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differences between a keyless fob

The "key" differences between a keyless fob and other key types

Rundown: Aside from the obvious physical distinctions, a keyless fob differs from other keys in various other ways such as how it’s replaced and how it interacts with a vehicle.

Many cars today that use a keyless fob understandably provide a different experience for drivers compared to other types of keys on the market. But you might find the history of the term “key fob” interesting.

Before remote keyless entry systems started appearing on American Motors vehicles in 1983, the term key fob was generally used to describe any small decorative token attached to a key chain. They were used to add some bulk or personality to an important possession and chosen so that you could quickly identify your set of keys from others.

Fast-forward to now and key fob has a completely different meaning — nothing to do with personality or bulk and more to do with convenience and simplicity.

What is keyless entry? Keyless entry, sometimes called passive entry, allows drivers to enter their vehicles without the use of a key. If you have the key to the vehicle on your person, or in your purse, your vehicle will open automatically when you put your hand on the door. Essentially, you do not have to physically enter the key of your vehicle in order to open the door or into the ignition.

Related article(s): Tech Etymology: Key Fob

Major differences between keyless fobs and other key types: Features, replacement, etc.

Keyless fobs these days work by emitting a distinct identity code. Remote keyless entry fobs, and known as RKEs, lock or unlock a car’s doors with the push of a button. However, there’s more to a keyless fob than simply locking or unlocking car doors, starting a car remotely, or making chirping sounds to help you find your car in a parking lot. 

Today’s new cars pack in more high-tech electronic features than ever before, and that includes in the key fob. Some have so many features built in that owners may not even be aware of them all.

Remote Start: On most key fobs, the remote engine start button is labeled with a circular arrow (but often not the words “remote start”). Typically, the owner first hits the lock button, followed by a press of the remote-start button. On other remotes, drivers must press the circular arrow button twice (indicated by a “2x” or “x2”).

Mechanical Key: Owners of cars with push-button start systems might not be aware that a mechanical key resides inside the key fob. This is so that owners can still unlock the driver’s door in cases when the car’s battery or the key fob’s battery runs out of juice, or the fob malfunctions. The key is typically accessed by pushing a button on the key fob and pulling the key out, although on some remotes, the release isn’t obvious.

Related article(s): Your Car’s Key Fob May Have Hidden Features

Frequently asked questions for the keyless fob newcomer

How do I use a keyless fob when unlocking/locking my car? By keeping your Smart Key in your purse or pocket, you can lock the vehicle’s door in the following ways:

  1. Press the button on the door handle

  2. Touch the area on the door handle

  3. Walk away from the vehicle.

If your car is equipped with the Keyless Entry feature, your Smart Key will be your lifeline into the car. Your car will identify the Smart Key using a radio generator via antenna signals placed throughout the vehicle.

Does keyless entry mean push to start? No, there is a difference between keyless entry (entering a vehicle without having to use the physical key) and starting the vehicle without having to use the physical key. The latter feature (push-to-start) allows you to fire up your car’s engine without fumbling for a key in your pocket or purse. Some keyless fobs still require you to insert the fob into the vehicle in order for it to start.

How far does keyless entry work? In general, keyless entry fobs have a range of five to six meters, so one of the scanner units has to be no farther than this from the fob.

What happens if you drive away from your key fob? It will work just fine until you park. Then as soon as you get out, it locks and even using a phone to get in it won’t let start.

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