Push to start systems are becoming increasingly common as car manufacturers aim to offer convenience and technology across their entire line-ups. There’s no denying that it’s easier to slide into the driver’s seat and hit a button than fumble in your pocket for your keys. Here’s a closer look at how these systems work and what the mechanical differences are between using a button and using a key to fire up the engine.
Convenience and Security
Physical car keys have been paired with digital transponders for many years in order to keep thieves from simply copying a key or hot wiring a vehicle’s ignition system. These transponders vary in terms of their operation, but the basic concept requires that an automobile receive a specific signal from the key before it allows it start up.
A push to start design operates in almost the same way except for two crucial differences. The first change is that the transponder is no longer located on the head of the key but inside the fob itself. Secondly, instead of inserting a metal key and turning the ignition to make the contact between the starter and the battery, a simple button push accomplishes the same thing — after querying the fob for the right security response, of course.
Another advantage of a key-free ignition is that it makes it that much easier to install a remote starter on an automobile. It’s a relatively minor detail to program a car’s ignition system to accept the signal that the fob broadcasts over a greater distance. Remote starters won’t let the car actually move, of course — you still have to use the push to start button once you’re in the driver’s seat to get anything other than the engine and heater working — but it’s a lifesaver when warming up the cabin during cold winter weather.
Most on-key transponders or chips don’t require battery power to operate properly, but the same isn’t always true of a fob. Some cars use an RFID design, where the vehicle’s signal to the fob provides the power required for it to transmit back the right answer. Others are more complex and need a battery to work. Often, there’s a spot on the dash where you can stick the fob to charge it or a place that you can touch with the fob that is close enough to the ignition sensor that it will work even if the battery is dead.
Making the transition to a key-free vehicle could save you a lot of time and provide additional security.
For more information on push to start systems, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.