How our smartphones are taking over the way we control our cars

You’d be hard-pressed to find a vehicle manufacturer that doesn’t include a smartphone app as part of the package when selling you a new car.

The most standard of those apps could well include remote start/stop functions and manage your central locking system for keyless entry.

More advanced apps include an array of diagnostic tools. For example, WiFi and entertainment management and GPS trackers to remind you where you parked your car (or where someone else did!). All at the tap of an icon.

Your guide to inbuilt and add-on smartphone functionality

The following page is intended to offer a simple guide into the various smartphone features available when buying a new car.

On top of that, we’re also going to give you a rundown on the features available on additional hardware/software systems. This could be just what you need if you’d like to add the same functionality to your current vehicle.

The typical functions that smartphone apps offer


Using your phone to activate your car central locking can be taken care of by tapping the app or utilising keyless entry via your phone’s Bluetooth.

The keyless entry feature operates just as it would if you use the fob issued for the same function. Approach the vehicle, and as soon as you’re in range, the doors will unlock to let you and your passengers into the car.

If you need to let anyone into your car when you’re not around, you can access the remote central locking system wherever you are, from within the app.

No longer is there a need for passengers to stand in the rain with bags of shopping, just because the keyholder is taking their time getting back to wherever they’re parked. A simple click on the central lock icon—and activating the remote start function—everyone is waiting in the comfort of your vehicle. Those heaters are already drying out rain-soaked clothing while the AC is demisting your windows…

Remote start/stop

Remote start/stop gives drivers the ability to warm up (or cool down) the vehicle cabin and engine before journeys. It also allows the app holder to switch the engine off if started by implicit methods or taken without permission.

Some apps will have a security feature to disable your engine altogether. If the app features a GPS tracker, you’ll also be able to see precisely how far your car has been driven. And where to drive to, to go to get it back.

GPS Trackers

Just about every new car will feature GPS trackers and route planners, so it makes sense to be able to track your vehicle whereabouts—using the send location function—at any time you require via your smartphone.

Real-time diagnostics

Given the number of sensors in a modern car and the myriad warnings they can throw up at any given time, the forward-thinking manufacturer will add these to their smartphone app. Ideally, this helps drivers stay aware of potential problems and rectify them as soon as possible.

This is a great tool to help save those problems from escalating, not only saving time and money but also protecting the optimum operation of the vehicle and its lifespan.

Your phone can alert you to the most serious implications, right down to tyre pressures and other typical gauge readings.

Electric vehicles

With more new cars being electric powered, your app will offer battery level readings, journey ranges and associated control settings.

Maintenance and assistance

Some manufacturers include roadside assistance as part of a new car package. Control through the app will give access to exact locations when coming to your aid. As well as that, diagnostics are available to help figure out what the problem might be before your mechanic has even arrived.

Planning and booking maintenances appointments and making sure you keep up with the service schedule can also be controlled using your smartphone. Your notifications will assure you never miss another repair or service date again.

Adding smartphone functionality to your car

You don’t have to wait until you’re ready to buy a new car to take advantage of smartphone technology.

By adding a little additional hardware to an existing key or push start controlled vehicle, you’ll receive a range of additional and useful functionality at your fingertips.

How much do these smartphone control systems cost?

The leading manufacturers offer smartphone control functionality, providing a complete system at prices around £200/250.

Functions include:

  • Engine start/stop
  • Central locking/unlocking with a single tap
  • Security and alarm features
  • Engine deactivation
  • Proximity sensors for keyless entry
  • Location sharing
  • Digital keys and key sharing
  • Multiple car recognition
  • Heater and air conditioning control
  • Last parked location
  • Real-time alerts of driving violations
  • Route planning and direction with integrated maps

Digital key sharing

One of the really handy tools available is the ability to share digital keys. When you need to grant access and the use of your car to another driver, there’s no need for them to collect a key any more. It can all be handled over a social media platform of your choice.

Using a Bluetooth connection, the digital key will grant access and start the car. It’s an excellent tool for business vehicles with multiple drivers, as well as monitoring and limiting driver usage.

Advanced security notifications

The current market models offer security and alarm features as standard. Depending on which you opt for, you could receive notifications when somebody is tampering with your car. You can also check the security status whenever you like.

One of the systems we looked into has a siren based security system that allows you to stay informed via push, text or email notifications.

Another offers automatic immobilisation when the car disconnects from your smartphone, or after a given period of time.

Technology is booming in the motor market

We looked at a selection of add-on options as well as researching what the manufacturers are currently building into their onboard hardware and software.

A couple of models to feature the full range of functions were the Car Chabi and Viper Smartstart systems. If you want to learn more, why not dig in a bit deeper by checking out their websites?

This is only the beginning

We are a society addicted to our smartphones. And why shouldn’t we be? They are such an ingenious all-round multi-purpose device, and designed to control every aspect of our life from our fingertips. Their integration into our driving systems and vehicle control is only set to become more intelligent, innovative and sophisticated.

With affordable add-on solutions already breaking into the market, incorporating functions omitted by the manufacturers, it’s only going to add fuel to an already existing and fascinating market.