In the Odyssey, Homer repeatedly describes the spreading light of a new day as “rosy-fingered dawn.” The dawn of subscription-based vehicle features is upon us, but instead of rosy fingers, these are the fat fingers of profit spreading to grab what they can from your wallet. Toyota joins the fray with an update to its key-based remote start function for vehicles going back to 2018. Car shopping site CoPilot wrote about this over the summer when discussing the new RAV4, but the matter flew under the radar until a Reddit user decided to read the fine print in Toyota’s marketing materials for the automaker’s Remote Connect app suite. The contentious bit, as Toyota confirmed to The Drive, is that Toyota is making the key-fob-based remote start part of its Remote Connect services. Toyota will require owners to pay for a subscription to use the remote start function on their key fobs after a trial period ends, that trial period lasting anywhere from three to 10 years.
We should explain that there are two ways to remote start Toyota vehicles. One is using the fob, a chip in the key sending a radio signals to a chip in the car to let the car know to start. This one relies only on proximity communication between key and car; typically, as long as the fob chip, fob battery, and vehicle chip are in good working order, all should be well. But that’s not the case here, which we’ll get to. The second way is by using Toyota’s Remote Connect suite of services that costs either $8 per month or $80 per year. These services operate through a cell or wi-fi connection and include remote start, finding your car in a parking lot or finding PHEV charging locations, monitoring teen drivers, and locking or unlocking the car.
Remote Connect comes in two levels depending on vehicle trim, either Audio Plus or Premium Audio. Remote Connect comes with a one-year trial, but based on the automaker’s written materials, the Audio Plus key fob will operate remote start for three years on select 2018 to 2020 model-year vehicles, and certain 2020-model-year vehicles will get functionality for 10 years. The Premium Audio fob will work for 10 years on select 2018 through 2020 models. It sounds like owners can get functionality for anywhere from two to 10 years even without a Remote Connect subscription, but because the remote start information only specifies models up to the 2020 model year, who knows.
Since this applies to vehicles back to 2018, there are already owners who have realized the situation. If you’re wondering how the app-based system affects the key-based system, a forum thread on Toyota Nation about this topic explains that the remote start function is built into the vehicle’s data communications module, “like they designed the remote start for the app first and then it was an afterthought to make it work from the fob as well.” So the fob effectively has to ask the car to start. Without the subscription, the car can say no.
As for why this only goes back to 2018, it’s because the 3G electronics in earlier models aren’t compatible with LTE networks. To avoid having to update those cars, Toyota decided owners of pre-2018 Toyotas won’t need a subscription to use the fob-based remote start.