How Do Cars with Keyless Entry Work?

Learn how different types of keyless entry work and what features are available.

A hand holding a car key fobShutterstock

Article QuickTakes:

What Is Keyless Entry?

Keyless entry is a feature that allows you to lock and unlock your vehicle without inserting a key in the car door.

If a car requires a key for access, you insert the key into the lock on the car door and turn it. You have to do this every time you need to unlock or lock the door.

Using a key in this way can be difficult in a dark location, as inserting a key in a lock can be challenging if there isn't enough light. And accessing a car with a key can be tricky in frigid weather since ice may prevent the key from entering the lock.

Since cars with keyless entry eliminate the need for key insertion, vehicle access can be safer at night and easier in areas that face ice and snow.

How Does Keyless Entry Work?

With keyless entry, vehicle access usually relies on a key fob. Typically, the fob contains a chip that identifies radio signals sent by your vehicle. These signals are only able to travel for a few feet.

As you enter or exit the car, the vehicle sends a radio signal to the key fob. The fob responds by relaying its code to the vehicle. The vehicle recognizes this code and unlocks or locks the car doors.

However, keyless entry isn't always fob-based. A handful of carmakers—like Tesla and Hyundai—offer a type of keyless entry that allows you to lock and unlock your car using an app on your smartphone.

These are known as digital keys or phone-as-a-key apps. Some of these systems use your phone to send a signal directly with your car, just like a key fob does. Others use the internet to transmit data between your car and your phone.

Keyless Entry Features

Keyless entry comes in many varieties, and each offers unique features. Here are some examples of how various versions work:

One of the oldest versions of this technology allows you to lock or unlock the car by pressing a button on the key fob.

Some types of keyless entry are activated when you touch the car's door handle. This touch-activated system locks or unlocks the door when you make physical contact with the handle.

One of the most popular keyless entry options automatically locks or unlocks the car when you approach the vehicle. You don't need to touch the key fob or the door handle to activate this technology. However, the key fob needs to be in your pocket or purse.

As we've mentioned, the most cutting-edge variation of keyless entry doesn't require a key fob at all—you can lock and unlock your car using an app on your cell phone. With this app, you can give other drivers the ability to lock and unlock your car without needing to share a key fob.

Some types of keyless entry offer a feature that calls up your car's memory settings every time you enter the vehicle. This feature makes automatic adjustments to things like the car's seat position or cabin temperature using the memory settings you've established.

Next Steps

Fortunately, you'll find keyless entry on all types of cars—it's offered with SUVs like the Mazda CX-5 and sports cars like the Toyota GR Supra. It's even available on some of the most inexpensive new cars on the market. Some cars provide this feature as standard equipment. But with other models, this feature is a paid option.

When shopping for cars with keyless entry, keep in mind that automakers use different names to describe this feature. For example, Honda calls one variation of its system Smart Entry with Walk-Away Auto Lock, and Toyota calls its version Smart Key.

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Warren Clarke
A car purchase is a big decision. And once you've made the purchase, you'll be faced with countless other choices that will affect your ownership experience one way or another. Throughout my career in the automotive industry, I've written everything from vehicle reviews to articles covering topics such as car insurance and leasing. My mission is to help you make the best decisions regarding your vehicle.