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Cars That Use Digital Keys in 2024

Quick Facts About Digital Keys

  • Digital key technology lets drivers use their smartphones to lock, unlock, and start their cars.
  • Not having to carry several key fobs for multiple vehicles in the household is a significant convenience benefit for some drivers.
  • Depending on the model, various layers of security prevent the interception of digital information.

In 2017, Tesla introduced its digital key for the Tesla Model 3. Since then, other car companies have jumped on board. Paired with a smartphone, this digital key allows car owners to lock, unlock, and start their vehicles by simply having a smartphone present.

Today, dozens of car models make a digital key available as either a standard or upgraded feature.

What Is a Digital Key?

A digital car key gives drivers the ability to lock and unlock their cars using their smartphones. In many cases, the phone acts as a fully functioning key, meaning you can start and turn off the engine with just your phone and without the key fob. It’s as simple as downloading the car manufacturer’s app, registering the vehicle, and pairing the smartphone. Then, holding the phone near the car gains access. Users manage this technology in the “wallet” functions of smartphones using Apple or Android operating systems.

The benefit of a digital key is that it comes in handy if you temporarily misplace your physical one or want to avoid fumbling around for the key fob. Rather than searching through your home or rummaging around your purse for it, you only need your smartphone to get in and start the car for your commute. It’s also a desirable convenience feature for a household where multiple cars might occasionally need shuffling by a driver who doesn’t carry keys to all the vehicles in the driveway.

While digital key technology is gaining traction, it is still not offered as a standard feature on every vehicle. If it is available in a model or a specific trim level, you may have to pay a monthly or yearly fee.

How Does a Digital Key Work?

Digital Key Car Lock and unlock

Digital keys are straightforward to use. Once you’ve installed the app and the phone is paired to the vehicle, hold your phone to your car’s door, and your car will lock or unlock for you.

However, technology has continually improved since digital keys first entered the scene. As a result, some cars don’t require you to hold the phone directly on the vehicle. Instead, just being near the car will unlock it for you. With this feature, there is no need to take your phone out of your pocket or bag.

Digital key smartphone technology is available on Apple, Samsung, and Google phones, depending on your car’s make. If you have additional Apple devices, including an Apple Watch, you can also use it to unlock your vehicle.

Some cars allow you to use the digital key to start your vehicle remotely, which can be convenient on a hot or cold day to cool or heat the cabin before you enter.

For ease of mind, carmakers use firmware in their vehicles that helps keep digital keys secure and tied to an identifiable device.

How To Use a Digital Key

The exact steps for setting up and using your digital key will vary by make and model, but here are the general steps:

  1. Connect your phone to your car’s central infotainment system via the Bluetooth setup screen.
  2. Download the manufacturer’s smartphone application and establish an account. You’ll likely need to create a username and password for your profile.
  3. Create or activate a new digital key by following the prompts on your phone or dashboard.
  4. Send any digital key invitation to other trusted users as needed.
  5. Unlock and lock the vehicle by hovering the back of your phone near the driver’s door handle, similar to how you’d use wireless payment systems.
  6. Start the vehicle by placing your phone in the designated location, as directed by the manufacturer. From there, you should be able to engage the brakes while pressing the engine start button to crank up the vehicle.

Benefits of a Digital Key

We’ve all been there at least once: You get ready to leave the house and suddenly you can’t find your keys. The good news is that losing your keys is much more common than losing your phone, which is where digital keys come into play. If you can’t access your key fob easily, your phone can get the job done until you locate the fob.

Simply being near your vehicle with your smartphone on hand will allow you to unlock it and lock it up when you exit the car. Since this feature applies to newer cars, the vehicle will undoubtedly come with a push start, so several applications will also be able to start the car. While the digital key is something you may overlook as a convenient feature, the one day you need it, you will be happy to have it.

As a bonus, if multiple people use your car, digital key functionality typically allows you to assign your digital key access to friends, family, babysitters, or whoever you want to have access to the car.

MORE: Vehicle History Report: Everything You Need To Know

Are Digital Keys Secure?

According to the Car Connectivity Consortium, a group of carmakers and technology experts developing global standards and solutions for smartphone and in-vehicle connectivity, mobile devices create and store digital keys in secure places. The consortium says they recently upgraded security and added a new layer of security fvehicle’scle’s digital key using UWB, or ultra-wideband technology.

The consortium says the UWB tech keeps vehicles more secure from potential threats. BMW is one carmaker using UWB technology for“its “Digital Key ”lus,” stating how it prevents relay attacks or interception of digital information.

However, not every vehicle uses UWB technology. According to SlashGear,“any “potential security flaw can be solved if your digital car key supports UWB, BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy, and NFC (near-field communication) simultaneo”sly.”

Some digital keys let you grant full access to another trusted driver or passenger. Sharing allows other people to lock, unlock, and start the vehicle. Access the setup assistant from your mobile app or infotainment system to share a key.

Hacking Digital Car Keys

As with most digital networks, hacking is a valid concern. Automakers have their security measures in place for contactless key systems, but here are some additional ways to protect yourself:

  • Keep your smartphone secure: Use strong, unique passwords or biometric authentication methods to secure your phone. Fingerprint or facial recognition are trusted ways to unlock your phone. Update your software often to make sure you have the latest security patches.
  • Beware of phishing attempts: Be cautious of any suspicious emails, links, or requests for personal info. Always verify the authenticity of the source before sharing any sensitive information.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings: Smartphones are still common targets of physical theft. This can give thieves access to your digital key. Be aware of your surroundings and keep your phone secure at all times.
  • Enhance your security: If possible, enable 2-factor authentication to add an extra verification step before the digital key grants access. Similar features that provide another layer of protection can help keep your digital key secure.

Are Digital Keys Safe?

Access to digital keys is locked behind youphone’s’s security setup. Car manufacturers also have their security measures in place. As with digital contactless payment services, always check your surroundings and use your best judgment when taking advantage of digital key features.

Car Brands That Offer Digital Keys

2022 Tesla Model Y Blue Front

The list of carmakers offering digital keys for U.S. models continues to grow. The list below is subject to change, but here are the brands offering the feature. Check thowner’s’s manual for availability in specific models when buying from a private seller or a dealership.

  • *Audi
  • *Acura
  • *BMW
  • *Buick
  • *Cadillac
  • *Chevrolet
  • *Chrysler
  • *Dodge
  • Fiat
  • Ford
  • Genesis
  • *GMC
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Infiniti
  • *Jeep
  • Kia
  • *Land Rover
  • *Lexus
  • *Lucid
  • *Mazda
  • *Mercedes-Benz
  • *Mini
  • Nissan
  • *Porsche
  • *Ram
  • *Rivian
  • Subaru
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen
  • Volvo

*Available on every model as of 2020

Is a Digital Key a Good Idea?

Digital keys have several advantages, including convenience and flexibility. Some driverdon’t’t like being so dependent on a mobile device to operate their car, while others find it helpful. Ultimately, the decision to use a digital key will come down to personal preference.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.

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