Choosing automotive wants over needs not always wise

“When we service cars in the shop we are always making lists …” writes Nutini

It is the season of giving. Many times our significant others ask us for some sort of list of things we want for Christmas. When it comes time to purchase something sometimes what we want is not at all what we need. Our significant others may choose to purchase more of what we need than what we want. I want a new watch but all my socks have holes in them. The watch will put a smile on my face but the socks will keep my feet warm and healthy.

When we service cars in the shop we are always making lists of what certain vehicles need as far as repairs and maintenance are concerned. Sometimes our customers choose their wants over our suggested needs.

A somewhat common winter request is “command start” or remote start. Push a button while you are still having your morning breakfast and your vehicle starts and begins warming up all by itself. Getting in a cold car is no fun. Getting in a warmed up vehicle with fully defrosted windows (no scraping) can be quite pleasurable.

Command start is a fairly common option on newer vehicles. We are fairly close to having vehicles that will drive themselves so making a vehicle that starts itself is not that challenging.

On the other hand if your vehicle was not built with self starting in mind the process of making it start without you in it can be a challenge. Yes, there are companies offering remote start products and the price shown can be enticing but make sure you know the bigger component of making the system work is the installation. The quality of the product and the installation are extremely important. In many cases the quality of the product is only as good as the installation.

If you have a fairly late model vehicle that could be purchased with a remote start option than all you might need to purchase would be some software and possibly a different key fob remote. This is the best scenario. No new electrical work needs doing and all the safety features and anti theft systems will remain intact.

If your vehicle was not designed for remote starting then installing a system that maintains all your vehicle’s alarm, anti theft, and convenience features will take some time and significant knowledge. The backbone of the system will be a small computer-like device and it will have to be connected into your vehicle’s electrical system.

Starting a car without anyone being in control of it requires a lot of inputs to be determined.

Is the vehicle in park or neutral? Is the parking brake on? Is the vehicle locked and windows rolled up. Is the person starting the vehicle actually a person who is allowed to start it and drive it?

The remote start installer is putting in a black box that is supposed to check that all safety precautions are taken into account. In many cases though some trickery is performed to make the vehicle start.

Most vehicles in this day and age have anti theft (immobilizer) systems. Your key that starts the vehicle is both a mechanical device that must match the ignition lock and as well an electronic match to the immobilizer system. If a key is not present the vehicle must be electronically fooled into starting.

So you may want a remote start system but I suggest checking the needs list first. If your vehicle needs a new thermostat, a new cabin air filter, and a new battery I would suggest starting there.

A battery will make sure your vehicle starts when you turn the key. A thermostat will make sure your vehicle heats up quickly and the cabin air filter will help your windows defrost more quickly.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: nutechauto@telus.net

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