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What is keyless entry and which cars have it?

Keyless entry is increasingly common and lets you unlock a car without blipping the key fob. We explain all you need to know

Twisting a key in a lock to unlock or start a car is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. More and more cars now let you unlock your car with the press of a button or a grab of a doorhandle, allowing you to leave your key fob in your pocket or bag.

It’s a really useful bit of tech if you arrive at your car with your hands full, because you can unlock the car without needing to rummage around for your keys. But you may have seen stories of cars with keyless entry being stolen, so keep reading and we’ll tell you some of the ways you can deter thieves from taking your pride and joy.

What is keyless entry on a car?

Keyless entry is a bit of a misleading name – in the vast majority of cases, you need to have the car keys on your person. It simply means you can unlock a car without needing to press a button on the key fob or putting the key in the lock.

If you constantly find yourself standing next to the car desperately hunting through your stuff to remember where you put your keys, keyless entry is a must-have bit of kit. In a sec we’ll tell you some of the cars that come with it.

How to lock and unlock cars with keyless entry

Man opening keyless entry car

Most cars with keyless entry have a little button or sensor on the front door handles. Walk up to the car with the key in your pocket, press the button or the handle and the car will unlock. Some cars may only unlock one door when you press the button; others may open all the passenger doors, and some cars will let you choose what happens.

To lock a car with keyless entry, ensure all the doors are closed when the key is nearby. The key will sense all doors are closed and will lock the car once you get a couple of metres away. It’ll usually tell you the car is locked with a beep or a flash of the indicators. If you’re in a hurry and walk away from the car while a door is still shutting, the car probably won’t lock because the key will be too far away.

In some modern cars, such as Teslas and some BMWs, you can have a digital key saved on your phone and use your phone to open the car. This could be really handy if the car has lots of different drivers or if you want to lend your car to a friend.

It’s worth noting that the majority of keyless cars still come with a traditional key hidden inside the key casing. This can be used to unlock the car when the key battery has run out.

How does keyless entry work?

Keyless entry works with the car sending out a radio signal, which is picked up and relayed by the key fob if it’s in close enough proximity. If the signals match, the car will lock or unlock.

Cars with keyless entry

There are lots of cars with keyless entry on sale, but you’ll need to do a bit of spec-sheet digging as keyless entry often isn’t fitted to every version of a car – it’s often reserved for top-of-the-range models or premium cars.

Some popular cars with keyless entry include the Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris.

What are the problems with keyless entry cars?

Keyless entry only works when you’re close to the car, so you’ll still have to use the button when you’re more than a couple of metres away. Cars with keyless entry tend to drain the battery in the key fob, too, so you might find that you’re having to prise open your key to replace the cell battery inside more often than you’re used to.

Traditional car keys also had a distinct place in the car, and you’d think to grab them every time you got out. But keyless fobs can be anywhere – in your bag, in your coat, in the cupholder if the carmaker hasn’t thought of putting in somewhere to stash the key… so you need to remember to take your key with you when you leave the car. It’s all too easy to leave it in your bag or in a cubby and walk away from the car with it still unlocked and the keys inside.

Are keyless cars easier to steal?

This is the main problem with keyless cars. They tend to be easier to steal than cars with conventional keys. A thief can use an amplifier to intercept the signal from the key and use it to start the car – the car thinks the key is there. This means a thief can quickly steal a car from your driveway, which at least means your house might not be broken into.

There are plenty of ways to keep keyless cars safe, though. Keep your keys as far away from the car as possible and shield their signal from being transmitted. The easiest way to do this is to keep your keys in a Faraday pouch, which blocks the signals from the key. Faraday pouches are inexpensive – usually around £10 – and can be picked up online or from car parts stores. We’ve also heard stories of people keeping their keys in the microwave, which is fine until you forget to take them out before heating something up. We don’t advise you do this.

How to disable keyless entry systems

You can often disable keyless entry in your car’s settings menu. It may be hidden deep in submenus, but it should be found in a menu with other lock settings or other driver assistance settings.

In a Ford, for example, select the Vehicle menu from the home screen, scroll down to the ‘Locks’ tab and you’ll see a ‘KeyFree’ option, which can be turned off with a slider on the screen.

In a Range Rover, you need to open the door, then within three seconds you need to press the headlight button three times and the unlock button once. To turn it back on again, do the same procedure but press the lock button instead of the unlock button.

Most cars with keyless entry should tell you how to disable keyless entry in the handbook. Otherwise, you may need to contact the car manufacturer.