Man unlocking doors with a key fob

How To Start A Car With A Dead Key Fob

If you own a car equipped with a key fob and a start/stop button instead of the classic ignition key, have you ever considered how you would enter and start your car if the key fob was to go bad? Like most car owners, you probably enjoy the benefits that come with a remote locking or keyless entry systems. Having doors that unlock themselves when you come near the vehicle and a trunk that opens at the click of a button is great, no doubt about that. And not having to take the key out of your pockets every time you want to start the car is even better. However, you may have noticed that most modern fobs don’t have a key blade, like in the old days. This means that if the key fob goes bad, you might have a hard time unlocking your doors or starting the car. Fortunately, there are several hacks you can do to get you out of such frustrating situations like this. To help you with that, we’ve created this article covering various troubleshooting options but also various tips and tricks to unlock the doors and start your car with a dead key fob.

Dead key fob

What Does a Key Fob Do?

The key fob you have in your hand is nothing more than a small transmitter. When you press a button, it emits a radio signal on a certain frequency that your car picks up. Depending on your command, it will lock and unlock the doors or open the trunk lid. Newer cars with more upscale trims even feature a keyless entry option. As you come near the vehicle, it will recognize the fob and unlock itself. This allows you to enter and start your car while pressing no buttons on the key fob. These convenient features are something that makes your everyday life much easier.

The problem is that when the key fob stops working, you seemingly have no other ways of entering your car. Among the usual causes, something simple like dead batteries is, by far, the most common one. Inside every key fob, there is a small battery similar to those powering our wristwatches. Like every other battery, they have a fixed lifespan and will need to be replaced at some point. Depending on the make and model of your car, this is usually something you can do by yourself. Sometimes, things like water, force, or excessive wear can cause damage to the internal electrical circuit. If that is the case, you will have to replace the key fob itself.

How To Unlock a Car When the Key Fob is Dead

When your key fob stops working and doesn’t unlock your car anymore, you can try some of the following tricks. For a start, walk to the car and lean the key fob against the window while pressing the unlock button. This can help when the battery is on its last legs, as that reduces the range of transmitted radio waves. In case you opened your car this way, the battery still needs replacement without any delay.

Another option is the manufacturer’s roadside assistance service, as most of them offer a remote door unlock feature. Some of them go even further by including a smartphone application that you can use in such situations. These options are especially useful if you accidentally lock your keys inside the car.

If none of the above works, there is still a possibility to unlock the car using the old-fashioned way. You may not aware of this, but your fob hides a little mechanical key inside it. Look closely at the casing and you will find a latch or similar mechanism that holds the physical key in place. After releasing this mechanism, you will be able to pull the mechanical key out of the fob housing. Then, use this miniature key to unlock the doors. Most cars have a keyhole only on the driver’s door, and sometimes it may have a plastic cover over it. Once you are inside the car, unlock the remaining doors and trunk. You can do this by pressing the unlock button on the dashboard or pulling the grab handles on each door.

Key hidden in a dead key fob
With this key fob model, you can clearly see the metal key hidden inside but with others, it might not be that obvious.

Can I Start My Car With a Dead Key Fob?

Although a mechanical key allows you to unlock your car, you still need a way to start the engine. To prevent them from being stolen, almost all cars have an anti-theft feature built into their onboard computers. To start the car, the computer first needs to receive a signal from the microchip inside the key fob.

The situation becomes a bit more complicated in cars that have a keyless entry system. As you may know, these cars are ready to start as soon as you get inside. If the key fob is dead, your car won’t receive a signal from it. This means nothing will happen when you press the start-stop button. However, there are several ways to start the engine, depending on what make and model of your car. In most Japanese and Korean cars, all you have to do is push the start-stop button with a key fob. As you do that, the sensor inside the button will pick up the signal. Some European cars even have a slot for your fob somewhere on the dashboard or steering column. This serves as a backup option that is easy to use in situations like this.

If none of this works, most cars still have a physical ignition lock hidden somewhere. Sometimes, it’s hidden behind a plastic cover placed over where the ignition switch would be. Some manufacturers like Ford or General Motors also use slots, but they are usually hidden with various plastic trims. Glove box, armrest compartment, or the area below the cup holders are just some possible places. When in doubt, take a look into your car’s owner manual.

After inserting the small mechanical key into the slot, the sensor will receive the signal it needs and you’ll be able to start the engine normally.

In Brief…

As you could learn from this article, the key fob for your car combines several functions. Besides being the controller for the remote locking system, it also serves as a key needed to start your car. Some cars even feature a keyless entry, which allows you to enter your car with the fob still inside your pocket. However, this also means you’ll be in trouble if the key fob goes bad. Still, there are several simple tricks that you can use to get inside your car and start the engine. Changing the battery inside the fob or calling roadside assistance service are some possibilities. If that doesn’t work, you can always get inside the car using a miniature key hidden inside the fob. In all cases, make sure to find out what’s wrong with your key fob and have it fixed as soon as possible. Even though there’s always a trick to unlock the doors and start the car without the key fob, that can be a real hassle after a while.

Get replacement batteries or a remote key fob for your car here.

About Bojan P

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My name is Bojan - I am a car enthusiast, specialised in the vehicle diagnosis, repair and maintenance with 10 years of practical, hands-on experience. In addition, I have a Masters degree in mechanical engineering.

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