The Difference Between a Remote Key Fob and a Keyless Entry Remote – How to Differentiate, Costs, Security Features, and More.

Key fob - Volvo
Key fob – Volvo
Kia keyless entry remote
Kia keyless entry remote

Table of Contents

Overview

Nissan keyless entry remote
Nissan keyless entry remote

One of the most confusing aspects of car keys these days is the difference between remote car keys, also known as key fobs, smart keys or intelligent keys, and keyless entry remotes.

While some may look similar, there is a substantial difference between the two.

This is especially relevant for those of you who want to get a spare key online and are unsure which one is the right for your vehicle.

In this blog post, we will go over the purpose of each type of remote, estimated costs, and ways to differentiate between the two.

Let’s start with a short review and a few examples of each remote.

Remote key fob:

Key fobs – Different makes
Key fobs – Different makes

This is the type of remote used to start vehicles with a “Push to start” option, meaning there is no place to insert an actual key into the ignition switch or cylinder.

Instead, you push the “Start” button to start the vehicle.

Push to start button and key fob (Lexus)
Push to start button and key fob (Lexus)

This type of remote was introduced around 2006 and has Bluetooth capability and advanced security features against theft.

As of 2023, this is the most common type of car key and is being used for many different types of makes and models.

Here are a few important things to remember about remote key fobs:

Emergency key of key fob - Inside look
Emergency key of key fob – Inside look

First, they are battery-operated – which usually lasts about 2-3 years.

In addition, there is a small electric chip inside them – This is the transponder chip.

They all have an “emergency key” to unlock the doors in case the battery dies.

When you buy a key online – you will have to make sure someone cuts you the key and code the key fob.

Your key fob must be coded on-site with a special machine (by connecting it to the OBD of the vehicle) – meaning it cannot be done remotely or by yourself.

With this key fob – you can unlock the door and start your car.

Usually cost about $30 and up. High-security models can cost up to $250 only for the key fob, not including coding.

Learn more about key fobs here.

Below, a few examples of key fobs from different manufacturers:

Previous
Next

Now, let’s go over keyless entry remotes:

Keyless entry - Chrysler
Keyless entry – Chrysler

Those types of remotes are usually used for older models mostly before 2006. However, you can see them in use even for newer models that use an actual key to start the car.

Keyless entry remotes usually have 2 to 3 buttons, which are the lock, unlock and trunk open options.

However, you can’t start the vehicle with them. Their purpose is to allow people to lock and unlock the vehicle instead of inserting the actual key into the door cylinder to lock and unlock.

You will still need an actual key inserted into the ignition to start the vehicle.

This is the most substantial difference between a key fob and a keyless entry remote.

Keyless entry and VATS key - Buick
Keyless entry and VATS key – Buick

Finally, keyless entry remotes can be used for vehicles with or without transponder chip keys, but they will always need an actual key to start the car (unless a mechanic installs a remote starter kit).

In addition, it’s important to remember that keyless entry remotes don’t have any security features inside them (Such as a transponder chip or similar).

Here are a few important things to remember about keyless entry remotes:

Jeep keyless entry
Jeep keyless entry

They are battery operated – which usually lasts about 3-4 years

The chip located inside them is not a transponder chip and has no security features.

Keyless entry remotes have no key. The car owner will still need a key to start the car.

In case you buy a key online, you will have to program the keyless entry remote to work with your car. Unlike remote key fobs, most often, you can do that yourself.

Usually cost about $20 or less (in the US)

Examples of keyless entry remotes by different manufacturers:

Previous
Next

To wrap it up:

Kia keyless entry remote
Kia keyless entry remote

If you are having trouble finding whether you need a key fob or keyless entry remote, consider the following question:

Is there an actual ignition cylinder to insert the key? If so, then you need to get a keyless entry remote.

If not, and there is a push-to-start button, you will need a key fob.

Not sure how to get a replacement key? check our blog post for a detailed explanation.

Important note:

Coding machine for key fob and OBD connection
Coding machine for key fob and OBD connection

Both options can have a remote starter installed. That is the option to start your car remotely from a distance without you being present inside the vehicle.

However, it is a much cheaper and easier process with vehicles that use a regular key since those with key fobs have advanced security features that limit the range.

Finally, remember it is always a smart thing to consult an automotive locksmith or a mechanic to make sure you buy the right part for your vehicle.