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Toyota owners have to pay $8/mo to keep using their key fob for remote start


Without a subscription, Toyota's RF key fob loses functionality.
Enlarge / Without a subscription, Toyota’s RF key fob loses functionality.

George Frey/Bloomberg

Automakers keep trying to get a piece of that sweet, sweet subscription income. Now, it’s Toyota’s turn.

Nearly every car company offers some sort of subscription package, and Toyota has one called Remote Connect. The service offers the usual fare, letting owners use an app to remotely lock their doors, for example, or if they own a plug-in vehicle, to precondition the interior. But as some complimentary subscriptions for Remote Connect come to an end, Toyota owners are getting an unexpected surprise—they can no longer use their key fob to remote-start their vehicles.

In terms of technology, this remote-start feature is no different from using the fob to unlock the car. The fobs use a short-range radio transmitter to send the car a signal that is encrypted with rolling codes. The car then decrypts the signal and performs the requested action, whether it’s to lock or unlock the doors, beep the horn, or start the engine. RF key fobs have been around since the 1980s, and GM added a factory-installed remote-start option in 2004 (no subscription needed).

Key fob remote start has nothing to do with an app, nor does the car or the fob communicate with any servers managed by Toyota.

Toyota has been offering factory-installed remote start on 2018 and newer vehicles equipped with Audio Plus or Premium Audio. To use it, owners have to be within 50 feet of the vehicle and double-press the fob’s lock button before holding the lock button down for a few seconds.

Yet recently, as 2018 Toyotas have passed their third birthday, owners have been discovering that the fob’s functionality is dependent on maintaining an active Remote Connect subscription. Vehicles equipped with Audio Plus receive a free three-year “trial,” while Premium Audio vehicles receive 10 years. Once those subscriptions expire, though, the key fob remote start stops working. Toyota didn’t change the rules, though that detail was buried in the fine print. When the time comes, Toyota simply cuts off access to one of the functions on the key fob already in the owner’s possession. To get the feature back, owners have to pony up $8 per month or $80 per year.

But if you have a Toyota built before November 12, 2018, you won’t have to pay, even though key-fob remote start for those vehicles was also tied to Remote Connect. Toyota said it has “enhanced” those cars so that owners can use the feature without a subscription.

Why the cutoff? It may seem like an arbitrary date, but it happens to be when Toyota stopped building cars with 3G chips. As telecoms sunset their 3G networks, owners of older Toyotas will have no way to subscribe to or use Remote Connect services. Since key fob remote start doesn’t require an Internet connection, Toyota just flipped a switch and gave it to everyone in that group.

It’s a nice gesture, but it reinforces the fact that there’s no technical reason to include RF-powered key fob features in a remote services package.



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