device that unlocks the vehicle without digging around for a physical key. Once inside a car with a keyless ignition system, you press a button to start the engine. Most systems are designed to only work when your fob is nearby.

Keyless entry is faster than manually locking and unlocking the doors. These systems also sense when your fob is present, so you're less likely to lock it inside the vehicle. Depending on the car make and model, it might prevent you from locking the car if the fob is still inside or issue an alert. Since the fob has a unique identifier that the car's computer recognizes, a thief would have a harder time breaking in and driving away without it. If your fob battery dies or the fob stops working, manufacturers have secure ways to help you unlock and start your vehicle quickly without waiting for a locksmith.

Learn more about what to do if you lock your keys in your car.

Disadvantages of push button start in cars

There are several potential push-button-start problems. Many new cars have such quiet engines that drivers could inadvertently leave the vehicles running even when they are not in the car. This increases carbon monoxide poisoning risks, especially in an enclosed space like a garage, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Additional dangers include forgetting to turn off the car and put it in park, causing it to roll away and cause an accident, and drivers not knowing how to switch the engine off in case of an emergency. Even though push-button-start-fobs are intended to deter break-ins and car theft, you create an opportunity for theft if you leave the fob in the car by mistake. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) found that in recent years, more cars are getting stolen with the fobs inside.

Keyless ignition systems don't all work the same way. Make sure you put the car in park before turning off the engine, use the parking brake, take the fob every time you leave the car, and read the car's manual to understand how the system works.

How much does insurance cost for a keyless car?

If your key or fob is lost, stolen, or damaged, you'll likely need to pay for a new one since basic auto insurance typically won't cover a replacement. If you have a high-tech smart key, the car locks might also need replacing.

However, a keyless system could make a difference if you have comprehensive car insurance and your programmable smart key was stolen or damaged by a covered event. Depending on your deductible amount and the replacement cost, filing a claim might be worth it.

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