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Be careful with installation of aftermarket remote starters


If you’re considering a remote starter, be sure to do your homework to avoid costly repair bills.
If you’re considering a remote starter, be sure to do your homework to avoid costly repair bills. - Contributed

Much of Canada has now experienced numerous winter cold-snaps, which sees the demand for remote starter installation surge. We’re humans, after all.

And, as such, we like being warm. But not all remote starters are the same and neither is the way they’re installed.

If you’re considering a remote starter, be sure to do your homework first and also consider the following story, sent my way by a dealer service advisor pal of mine.

Keith McDonald recently accepted a customer’s one year-old luxury crossover, which she’d brought to the dealership for what she assumed to be some issue with the vehicle’s battery and extremely cold outside temperatures.

“The complaint involved the vehicle instrument cluster and how it was frequently lighting up like a Christmas tree,” McDonald said. “The customer had experienced many warning lights, error messages, and multiple failures of various safety systems. It’s frustrating, for the shopper, as she paid good money for the features on this vehicle and now they were working very unreliably.”

McDonald’s technicians promptly set off trying to recreate the problem reported by the customer.

“When we see multiple warnings and errors like this, especially in such a new vehicle, we tend to inspect the battery, the charging system and the various computer modules,” he explains.

“One failure or error or warning is typically something specific, but when you’ve got many going off at once, it can often be something much simpler, for instance, a weak battery or a bad electrical ground. Still, we don’t expect to see this in a vehicle that’s barely a year old.”

Unfortunately, neither of these was the case for McDonald’s customer. Initial analysis of the vehicle and its systems, as well as a computer diagnostic scan, shed little light on the problem.

“My master technician figured out that the problem was a computer error, but she couldn’t pinpoint it easily,” McDonald said. “Eventually, on further digging, she determined that certain systems in the vehicle were not talking to other systems, hence the error messages and illumination of multiple warning lights.”

McDonald’s technician eventually traced the cause of the problem to a non-factory remote start system that the customer had recently had installed.

“She called me into the shop, showed me one part of the main wiring harness in the customer’s vehicle. We both said ‘BINGO’ at the same time,” McDonald said.

Though many variables are at play, the installation of a remote starter may require some level of modification to the vehicle’s factory wiring.

“Years back, I used to work in a shop where remote starters were installed,” McDonald said. “Back then, the vehicle wiring and electronics were less complex. You typically had to locate, cut, and splice various wires from the vehicle’s factory wiring harness, and connect them via a special connector, to the remote start unit.”

In simple terms, this required unravelling, cutting, and reconnecting of various wires, thereby modifying the factory wiring to accommodate the additional remote starter system hardware.

“But with modern vehicles, you don’t want to be cutting and splicing the factory wiring,” McDonald explained.

“Today, as vehicles are more and more complicated, and for other reasons too, there’s more of a chance that this sort of modification can lead to problems, especially if the quality of the remote start unit, or its installation, is poor.”

In this customer’s case, the remote starter was installed by a local remote starter shop. Though McDonald questioned the quality of the starter module itself, his main concern was how it was tied into the factory wiring.

“In this case, they’d butchered the heck out of the main factory wiring harness.” he said. “After some digging, we noticed a very amateur-looking install job. It was sloppy. Higher-end remote starters use a module or some wiring connector that plugs in directly, reducing or eliminating the need to cut into, or modify factory wiring. But in this case, they just hacked things up, connected the wires, and half-assed things back together.”

The customer’s remote starter worked properly for about two weeks, until it didn’t.

“Maybe one of the wiring splices let go, or shorted out. Or maybe, they damaged one of the other wires when installing the starter,” McDonald theorized.

“In any case, the main harness of this vehicle, which is a nearly $3,500 part, needed to be repaired or replaced.”

This story hasn’t yet been concluded and I’ll report back when it is.

At writing, McDonald said that, after telling the customer about the cause of the problem, she asked the dealer to hold off on any further repair or assessment until she spoke to the shop that installed the unit.

“I imagine she’ll seek some reparations from the owner of the shop and we’re waiting to hear back. But there’s a very real possibility that the vehicle will need a new wiring harness at a cost of several thousand dollars. The installation will add significantly to that, as much of the vehicle interior needs to be removed to install this harness,” McDonald says.

Translation?

When opting for a remote starter in a modern vehicle, you’re typically best to spend a few bucks more and have it done by a dealer technician, using top-quality, factory-approved parts. This typically means the remote starter is covered by the new-vehicle warranty.

“We’ve got many customers running non-factory remote starters with no issue,” McDonald adds. “It all comes down to the quality of the unit, and the quality of the installation. In this particular case, I suspect the installer was rushing to meet the high-demand winter season for remote-starters, and cut corners, rushed his or her work, and otherwise made a great big mess.”

Before agreeing to have a remote starter installed to your vehicle, be sure to ask the shop (if you don’t go the dealer route) how they avoid problems like this and what compensation is available if the installation of their unit results in a major repair bill.

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