Best Remote Start System for Toyota Highlander?

A reader named Josh recently asked about remote starters:

“I’d really like to see some recommendations on a remote starter. I live in Minnesota and it gets a bit chilly up here. I am wondering if the Toyota remote starter or a third party (Viper, other?) is the best way to go in terms of range, usability, and features?”

I actually grew up in Minnesota, so I know exactly what he’s talking up in terms of “chilly” weather. 🙂 But now that I live in the Deep South, remote starters are one of the last things on my mind.

What I do know is this: The Toyota remote start system leaves a lot to be desired, so Josh is justified in his search for info on 3rd party solutions.

OEM shortcomings

Based on reports from other owners, the range of the Toyota remote start system is quite short — on the order of 100 ft or less in open air. This isn’t particularly surprising given that the system uses the factory key fob which, as you’re likely aware, has rather limited range.

The other major complaint is that your Highlander shuts off when you unlock/open the door to get in after having started it remotely. This is (apparently) by design. Presumably, it’s a safety/security feature. But that certainly doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Aftermarket advantages

On the flip side, aftermarket remote starters typically offer much better range and typically don’t shut the engine down when entering the car. And many of these systems offer two-way communication so the fob will provide feedback on things like whether or not the car is running.

Then again… You may need to carry around a second fob on your keychain if you get an aftermarket remote start system. For some owners, this will be a worthwhile tradeoff. For others? Not so much.

Which brand?

As for which brand is best, I’m not really sure. As Josh noted, Viper is one fairly well known option. As far as I can tell, they have a great reputation. But I really don’t have much experience with this, so…

If you can provide any insight, please leave a comment below. Do you have a preferred brand? Which features are a “must have”? And is there anything in particular that prospective buyers should try to avoid?

P.S. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that the hot summers down in our neck of the woods would be just as good a reason to install a remote starter as the cold winters up north. Hmmm…

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19 comments… add one
  • Josh Nov 21, 2014

    Thanks for posting this, I hope others can weigh in with their experiences. My wife has the Honda factory remote starter in her CR-V and it sounds very similar to the shortcomings you described with the Toyota option.

    P.S. We do use the remote starter in the heat as well!

  • Josh Jan 15, 2015

    I wound up buying a DroneMobile remote starter from the Toyota dealership. I chose the model that works with the smartphone app. The dealership said Viper doesn’t have a bypass module available for the 2015 Highlander yet (at least not one that could meet the configuration option below).

    How it works (two methods):
    SmartKey–they installed a module inside my SmartKey, no additional dongle needed. I just press the lock button 3 times in a row quickly and it starts (same sequence to stop the engine if it is running).

    iOS Smartphone app (DroneMobile)–I can also start the car on my iPhone 6 Plus (also available for android). It is a good looking app and seems to work well. You can login to their website and access all of the same features from there as well (including start the car).

    Details:
    -SmartKey is one way communication, no confirmation that the command was successful. I’m assuming a fairly limited range, but I haven’t tested that yet.
    -The DroneMobile app is two way, the car sends back the results of the command. Unlimited range, but the car needs to have cellular service since this is internet based.

    Commands/Features:
    -Start/Stop engine
    -Lock/Unlock
    -AUX1/AUX2 (I don’t have these programmed, it sounds like they may be Toyota settings able to be programmed to roll down the windows or turn other car functions on/off…..if anyone has more info or suggestions I’d be interested)
    -Panic
    -Alarm trigger notification to smart phone
    -Log of actions

    Premium Features:
    -Status check without sending a command
    -Car battery status
    -GPS functions (very accurate in my limited testing…close enough to help you find it in the parking lot!)

    One benefit the installers noted that DroneMobile has over the Viper brand is that if you want GPS and premium features in the Viper brand then you need to pay more upfront to get the right equipment installed, and also pay more each year for the service. With the DroneMobile all of the hardware is installed and your level of service can be changed just by up/downgrading your subscription.

    I’ll post an update if I run into issues, but it’s pretty cool so far.

  • Josh Jan 15, 2015

    One other note:
    The Highlander does shut off when you open the door, the installers said there wasn’t a way around that. I think it is still a much better system than my wife’s Honda brand starter, compare the process for getting in while the engine is running:

    CR-V EX-L:
    1) Turn off engine with remote starter
    2) Wait for engine to turn off
    3) Unlock doors with keyless entry
    4) Open door

    Highlander Limited:
    1) Open door (SmartKey)

    It may not sound like much, but it is a much smoother operation in practice (especially when it is -30 degrees windchill).

  • carlos Mar 29, 2015

    Your comments are very helpful. we don’t have a dronemobile here, I was wondering if you had to buy product and then service fee per year or if the service came with the products you need to use. and prices if you have any. anymore information is appreciated. thanks

  • Vince Sep 11, 2015

    We negotiated the Toyota remote start as part of the purchase price. So far, I’m not impressed. The remote start on my Impala (2008) is much superior. It has a better range, runs for up to 10 minutes and continues to run after the doors are unlocked. If I buy another Toyota product, I’ll do my homework ahead of time. Being able to start it from a Smart phone sound like a great idea!

