Cars have tons of features these days, most of them obvious. When an automaker sticks in heated seats or a rear defroster, they stick a button on the dash with an obvious symbol so you know it’s there. But there are secret features, too, hidden in menus or in secret button presses that you’d never try by chance. Today, I’m going to educate you on a super neat hidden feature that’s actually remarkably common. It’s also remarkably weird, in some obscure cases.
Summer’s going to be here in a few months, and with it, comes the heat. Some will already be dreading getting into the stifling oven that is the inside of a car on a hot day. You can run the AC, sure, and drop the windows, but all the while you’re sweating in the seat. If only there was a simple, easy way to vent the car out before you got in. Oh… but there is!
This sneaky feature actually hides under a button you use on a daily basis. On a huge number of cars, you can drop all the power windows simply by holding down the unlock button on the keyfob. The key is to hold down the button, instead of making a short press as you would when unlocking the door. In some cars, it will open the sunroof, too. It’s a documented feature, but you could miss it entirely unless you sat down for a good night’s reading of your car’s manual.
Here's the secret feature you didn't know your car had…
…or maybe it's just because I've never had a car later than 2005 before.
Prepared to embarrass myself if this helps one person out there.???? pic.twitter.com/J1THWjMPYC
— Lewin S. Day (@rainbowdefault) February 6, 2024
If your car has this feature, it’s a great way to cool down your car before you get in on a hot day. Often, the air inside can be well above ambient temperatures. Dropping the windows to ventilate the interior can be of great help in the summer.
The opposite usually works too. Simply hold down the lock button, and the power windows all wind themselves up. This feature is particularly useful if you’ve shut off the car and started to walk away, only to realize a passenger left one of the windows open.
I have no idea which car this was first implemented on. However, it became common as vehicle started to implement keyfobs for keyless entry. It started to pop up on a number of luxury models in the late 1990s, before becoming more and more common in the 2000s and 2010s. Today, you can expect this feature even on “regular” cars like the Honda Civic and Nissan Altima from the last few years.
It took some time for automakers to implement this feature in a way that made sense. For example, in 2001, BMW shipped the E46 generation 3 Series with remote unlocking keyfobs. However, if you wanted to do the window trick, you couldn’t use the buttons. You instead had to approach the locked car, insert the key into the lock, and hold it in one direction or the other to raise or lower the windows. You couldn’t do it at a distance. Several cars implement this mode of operation in addition to doing it remotely.
It bears noting that some cars still do it a bit differently, too. Honda tends to do it by having you press the unlock button once, before pressing and holding the second time. Oh, and if you want to close them, you have to do it by putting the key in the lock and turning and holding it. Very odd.
Mercedes was ahead of the game, implementing the feature on cars like the the W210 E Series in 1998. Hilariously, though, they did so in a completely oddball fashion. Taking a look at the fob and door handles will give you a clue.
The keyfob unlocks the car via a radio signal at a distance as normal. However, the window opening is triggered seperately, via an infrared LED in the tip of the keyfob. This interfaces with an infrared receiver in the door handle of the car. Otherwise, it’s still triggered by holding the unlock or lock button as you’d expect. You have to be fairly close to the car to actually get this to work, as a single infrared LED just doesn’t put out much light. You’re effectively trying to signal your car in broad daylight with the equivalent of a weak TV remote.
In any case, if you’ve got a car that came with wireless keyfobs from the factory, try this out! It’s a nifty convenience that you could put to good use in the warmer months to come. Go and dig around your manual for other neat features, too. Come back and tell us what you found out.
Image credits: Honda, BMW, Mercedes