Do Car Key Locators Really Work?

Despite flaws, car key locators can be a godsend for forgetful people

For forgetful people, car key locators can be a lifesaver. But a lot of them have annoying design flaws or oversights that make the experience of using a locator a bit of a hassle, or possibly even useless.

To learn whether or not a car key locater is right for you, you should first understand how these devices work.

Car key fob

How Do Car Key Locators Work?

Some car key locators rely on Bluetooth technology, while others use radio frequency (RF) transmissions to mark locations. Some newer key locators use RFID technology, which is a bit more sophisticated than RF, in that it uses local electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags.

The other main difference between key locators is that some require a dedicated locating device and others rely on your smartphone. Units with a dedicated device often have a wider range, but it also means one more component to keep track of.

Bluetooth Key Locators

The advantage of Bluetooth is that almost every smartphone has Bluetooth functionality, which means you can use your phone to locate your keys—no need to get a separate tracking device.

Some Bluetooth key locators work the other way around: If you have your keys but can't find your phone, you can use the locator fob to ping and locate your phone.

The downside of Bluetooth locators is their range. Although Bluetooth devices claim ranges of 30 or more feet, the actual ranges are often smaller. Many people find Bluetooth key locators only work within ten feet of their missing keys. Physical obstructions like walls and doors can make the effective range even shorter.

RFID Key Locators

RFID locators work much like Bluetooth. Instead of keeping track of a standalone receiver unit, RFID locators use small stickers or tiles that you tag to your possessions. This is handy because RFID stickers are tiny, passive devices that don't make any sound. All you do is pair the sticker with a locator unit that has the ability to pinpoint the location of the stickers.

Other Radio Frequency Key Locators

If a key locator doesn't have Bluetooth, chances are it has a dedicated tracking device—a dongle used in lieu of a smartphone app. While helpful to anyone who doesn't have a smartphone, a locator dongle can be a nuisance to anyone who's prone to losing things like keys or phones.

Some of these locators have ranges of 60 feet or more, but they suffer from the same issues as Bluetooth locators when it comes to obstructions. Although radio waves can penetrate solid objects like walls and refrigerators, doing so attenuates the signal and reduces the available range.

Are Car Key Locators Worth It?

Although car key locators have potentially annoying drawbacks, they can be an effective way to locate your lost keys.

Since these locators have limitations, there are cases where you may still be unable to locate your keys. However, keys that have a locator attached are always easier to find than keys without a locator.

Even if the signal on your locator is attenuated and you have to hunt around before your locator makes a connection, the assistance of a locator is better than nothing.

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