Key fobs have come a long way since they were first introduced. Originally, they were designed to unlock the doors with the press of a button. Nowadays, many security systems are capable of doing much more. Some cars are able to sense when the driver is approaching the vehicle with the key and doors will unlock automatically.
Another addition to this safety system is remote keyless ignition, which allows you to start the car without inserting the key anywhere. The key sends out a coded radio signal to let the car know that the correct key is being used.
What the key not in vehicle warning light means
The keyless entry system may differ from one manufacturer to another, so read through the owner’s manual for more information on how your specific keyless system works.
Cars equipped with keyless ignition will have a warning light on the dash to let you know if the correct key fob hasn’t been detected. Some of these systems may also let you know when the correct key has been detected and you can start the engine. Typically, the warning light will be orange or red if the key isn't detected, and a green light to let you know if the key is in range.
If the battery dies in the key fob, it won’t be able to communicate with the car and you won’t be able to start the car. Try replacing the batteries in the fob if this warning light comes on even when you have the right key with you in the vehicle. If a new battery doesn’t fix the issue, it is possible that the key has lost it’s programming and is not sending the correct code to start the vehicle. There is a procedure to force the key to relearn the correct code so you can start the car again. This procedure will vary between different models and some may require a diagnostic test to be performed.
Is it safe to drive with the key not in vehicle warning light on?
While the car should operate normally, you may not be able to restart the engine if you turn it off. If the key fob battery is low, there should be a backup process to start the vehicle so you can still use it.
If the code has been lost, may need to forcefully re-program the key. In this case, it may be necessary to go to the dealership where they have the equipment to perform the procedure. If your key fob doesn’t register correctly, our certified technicians would be able to help you identify the issue.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What Does the Key Not in Vehicle Warning Light Mean? and was authored by Spencer Cates.