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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

Car Remote Not Working? 5 Ways To Accurately Diagnose Your Vehicle

by Hugo Reed April 9, 2018

Car key remotes are key features in modern vehicles. They elevate convenience for today’s drivers. Aside from this convenience, keyless entry remotes are also quite popular because they help enhance automotive security. A car key remote, as the name suggests, is an electronic component that is meant to interact with, and control, some aspects of your vehicle. For instance, the average key fob is usually used to control the locking mechanism of the car.

If the car remote is not working, it usually means that drivers will not be able to remotely control their vehicles. Apposed to a car key not working, which may keep the vehicle from starting. But with a car key remote not working, aside from impairing convenience, it also limits the safety features of your vehicle and your car key remote. More often than not, a car key remote will be replaced if there is an extensive issue plaguing it. What goes into a car key remote, and what should you do for a car remote not working? Let’s take the time to find out.

What are car key remotes?

As I pointed out, the car key remote is primarily responsible for controlling specific aspects of your vehicle. At the time of its inception, car key remotes were mostly limited to operating car door locks and trunk locks. More recently, due to technological advancements, car key remotes have the ability to control locks, power up vehicles, and engage car alarms.

A car key remote can accomplish a lot, which makes it sound like a rather complicated device. In truth, car remotes are simple devices that simply rely on communication. Your car key remote is a miniature radio transmitter that sends signals to the corresponding receiver in your vehicle. Most car key remotes are primarily powered by lithium coin batteries.

Car remote key not working? Here are some reasons why

1. Car key remote batteries dead

Batteries are the primary source of power for car key remotes, and they work directly with the transmitter in the car remote key. Most car key remotes use lithium coin batteries. Many of these batteries have a long shelf life, which usually makes drivers complacent. Since the car key remote is powered by a battery, it only makes sense that dead battery is one of the reasons for car remotes not working. A replacement car remote battery can be purchased from local hardware stores like Home Depot or Lowes.

2. Damaged car key remote transmitter or receiver

As we have already briefly discussed, a car key remote operates on the basic communication principle that involves a transmission and reception. Car key remotes operate by exchanging signals with a paired receiver. The signals that are transmitted are synonymous with a specific action being carried out. This ranges from locking the car door to starting the engine.

If the car key remote transmitter is damaged, it cannot successfully interact with the car’s receiver. Loose connections and internal damage impact the car remote transmitter. Car remote transmitter damage is difficult for the average driver to fix on their own, so it often falls on the automotive locksmith to solve the issue. Also, if the receiver in the car is damaged, your car remote will not work.

3. Car key remote not programmed

Car remotes are paired devices, which makes the receiver and transmitter dependent on one another. Therefore, the car remote transmitter needs to be programmed and paired to the receiver in your vehicle. If your car key remote has not been programmed to control your vehicle, the remote will not work. This is not a problem that new car owners usually face. It often plagues second-hand car owners, and it is also one of the prominent dangers of purchasing aftermarket electronic car keys. Car key remote programming is similar to transponder key programming, and these processes are often carried out simultaneously.

4. Car key remote broken

A broken car key remote is another common reason for car remote keys not working. A broken transmitter can also technically be classified as a broken car key remote, but it is only one part of the overall issue. If the internal mechanics of your car key remote are displaced or damaged, the car key remote will not work, even if your transmitter and receiver are fully functional. These internal mechanics include the battery terminals and other soldered parts. Your car key remote can be properly programmed or equipped with a transmitter and its corresponding receiver, but if the buttons on your receiver are not working (even with a full battery), your car key remote will not work.

Diagnose Your Car Remote Not Working

Car Key Shell Broken Open

Before you dive head first into tearing your car key remote apart in search of a solution, find solid confirmation of the car remote not working. Drivers are often in a rush to get places, I know this because I absentmindedly find myself rushing to my car at several points in any given day. In the haze of this rush, there are several easy mistakes that you could make that might delude you into thinking that your car remote is not working.

You could have reached for the wrong key, or you could even be pressing the wrong button. Take the time to assess your situation so that you know for sure that your car remote is not working. Fixing a car remote that is not working is not necessarily an easy job or a cheap one. Here are the questions that will help you diagnose your car remote not working:

1. Is the car remote not working consistently?

If your car key remote is working inconsistently, it is often a sign that there is an underlying issue with your car remote battery. In this instance, consistency refers to the way your car remote works with your vehicle. If you have to press the button on your car remote multiple times in order for it to execute one action, then it is working inconsistently. An inconsistent car key remote can signify a weakening car remote battery or damaged internal connections.

