Home » Your Keyfob Probably Has A Secret Feature You Never Knew About

Your Keyfob Probably Has A Secret Feature You Never Knew About

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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!

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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.

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.

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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.

Screenshot 2024 02 06 180200
If you’ve got an E90 BMW convertible, you can actually get the roof to open just by holding down the unlock button on the keyfob. Pretty baller. If you’re selling a used one, use this move to close the deal.

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.

Screenshot 2024 02 06 180333
Doing it via the lock is lame, but that’s how it worked on the E46 BMW.

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.

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Excerpt from the 2015 Nissan Altima manual.
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Excerpt from the 2020 Honda Civic manual. Neither the Civic or the Altima mentioned here allow the windows to be closed with the remote. This may be out of an abundance of caution, to avoid foreign objects or a person’s limb from getting trapped in a closing window.

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.

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Mercinfra
The early Mercedes system, as used on the W210 E-Class, used infrared. This has to be used very close up to work. Why they didn’t just use the keyfob’s radio to do it, I’ll never know.

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

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BOSdriver
BOSdriver
2 months ago

Use the feature fairly often in the summer for the VW Atlas. I always seem to run all windows down for the first 30-60 seconds of a drive to just purge the air in almost any car I drive.

ElmerTheAmish
ElmerTheAmish
2 months ago

Mazda has apparently had too many complaints about accidental roll-downs. I’ve got a ’22, and the procedure is to hit unlock three times, then hit and hold for a fourth to roll down all windows. Haven’t seen anything to roll them up via key fob.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
2 months ago
Reply to  ElmerTheAmish

I had a similar issue with a 2006 Mazda, and the dealer changed the sequence to “unlock, lock, unlock-and-hold”. Worked great.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

I love it! Now I can butt dial my windows down. No more walking over and opening each door to use the crank like a schmuck. That’s gotta waste like 20 calories.

PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
2 months ago

My 2009 Grand Cherokee does this. The only time I’ve ‘used’ it was the day I was trying to exit the building in the rain while holding the umbrella and the keyfob in the same hand. I’ve never felt comfortable leaving a vehicle unattended with the windows down for any length of time, so it’s not a feature I would actually use.

Kyle F
Kyle F
2 months ago

I found out about this feature the hard way after a week of ownership of my new Honda Civic. One day I locked the car, put the key in my pocket, went inside my house and took a nap. In my slumber I hit the key fob just right and rolled all the windows down. Then it rained. Came outside a few hours later to a car wet inside. A quick Google later and I was not impressed. Nowadays I don’t put the key in my pocket when I go inside the house.

Citrus
Citrus
2 months ago
Reply to  Kyle F

I mean, you were still running a risk. Signed, someone who has hit a panic button more than once because of awkward pocket arrangement.

D-dub
D-dub
2 months ago

It works on my old Lexus, but not the reverse since the lock and panic are one button.

D-dub
D-dub
2 months ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Yeah every time i lock the doors i’m afraid i’ll hold it for too long and set off the alarm.

TDI_FTW
TDI_FTW
2 months ago

I’ll have to try out the convertible thing again – I thought I had tried it before and it didn’t work. But, then again, my trunk release button doesn’t work on any of my fobs so it’s anyone’s guess…

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago

My 2004 Lexus GX470 has this feature, including opening the sunroof at the same time. In all the years I’ve owned it, I think I’ve used the feature maybe twice, both times to show the feature to other people. I think it could be useful, but after decades of living in large cities where people have no shame about crimes of opportunity, I have a mental block about rolling down windows without also being in the car.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

And for my most amusing anecdote on crimes of opportunity, when I lived in Houston, I had the windows open on my 1995 Explorer while parked in my driveway. I ran inside to grab something, gone maybe two minutes, and came out to find two of the covers that go behind the door handles gone (super common to lose on Explorers/Rangers) along with the driver window/lock switch panel!

My second favorite was a friend stopped at a red light, and a guy darted from between cars, reached in through the open passenger window, and snagged my friend’s radar detector. By the time my friend realized what happened and climbed out of the car, the guy was gone.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
2 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

I had a friend who really wanted a radar detector but as a poor student, couldn’t afford one. His girlfriend got him a fake radar detector that looked the part but just made random chirping noises. The first night he left it in the car, someone smashed his window and stole it.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

I dated someone who had an… interesting…taste in music. She lived in a not so great part of town, so break-ins were common enough that nobody locked their doors lest their windows get smashed. She mistakenly left her CD collection in the car one night, only to find it gone the next morning. She was still fuming when the following morning she found all of her CDs in the passenger floorboard – they had taken the sleeved CD case and left a sticky note on the pile of CDs stating something to the effect “Have a better taste in music”. Since the dating progressed to marriage, I can confirm that the thief was correct about my wife’s musical tastes. Hopefully she never sees this comment…

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
2 months ago

Fun trick: you can check if your key battery is dead on those Mercedes keys if you point your phone camera at the tip and press a button. You’ll be able to see if the infrared light flashes or not.

