Toyota is charging drivers for the ease of starting their cars using their key fobs. Toyota cars from 2018 and newer will require a subscription in order for the key fob to allow remote start capability, according to a report from The Drive.
When buying a new Toyota, as The Drive points out, consumers have the choice of selecting from a variety of Connected Services, one of which — dubbed Remote Connect — includes the ability to start your car remotely using your key fob.
Remote Connect comes with a free trial, however the length of that trial is determined by the audio package that comes with the car. Even more perplexing, just a few Toyota vehicles are compatible with the free trial’s Audio Plus or Premium Audio packages, which you can see for yourself in this PDF.
To put it another way, the remote start feature of the key fob is linked to the car’s audio package. The first mention of this came in a Reddit post, where the original author included a link to Toyota’s Remote Connect marketing materials (PDF). The page has subsequently been marked as “perhaps deceptive,” however Toyota confirmed to The Drive that when the free trial period expires, consumers would have to pay for remote start.
The remote start feature of the key fob is described in depth in the brochure mentioned in the post, as well as its relationship to the Audio Plus and Premium Audio packages. While drivers who buy a car with Audio Plus get three years of free remote start with a key fob, those who buy a car with Premium Audio get ten years of free remote start. After that, drivers must pay $8 per month or $80 per year for the full Remote Connect service, which includes the key fob’s remote start capability.
It’s not apparent on Toyota’s Remote Connect page if the key fob’s remote start feature is included in the plan. The Remote Connect service allows drivers to start their cars using their wristwatch, smart home device, or smartphone, however there is no mention of using the key fob for remote starts.
As The Drive points out, some users appear to have known about this for years. Users on the Toyota Nation forum discuss the key fob’s remote start functionality in a thread from 2019. Some users claim that their key fob can still start their car remotely, but the majority of the users on this thread own a Toyota from 2018 or later, so they may still be covered by the free trial.
Typically, paywalled features like this are reserved for high-end automobile manufacturers. BMW started charging customers a yearly subscription for Apple Car Play in 2018, on top of the $300 it costs to install the technology. Nearly two years later, the German automobile maker reversed its decision.
BMW does, however, allow you to pay to “unlock” additional functions in your car, a process known as in-car microtransactions. The all-electric Porsche Taycan incorporates a system called Functions On-Demand that allows drivers to add additional, optional functions to their Porsche, such as Active Lane Keeping and Dynamic Light System Plus.
Meanwhile, when the free trial period ends, Cadillac charges $25 a month for their hands-free driving option, Super Cruise, which has been temporarily discontinued in newer Escalades owing to a chip shortage.