Toyota Wants You to Pay to Use Remote Start

Pay up or shut up

Key Takeaways

  • Remote start will require a subscription to the Remote Connect service for Toyotas from 2018 and later.
  • Subscriptions let companies keep on charging you after the sale is made. 
  • Connected devices bring real security and privacy risks.
Closeup of the Toyota emblem on a steering wheel.

Christina Telep / Unsplash

How would you feel if you had to pay a subscription to start your car with its key fob?

When a car runs on software, it’s easy for an automaker to switch features on and off remotely. Then, it can charge a subscription for those features. That’s exactly what Toyota is doing with vehicles from 2018 onwards. Users will have to pay $8 a month or $80 a year for the Remote Connect service to enable the remote-start feature. 

“The initial reaction online was mainly confusion and anger that a feature that has been in most cars for years is now provided at extra cost in Toyotas,” AutoInsuance.org auto tech expert and writer Shawn Laib told Lifewire via email. “It would be like charging for a TV remote control.” 

Subscriptions Everywhere

Software subscriptions have been creeping into our lives for a while now, but mostly they are limited to our computers. Instead of paying once for an app and using it until you decide to upgrade to the latest version, you have to pay a monthly fee, or the app stops working altogether. 

The thing is, pretty much everything we use today has a computer in it, including cars. And companies like that sweet recurring subscription revenue. It's a great way to keep milking a customer even after they spend tens of thousands on a new vehicle and also has the potential to make money on vehicles after they pass into the second-hand, used-car market. 

"The initial reaction online was mainly confusion and anger that a feature that has been in most cars for years is now provided at extra cost in Toyotas."

To be clear, Toyota isn't charging extra just to let you start your car. The subscription applies to the Remote Connect app for remote starting, which lets you start the engine from the warmth of your kitchen and sip coffee while the interior warms up. The app also includes other features, like Vehicle Status Alerts, Last Parked Location, and remote Door Lock Controls.

According to the article in The Drive, this is the first time that a car company has charged a subscription to allow you to fully use your key fob, although some automakers already charge for apps that unlock functionality in their vehicles. 

"I had a 2017 Lexus IS, and the first few months I was able to use the key fob to not only start my car and warm it in the winter but also on the app I could locate where the car was parked as well," Lexus owner and magazine publisher Lisa K. Stephenson told Lifewire via email. "Fast forward, and one day this feature simply stopped working. I had to now pay for that 'luxury.'"

Do You Own Anything Anymore?

Subscriptions will almost certainly creep into more and more devices. It's not hard to see a future where you have to pay to unlock the ice maker or cold-water dispenser in a refrigerator or to hook your toaster up to your home network for remote-control add-ons. 

Closeup on someone holding the steering wheel of an older model car.

Laura Gariglio / Unsplash

And it's even worse if an update disables a feature you already think you paid for and puts it behind a subscription paywall. 

"It's completely unfair for something you're already paying for or have paid for," says Stephenson.

Obviously, nobody wants this except the vendors who charge those subscription fees. But this proliferation of recurring fees comes with a more sinister side. To know what features can be made available to its user, a gadget, be it a car or a futuristic coffee maker, must call back to that company's servers. That is, your devices must remain connected to the internet to keep working, even if it's only for a monthly check-in to see if you've been keeping up your payments. 

This brings a significant security risk. According to UK consumer advocate and publisher Which?, homes with smart devices can endure up to 12,000 scanning attacks per week. That's why the UK has banned default passwords on smart home devices and introduced stiff fines for non-compliance.

The best way to avoid both the security risks and the subscriptions is to not use connected devices. Or, in the case of something like a smart TV, never let it connect to the internet. 

But this isn't possible if you want to unlock—or reenable—the features on a vehicle you already own. You have to pay, and you have to let your car stay connected, with all the possibilities for tracking that brings. And depressingly, there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it.

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