  • James Oct 30, 2015

    I also negotiated the remote start at purchase as it is hot in Texas and use the running engine to pre-cool the Highlander. Not a good sequence. Our user story is largish family. Start the car from front door and herd kids out to car. When last straggler is out door, turn around and lock door to house. At this point everyone, except driver is in car with cool air blowing and music blaring. Driver walks up, tunes top, AC stops and then have to wait for driver to press a button. I’ve complained to dealership but they throw out the safety diversion. Not a good excuse and I’m ranking them poorly on every courtesy call I get. HOW IT SHOULD WORK: Leave engine running and make it so you have to push the start button when driver sits down. If driver doesn’t push start button and puts foot on brake to shift out of Park, THEN stop the engine. Otherwise leave it running. My 2009 ford works this way, but does require separate remote. I paid for a more expensive option that doesn’t give me what I want. I would use factory version maybe once a week. Aftermarket every day (probably multiple times)

  • David Jan 5, 2016

    Worse remote on the market. On my 3rd Toyota (2 tundras and highlander). The remote on my ’08 tundra has to be withing 10′ or so to unlock the truck. Stupid! The remote starter on the ’15 highlander kills the engine when opening the door. Again, stupid!! If the driver has the key, why kill the engine? The doors are locked so how Is a thief going to drive off in it without the key? If a window is broken while locked the anti theft feature kills the engine. Smart. Having to startvte engine twice every time you drive is doublingvthe we are and tear on the starter. Stupid. Come on Toyota, think! You extended the remote range a little in 2010 after realizing 10′ was useless. Now correct the remote start issue with an upgrade.

  • David Jan 5, 2016

    Worse remote on the market. On my 3rd Toyota (2 tundras and highlander). The remote on my ’08 tundra has to be withing 10′ or so to unlock the truck. Stupid! The remote starter on the ’15 highlander kills the engine when opening the door. Again, stupid!! If the driver has the key, why kill the engine? The doors are locked so how Is a thief going to drive off in it without the key? If a window is broken while locked the anti theft feature kills the engine. Smart. Having to startvte engine twice every time you drive is doubling the wear and tear on the starter. Stupid. Come on Toyota, think! You extended the remote range a little in 2010 after realizing 10′ was useless. Now correct the remote start issue with an upgrade.

  • David Jan 5, 2016

    Worse remote on the market. On my 3rd Toyota (2 tundras and highlander). The remote on my ’08 tundra has to be withing 10′ or so to unlock the truck. Stupid! The remote starter on the ’15 highlander kills the engine when opening the door. Again, stupid!! If the driver has the key, why kill the engine? The doors are locked so how Is a thief going to drive off in it without the key? If a window is broken while locked the anti theft feature kills the engine. Smart. Having to start the engine twice every time you drive is doubling the wear and tear on the starter. Stupid. Come on Toyota, think! You extended the remote range a little in 2010 after realizing 10′ was useless. Now correct the remote start issue with an upgrade.

  • Tom Jun 3, 2016

    We don’t have a remote start but our dealer offered one. He wouldn’t even consider putting the OEM solution on and offered the Viper brand as an alternative. We had a pretty good dealership experience so I would guess he was being pretty honest on this topic as well.

  • texmaster Jun 13, 2016

    I’m greatful just to find people talking about this. I just bought a 2016 Highlander and as others was greatly disappointed in the remote start feature from the car door killing it to the range. My last car was a 5 year old cadillac and its remote start was far longer and far superior. I’m amazed this hasn’t been fixed with Toyota. I ran into a Lexus driver this weekend and their remote start stays on when opening the door. This must be intentional by Toyota to castrate the Highlander so the Lexus looks better.

  • Donna Aug 30, 2016

    Never buy the Toyota factory starter, the range is awful! Waste of money. My dealership recommended the after market one… 1500 range! Engine won’t cut off when you open door and you receive a signal notifying you that car started!

    Drawback…. Extra fob…. But I prefer that over uselessness!

    • Dan Jan 6, 2017

      Donna, can you please reply with the name of the after market remote starter that won’t turn off the engine when you open the doors? TIA, Dan

    • Stacy Sep 26, 2017

      What brand is this? I am looking at purchasing a 2016 or 2017 Highlander and I really want the remote start. My husband’s truck is a Dodge Ram and you can remote start and it stays running when you open the door. He has the key fob that you have to insert like a key and you can’t drive it away unless the key fob is in.

  • chris Jan 16, 2017

    Donna, I also would like to know the after market remote starter that won’t shut off my Toyota when the door opens please!
    Thanks!

  • David Schneider Jun 3, 2017

    I use the Drone Mobile System which is a dream. Remote start and shutdown, lock and unlock, open and close lift gate and more from your cell phone anywhere in the world. No range limitation. Works with iPhone or Android,

  • David Schneider Jun 3, 2017

    I use the Drone Mobile System which is a dream. Remote start and shutdown, lock and unlock, open and close lift gate and more from your cell phone anywhere in the world. No range limitation. Works with iPhone or Android, However, engine does stop when you open the door.

  • Billie Aug 25, 2017

    We live where winters are very cold and windy…and had hoped to get a self starter installed in 2015 Highlander. But after reading these comments, I think we need someone to explain what the Drone Mobile System is, how we get it, cost of parts, labor, etc. Thank you very much for your help.

  • Stacy Sep 26, 2017

    My husband’s truck is a Dodge Ram and you can remote start and it stays running when you open the door. He has the key fob that you have to insert like a key and you can’t drive it away unless the key fob is in. Toyota should look into doing the same thing.

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