Another common sign of car remote inconsistency is the need for increased proximity. Most car remotes can transmit signals from distances of over 50 feet. If drivers have to bring the transmitter and the receiver closer together in order for your car remote to work, it is indicative of a car remote battery problem.

A low battery means that your transmitter will emit a low signal. This is a simple way of your car remote telling you that it needs a little bit more juice to work. Before you declare your problem solved, take the time to go through the other diagnoses questions to confirm that your issue is, in fact, a battery issue.

2. Is the spare car key remote working?

One of the best ways to determine that your current car remote has a deeper issue is to test your spare car key. Every driver needs a spare car key for instances like these, or for when they are locked out of a car. Your spare car key remote will help you determine if you have a simple battery problem or if the issue is something else entirely. All you have to do is perform a rather simple test with both of your car remotes and compare the way they perform against each other.

If the problem stems from a weak battery, you will notice that the spare car remote works better than your original car key remote. If the spare car remote is exhibiting the same issues as the original car remote, then it might an issue with the car’s signal receiver. It is unlikely that both transmitters are damaged, and more probable that your receiver is faulty.

However, do not be quick to draw this conclusion because it could still be a problem with your car remote battery. If your spare car remote was issued to you at the same time as the original car key remote set, then it is possible that their batteries were inserted simultaneously. This is something that drivers have to be aware of and consider for a car remote not working.

3. Is the car remote unresponsive?

If you have tested out your spare key, and it works fine, you can rule out any issues with the car remote receiver. If your spare car remote key is in working order, you can rule out any issues with your vehicles car remote receiver. The spare car remote test simply shows you that your vehicle is still able to successfully receive and execute commands from a working car remote. Essentially, this narrows the source of your problems to the car remote battery or the car remote transmitter.

Unfortunately, if the car remote is unresponsive, there is no way to gauge the effectiveness of the transmitter. In this instance, you will have to replace your car remote batteries. Ideally, switching out the batteries should enable your car remote, but if it is still faulty, it indicates that there is a car remote transmitter problem.

4. Are there any broken pieces in your car key remote?

If your vehicle car remote is still unresponsive after you changed the batteries, you should consider taking your car remote apart to look for any broken internal pieces. Most car key remotes and key fobs are easy to take apart and put back together. They usually entail disconnecting and reconnecting the two halves of the key.

However, if you are unsure how to do this, do not tamper with the key any further. Instead, call an automotive locksmith and have them work on your car remote for you. Proceeding to take apart your car remote without having insight into the method behind it will likely leave your car remote damaged. The irony of that situation is that you will still have to call a locksmith to help you replace your car key remote.

5. Did you have your car remote programmed?

If you ordered an aftermarket car key, and you did not have it programmed to your vehicle, you will have likely found the root of your problem. For security purposes, car remotes are programmed to specific vehicles. This ensures that unauthorized individuals do not have access to your vehicle simply because they have car remote that corresponds to your vehicle make and brand.

Aftermarket car key remotes are not the only culprits in this scenario. Sometimes, spare keys are not programmed before they are handed out to vehicle owners, which is often an oversight on the dealerships part (or the location you acquired your vehicle). In order for your car remote to work with your vehicle, you have to program and pair them.


In order to resolve the issue of a car remote not working, drivers will either have to consult with their dealerships or with an automotive locksmith that is trained to repair or replace key fobs. The main determining factors in where a driver chooses to go are often price and proximity. For most car related costs, dealerships tend to charge much more than the average locksmith. For instance, car key duplication costs are usually much higher at a dealership than at an automotive locksmith shop.

However, each of these solutions is usually much better than attempting to tackle the problem on your own. Car key remotes are intricate devices that are easily damaged if they are not handled correctly. Some drivers will attempt to save costs by handling the car key remote repair on their own, but I assure you that it is much less of a hassle to have a locksmith effectively handle the issue for you.

Final Thoughts

For drivers that have to deal with car remotes not working, I truly empathize with you. I hope that the explanations above help you accurately diagnose the root of your problem. If it is a simple battery issue, you can very easily handle this yourself. However, if it happens to be a more complicated issue, you should not hesitate to reach out to an auto locksmith or your car dealership for support.

Category: Automotive, Car Keys

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