The remote keyless system allows the driver to conveniently lock and unlock the vehicle with the press of a button. When the key fob stops working, it quickly becomes an inconvenience to manually lock and unlock the vehicle. In some cases it can even leave you stranded if the vehicle can’t detect the key and won’t let you start the engine.
The most common cause of key fob not working is dead battery. But the remote key can also stop working due to worn buttons, poor battery contact, water damage, defective key fob, receiver module issues, signal interference, dead 12 volt battery, and unpaired key requiring reprogramming.
1. Dead battery in key fob
Dead battery is the leading cause of key fob not working. Usually there are signs of weakening battery before it gives up. If the remote was working previously, but the range of the remote was gradually decreasing until it ceased to function, this indicates that the battery was wearing out.
Replace the battery
If the button cell battery in the key fob is replaced incorrectly or a battery is unsuitable, it can damage the vehicle key. Only replace drained batteries with new batteries in the same voltage, size, and specification. Make sure the battery is facing in the right direction when inserting it.
Key fob not working after replacing the battery
When purchasing a new battery for the key fob of your vehicle, keep in mind that the battery may be sitting on the shelf for a long time. Therefore after replacement it may not work, or may not last that long. Try purchasing the battery from a store where stock moves fast. If you still can’t get the key fob to work after verifying that the battery is healthy, your key fob issues may not be due to bad battery.
Starting the engine with dead key fob battery
If your car has push button start/stop feature, your vehicle may not start due to weak key fob battery and a ‘key not detected’ alert message may be displayed in the instrument cluster. Don’t worry, you can still start your vehicle, the immobilizer is controlled by a passive transponder. Passive means, among other things, that the transponder in the key does not need its own power source.
Touch the start/stop button with your key fob and then start the engine. If it doesn’t work, then look in the owners manual for exact location of key fob placement, as it may vary depending on model.
Use spare key: You can try starting your vehicle with its second key. It will also rule out any other problem with the first key, for example, water damage.
2. Poor battery connection
The battery inside the key fob has metal retaining clips that hold the battery in position and completes the circuit. If the clips don’t have any tension, it can cause contact issues and the remote may not receive any power. Make sure the battery is firmly placed and does not move around when you shake the remote.
When inspecting your key fob, make sure all battery contacts are corrosion and dust free.
3. Water damage
If your key fob has taken a bath in the soapy water of the washing machine after you forgot to take it out of your pants pocket, water damage is very likely.
Water resistant, not waterproof
Your key fob has rubber seals which prevents the water from getting to the electronic chip inside. A splash of water or brief exposure to light rain should be fine, but exposure to excessive amount of water like submerging the key in the pool can cause the water to penetrate the seals and damage the chip. Submerging the key in ocean water at the beach can be much more damaging to key fob electronics due to highly conductive nature of salt water.
But my key fob survived water exposure?
If your key fob survived a wash cycle, or a deep bath in the ocean or pool water, it doesn’t make the key fob waterproof, it means you got lucky. Exposure to excessive water increases the risk of water damage, so you shouldn’t make this a habit.
What to do in case of water damage?
If your key fob stopping working after exposure to clean tap water or rain, immediately remove the battery and clean the electronic component with paper towel and let it dry fully before putting back the battery. In case of exposure to salt water, or soapy or dirty water, it is recommended to clean the chip with isopropyl alcohol or electronic cleaner. If the key fob still doesn’t work after cleaning and drying, the chip is probably fried and you will have to buy a new key.
4. Dead 12 volt battery
The remote keyless system and the central locking system in your vehicle require the 12 volt battery to be in healthy state to function properly. If the 12 volt battery is dead or if the electric current has been interrupted due to corrosion on the battery terminals or the ground connection, all on-board electronics will stop working.
In this case, you will have to manually unlock the door of your vehicle with physical key. In vehicles with push start button feature, the physical key is usually inside the key fob.
Also, the electrical accessories (e.g. headlights, fan, and infotainment system) will not function or may function poorly, and the engine will not start. Check the 12v battery and its connections.
