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How Does a Push Button Start Work?

Push Start

In the early 2000s, luxury car manufacturers began producing automobiles with keyless ignition. Like other features that initially only appeared in luxury automobiles, push-button ignition has now been included in various affordable cars due to its rampant increase in popularity. According to a statement released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were approximately 5,000 vehicles in 2002 that came with a keyless ignition start. Ward’s Auto also reported that this number was likely to increase to 4.4 million by 2013. Although push button starts make work easier for the driver, many people do not understand the system behind it. Here, we will help you determine how a push button start works.

What Is a Push Button Start Key Fob?

Mercedes Benz was the first luxury car brand to feature push-button starts in their keyless ignition systems. Currently, other premium automobile brands, such as Lexus, Rolls Royce, and Acura, come with a push button start key fob. But, what is a push button start key fob? A push button start key fob is simply a button that allows the driver to start their car’s engine by pressing what the name suggests – a button. That said, you won’t be able to use this push start button to stop your car’s engine if you don’t set your gear in park. Plus, the push button start won’t be able to start your vehicle if you don’t press your car’s brakes. The push button start is unique to a vehicle and quite popular in the market, particularly among arthritis patients and elderly drivers who find it challenging to start their car’s engine with a key. It eliminates the pain of turning a key in the ignition. Each key fob has a distinctive signal that connects it to the vehicle’s ignition. Therefore, your automobile’s ignition will only be powered on when the push button start of your original key fob is pressed. You are also required to press the push-button start key fob within a few feet from where the car is parked.

How Do Push Button Start Systems Work?

Push button usually starts power engines through a keyless ignition system that tends to only work for the model for which it was made. The mechanics might vary from one car to the next, but all these systems work to substitute the ordinary metal car key with a keyless fob. For the push button start system to work effectively, the key fob must be placed inside the vehicle for its computer system to link with it. This allows the driver to easily start the vehicle’s engine with the push of a button. The key fob can be described as a transmitter that delivers a low-frequency signal to the vehicle. This ID signal is unique to each vehicle, such that once the fob is placed inside the car and the push button start is pressed, the vehicle’s receiver receives the signal and transmits the power to the engine. The main objectives of introducing a keyless car entry system were to promote driver convenience and lower the risk of auto thefts. This is because the vehicle will only recognize the signal from one unique key fob, making it hard for unauthorized persons to enter your car.

Pros and Cons of Push Button Starts

Like many new technological inventions, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to the use of push button start in cars. In 1912, Cadillac launched an electric push-button car start that was a replacement for the difficult-to-operate and unsafe hand crank. Later in the early 2000s, manual keys were replaced by push button cars installed on the car’s dashboard or floor. We have outlined some of their benefits and downsides of key fobs:


  • The technology can easily detect if the key is placed in the vehicle, making it difficult to lock your keys inside.
  • The smart key comes fitted with sensors that allow the driver to lock, unlock, or start the vehicle while the keys remain in the driver’s purse or pocket.
  • The technology utilizes the convenience of remote control, which allows the driver to warm up the vehicle while it is parked and locked in the driveway.


  • Since there is no industry standardization, available key fobs often have different performance levels.
  • If the key fob’s battery becomes depleted, the driver will have to override the system and locate the manual key. The key is usually hidden in the device or contact roadside assistance.
  • Some drivers are not well-educated on how to use the push button ignitions and usually end up forgetting to turn their car’s engine off, setting them in “park” mode before exiting the vehicle. This would leave the car running, causing it to roll away.
  • Lost key fobs are usually costlier to replace than manual car keys.

Choosing a Push Start Button Kit

The following are some factors to consider when purchasing a push start button kit:

  • Number of Key Fobs - Most vendors usually include one key fob, but you may need more. So, you should check on the number of remote key fobs.
  • Manual Cutoff Switch - This allows you to remotely shut off the vehicle’s engine for additional protection, especially if the car is stolen.
  • Mobile Compatibility - This increases the efficiency of the push button device and allows you to start, lock, switch off, or unlock your vehicle.
  • Operating Range - This determines the distance from which you can remotely switch on your car’s engine.

Using Your Push Button Start

Below are some of the simple steps that need to be followed when using the push button start to turn on your car’s engine:

  • Press down on your car’s brake and maintain this position.
  • Press the push button start on the key fob, and hold it until the engine is powered on.

To switch off your vehicle’s engine:

  • Set your car in the “park” gear.
  • Press the push button start, and hold it until the engine goes off.

These guidelines are only meant for general purposes and are not meant to alter the manufacturer’s instructions on each vehicle. Make sure to consult your repair guide and owner’s manual first.


With the introduction of push button starts, the manual ignition key has become outdated. However, as with other technological advancements, there are some pros and cons to the adoption of keyless ignition systems. Thus, every driver needs to be well-educated on how to utilize them properly.

Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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