Do you remember the days of flipping through your keychain to find your car key and manually inserting it into your car’s lock mechanism? I certainly do. After driving a vehicle with a manual lock for far longer than the general population, finally getting a remote entry system was indeed a welcome experience.
Since they first began making their appearance around 1910, car keys have undergone a fascinating transformation. The earliest keys had a cylindrical shape that looks quite different than what we’re used to seeing today. The 1920s ushered in both a more familiar key shape and also the habit of routinely locking our car doors. The keyless entry system made its mainstream debut in the 1990s, and the automotive world has never looked back.
How exactly do these systems work, how can they benefit your life and what may become of car keys in the future? Let’s take a closer look.
What is a Keyless Entry System and How Does It Work?
Standard car keys rely on teeth cut into a specific pattern to trip the car’s lock mechanism and unlock the door. On the other hand, keyless systems use a device called a fob to send signals to your car via radio frequencies. A transponder in your fob generates a command signal, and the receiver in your car translates the signal and performs the action.
Types of Keyless Entry Systems
Entry systems come in three basic options with varying degrees of feature sophistication and ease of use.
A one-way system sends a command signal from your fob to your car. While these systems work well within range, the downside is that your fob doesn’t offer any confirmation of whether your command was successfully carried out or not. If your car is out of your sight or hearing range, you may unknowingly leave your doors unlocked.
Two-way systems have transponder and receiver components in both your fob and your car, so both sites can generate and receive signals. This capability lets you send the lock or unlock command as well as receive a confirmation on your fob that your car successfully performed the action.
A small illuminated panel on the fob is the most common form of command confirmation. For additional convenience, you can also control some two-way systems through an app on your smartphone.
These entry systems detect your fob’s radio frequency as soon as it comes within close range of your vehicle, and the system automatically unlocks your doors with no action on your part. In most cases, the auto manufacturer uses a standard fob for a touchless entry system. However, a couple of manufacturers have started using a smartphone app to control the door locks and other vehicle functions.
Benefits of a Keyless Entry System
The primary goals of technology include simplifying everyday life and eliminating certain manual tasks, and the capability to lock or unlock your car without a key satisfies both those objectives.
Here are six ways that saying goodbye to the key can save you time, energy and hassle in your everyday life.
Reduces Keychain Confusion
As is the case with many areas of life, your keychain can easily become an overcrowded jumble. While it might not be too difficult to locate your car key while you have both hands free, the situation quickly changes when you’re carrying your child or an armful of grocery bags.
Due to its increased bulk and distinctive shape, you can probably find your fob by touch alone almost instantly, so you’ll spend less time fumbling for the correct key. Moreover, simply pushing a button to unlock your car is simpler than manipulating a key if you’ve only got one hand to work with.
Offers Better Protection Against Theft
In 2018, the FBI reported 748,841 vehicle thefts or attempted thefts in the United States. In addition to the investment you have in your vehicle itself, many people also tend to keep valuable possessions inside the passenger compartment or trunk, including items like a GPS and other electronics. Keeping your car and possessions as secure as possible makes perfect sense, and using keyless technology can be a big step in the right direction.
Cars that utilize standard keys to open the doors and start the engine are more vulnerable to being stolen than cars that use a keyless entry system. Thieves can potentially make copies of standard keys or use other items of a similar shape to gain access to your vehicle. Conversely, remote systems use radio frequency signals to communicate with your car, and it’s more difficult for thieves to duplicate these signals.
Helps You Get Into Your Car Quickly
A deserted parking lot on a dark evening. A person or group of people that seem to be just a few steps behind you on a route suspiciously similar to yours. These are just two examples of countless situations where getting to a safe space as quickly as possible is the top priority.
Having to spend time and attention to locate your keychain and get the key into the lock could cost you precious time when every second counts. Additionally, it can be all too easy to drop or fumble with your keys if you’re already feeling hurried and anxious.
Using a remote system allows you to quickly grab your keys, find your fob and push a button to get into the safety of your car in less time.
Prevents You From Locking Your Keys in the Car
Far too many of us have realized a split second after pushing the car door shut that our keys remain sitting where we laid them down in the driver’s console or passenger seat. An embarrassing call for help usually follows. What’s more, you’ll also have to pay a locksmith to open your car door if you can’t reach someone to bring you a spare key. After this experience, you may spend the next several days or weeks compulsively checking your pockets or purse before locking the car door.
Touchless car entry systems eliminate the possibility of accidentally locking your keys in your car. Since they recognize your fob’s location, the system will not allow the doors to lock if your fob is inside your vehicle.
No More Paint Damage Around the Lock
As careful as you might be, using a key to manually unlock your car door will probably result in scratches from time to time. Even though small marks may not be visible when they occur, repeatedly damaging the same area can dull the shine on your car’s finish or totally scrape the paint away.
Since a keyless system allows you to open your door without touching your car at all, you can say a permanent goodbye to the possibility of your keys ruining your car’s paint job.
Automatically Locks Your Doors
In addition to the automatic unlocking capability, many touchless entry systems have an automatic locking feature that engages your car’s locks as soon as the fob goes outside of a pre-set distance range.
If you’ve ever rushed out of your car on one of those busy days only to anxiously wonder later whether you remembered to look the doors, the auto-lock feature can spare you from needless worry or from wasting time by having to return to your car to manually check the lock. Additionally, you’ll never have to go back outside in a rainstorm, late at night or in the dead of winter to make sure you locked your car.
The Future of Car Keys
While the progression of car keys over the last century has been impressive enough, don’t expect the technological advances to stop any time soon. More auto manufactures are offering vehicles that don’t require a physical key at all, and car keys as we now know them may quickly become a relic of the past.
As smartphones continue to grow in popularity and accessibility, you may find yourself simply tapping an app to lock or unlock your car doors, start the engine and control other driving aspects.
Even though keyless entry systems on the market today offer enhanced protection against theft, even the best system has security vulnerabilities. However, app-based car keys use a secure Bluetooth connection with location tracking capability that is almost impossible for thieves to duplicate or hack.
Future car key apps will also likely allow you to add multiple approved users, so you won’t have to hand over a set of actual keys if someone else needs to drive your car.
The invention of the keyless entry system has certainly added an extra measure of safety, convenience and peace of mind to our everyday lives. If the past century has been any indicator, we only have bigger and better things to look forward to.