5. Signal interference
The remote control signal can be disrupted by objects, poor weather conditions or transmitters on the same frequency band close to the vehicle. The remote key may work when you’re near the vehicle, but may not work from a distance. I case of severe interference, the remote may not work at all.
Interference signals can be caused not only by neighboring radio masts and towers, but also by unprofessionally installed satellite systems. A large part of the radio interference is caused by defects and aging effects in electrical devices and radio systems, which lead to unwanted emissions, radiation and repercussions on power and communication networks. Your key fob should start working again when you leave the area of interference.
6. Reprogramming required
In rare cases, the remote key may stop working due to pairing issues. The key can be reprogrammed with an OBDII scanner. You may also be able to program a key by following a few steps, an original key is typically required for successful pairing. The instructions should be mentioned in the owners manual. If you fail to do it yourself, you may have to visit an authorized dealer for reprogramming of the key.
7. Defective key fob
If your key fob stopped working after you dropped it on the floor, you may have damaged the internal chip. Or, if your key fob just stopped working one day out of the blue, in rare cases this could indicate a faulty key fob – assuming you have tried everything to fix the issue e.g. battery replacement, reprogramming and the spare key fob works.
8. Faulty receiver module
Your vehicle has a remote keyless system receiver that receives radio frequency signals from the key fob. If none of your key fobs work, and and you can’t reprogram the keys, it is possible the receiver module has developed a fault.
You may have to perform further diagnostics to identify the faulty. The keyless entry antenna could be damaged, or the module is just not communicating with other modules on the vehicle. In these cases an OBDII scan tool can be used to verify if the commands are being transmitted and acted on by the security module.
9. Electronic immobilizer fault
The immobilizer is an anti-theft security system that prevents the engine from being started and the vehicle from being moved with an unauthorized vehicle key. A fault in the immobilizer system can prevent your vehicle from being started. You may also see a warning light with key symbol or key not detected message in the instrument cluster.
For vehicles with an ignition lock
There is a chip in the vehicle key. The chip automatically deactivates the immobilizer if a valid vehicle key is inserted into the ignition lock. The electronic immobilizer is activated automatically when the vehicle key is removed from the ignition lock.
For vehicles with a starter button
There is a chip in the vehicle key. It is used to automatically deactivate the electronic immobilizer when there is a valid remote control vehicle key in the vehicle interior. The electronic immobilizer is automatically activated as soon as there is no valid vehicle key in the vehicle.
The engine can only be started with a genuine vehicle key that is coded correctly. You can obtain coded vehicle keys from an authorized dealer.
Reset the system
If the key fob is not working due to a glitch in the keyless entry system, it may be possible to restore the functionality by resetting the keyless entry system in your vehicle.
There isn’t any button or option to reset the keyless entry system, but you can reboot all the on-board computers by disconnecting the 12 volt battery for a few minutes. Remove the cable from the negative terminal of the battery first, then from the positive terminal. With the battery disconnected, press the horn button a few times and turn on the headlights to drain out all the residual electricity from the system. After about 15 minutes, reconnect the battery in reverse order: positive cable first, then negative cable.
Use OBD2 scanner for diagnosis
Since most modern vehicles are equipped with on-board diagnostics (OBD), a fault diagnosis can provide initial indications of where the malfunction is located. This method will be especially useful when diagnosing a faulty remote keyless system receiver module.
To begin troubleshooting, you must first connect the diagnostic tool to your vehicle. The OBDII connector is usually located under the dashboard. With the tool connected, turn on the ignition. Most diagnostic devices then ask for some information about the vehicle. It is important that you enter this 100% correctly, otherwise the result of the search may be inaccurate. In addition to the vehicle make, model, and engine type, you usually also have to type in the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Since some OBD codes are manufacturer-specific, the scanner will be able to give you more accurate information if you enter more details about your vehicle.
There are many reasons why your key fob is not working. When looking for the reason, you should start with the most obvious cause that is easy to diagnose: dead battery, which you can replace in a few minutes.