Memphomike
Memphomike
2 months ago

Funny story. My ’03 MINI with the panoramic sunroof had this feature and I used it all the time. I also transported 2 kids to and from daycare in child car seats that fit so snugly in the back seat that they looked like they were a permanent part of the car.
One day I was meeting my wife at my mother’s after I picked the kids up in a downpour. As I struggled to wrestle the kids out of the backseat, I somehow pushed the unlock button on the remote in my pocket and the outside downpour became an in-car downpour that drenched us all.
The kids remember it as a MINI-adventure…

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
2 months ago
Reply to  Memphomike

I’ve awoken to the windows being fully down on my car a number of times, including at least once where it’s rained overnight.

It’s a feature I’d like to actually turn off (though the dealer tells me it’s not possible to disable).

WalmartTech
WalmartTech
2 months ago

A lot of 2006 and newer GM vehicles have a parking lot locator feature built into the RKE system; just press and immediately release the Panic button and the horn will chirp 3 times along with the signal lights flashing 3 times. You press and hold the button to engage full panic mode. I always joke to people that it’s just my car saying “Hi, I’m over here!”

Dude Drives Cars
Dude Drives Cars
2 months ago

Great until you inadvertently sit on yer car’s keyfob whilst huddled in the house watching the Toronto Maple Leafs lose another game during a snowstorm, causing all four windows to unknowingly drop and allowing snowdrifts to form inside your shiny new 2006 Mazda 6.

At least one can now try digging through infotainment submenus to disable the feature. Beats digging snow out of the car.

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
2 months ago

Dropping all four windows with the accidental mid-game press of one button? So, some might say it was 4-1?

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
2 months ago

Yea, several brands still have the feature, but can only be enabled by a service-menu tool for that reason

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
2 months ago

My “secret” feature for my Chevy Bolt is that it locks by itself when you walk away with the key fob, its not selected by default and the option is buried in the infotainment system. No more anxiety trying to remember if I locked the car or not.

MP81
MP81
2 months ago
Reply to  Mrbrown89

My brother’s ’18 Regal does the same thing. We’ve not even been able to find the option in the infotainment system, but in most cases it is handy, so no reason to turn it off.

My ’17 Volt does not do this – or at least it isn’t turned on if it has the ability.

Brad Meador
Brad Meador
2 months ago
Reply to  Mrbrown89

My 2019 Honda Odyssey does it as well and it is keyfob specific. Mine does it, my wife’s does not. She didn’t like the fact it auto locked.

AssMatt
AssMatt
2 months ago
Reply to  Mrbrown89

Plus you don’t need to unlock the doors to open the trunk, if the key is within range (ie on your person).

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
2 months ago
Reply to  Mrbrown89

I had a 2006 MazdaSpeed 6 and it also had an autolock function. Only problem was it only worked about 3/4 the time, so I’d constantly be walking back to the car to check it if I didn’t hear the clunk.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago

My cars don’t have it. Oh well.

Edit. OK my accord does. You just have to do it right.

Last edited 2 months ago by Cheap Bastard
Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
2 months ago

WTF? How is this feature secret? It’s mentioned in the owner’s manual! And if you don’t read that, it’s your fault if you don’t know this so non-secret feature.
It’s indeed so common that I’d try it even if I hadn’t read the manual (I usually don’t have the time to read the manual for a rental, but I have read it for any car I bought), and be annoyed if it was absent

Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ibert

And of course it works remotely with all cars I have tried it with. You lower the windows as you walk up to the car.

LTDScott
LTDScott
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ibert

LOL at thinking people read owner’s manuals. That’s cute. Based on the many repeated questions I see from people in Facebook car groups that can be easily answered by actually reading the owner’s manual, RTFM is a rare trait anymore.

Last edited 2 months ago by LTDScott
Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
2 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

And that seems to extend to Autopian staff, obviously.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ibert

I’ve had one vehicle in my entire life that even came with an owner’s manual. Not everyone buys new cars.

Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
2 months ago
Reply to  Mechjaz

I don’t either. But I do buy cars which come with owner’s manuals, or at the very least for which owner’s manuals are available from the manufacturer’s website.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
2 months ago

Had this for a few years, I get annoyed when a vehicle doesn’t have it!

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
2 months ago

And here in the good ol’ USA, where lawyers rule, Porsche has NOT included the remote drop-top feature for convertibles and Targas that is available in other parts of the world. There are third-party devices you can install to add that functionality back in, but I’m not a fan of adding third-party devices to modern electrical systems.

Root
Root
2 months ago

My e46 (2001 330Ci) has this feature from the key remote. No need to put the key in the lock as you described. I use it often in the summer months. Maybe part of the “Premium” package or something?

Tangent
Tangent
2 months ago
Reply to  Root

All recent (~2000+) BMWs let you lower the windows remotely with the key fob but in the US at least raising the windows isn’t available remotely unless you turn that feature back on with some simple coding via a phone app and adapter.

Justin Evdokimoff
Justin Evdokimoff
2 months ago
Reply to  Tangent

Actually they do have the ability to do it, it’s just disabled in US. I was able to use the BMW service software on my 2001 330ci convertible to enable it. Its so cool to use the remote to open and close the top. Sadly the remote has terrible range so you can’t be too far away to do it.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
2 months ago

Nissan had this on the 4th gen Maxima but for the front windows only, which was nice on my ’97 until the fob broke. I finally regained the feature on my ’07 Accord which did all windows; the 8th gen added the sunroof to the open trick.

The B5 Passat had lock-controlled up/down but I don’t think remotely. I do remember showing someone with one in high school this trick.

IIRC the key-in-lock rollup, rather than by remote and at least for US-spec vehicles, is indeed out of caution, or perhaps even law – to prevent accidental button press window closings. Same way that power window switches are required to be push down/pull up now.

At this point I assumed it’s one of those things that mostly faded away with the advent of factory remote starters, like two-turn power door locks that unlocked all doors on the second turn of the key in the door (or turn and hold for Honda).

A number of cars did have it but not programmed to be on by default for whatever reason. I know this was true of Toyotas as I’d see people in forums mention getting the dealer to program it on before delivery. Not sure if Lexuses did it factory and it was just programmed in for that purpose.

VW does the same now as Clark noted below, buried deep in the settings, but I swear some VWs did have fob operation for a few years in the late 2000s/early 2010s, at least before the proximity keys became common. But they did leave on remote window closing by just touching and holding the lock sensors on the exterior door handles which is still handy. Other markets get automatic window closing via the rain sensor, but I don’t know that I’d trust it to be consistent.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
2 months ago

My late B7 A4 came with it enabled (when I bought it with 180k miles). I don’t think it was fiddled with via VCDS before I got to it, though.

I think I enabled it via VCDS on my B8. It showed up in the settings and I can choose which windows open.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
2 months ago

That’s about the era where I feel like I remember trying it from the fob on some VW product and it working.

Tankdeer
Tankdeer
2 months ago

If you’re in the US and it was enabled already then somebody did it previously. It’s a simple VCDS change but not enabled by default on the B7 platform.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago

My ex has a 2005 Passat, I remember that I couldn’t make the windows go up and down with the fob even with VCDS. It would work if you put the key in the lock and held it in the unlock or lock position to lower and raise the windows, respectively.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
2 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

Yup, that was the same as the one I showed someone in high school that it could do that. I think I remember trying the fob just in case too because my Maxima could and it was common in other newer cars by that point.

Also…just had a memory of VW having a commercial that showed it and sure enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CttdIFVusqg

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago

What’s funny is that pretty much all VWs have come with that option since around 2007ish. But, at least in the US, it is not enabled. With the VCDS scan/coding tool you just have to check a couple boxes and there you go. I’ve done it on numerous VWs for myself, friends, and family. I still can’t work out why they don’t just have that feature enabled in the US, clearly it’s not a regulatory thing since other automakers do it.

Clupea Hangoverus
Clupea Hangoverus
2 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

Liability thing? Maybe there is some theoretical scenario where you could decapitate someone. Did they have load sensors? I think some companies bypassed this with the window control button design, which would not help in a remote neck crush situation. But as you noted, the feature was/is there and enabled in the sometimes called nanny-states. I’ve only found the windows open once, since then it has been deactivated during cold/wet months. Yet I am little anxious with the sunroof. Both options are active in the mib 2.0 (Skoda).

Mensaman
Mensaman
2 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

Yup. Had to enable this and the factory alarm in vcds on my MK7 GTI.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
2 months ago

Back in the day before key fobs were a thing manufacturers used to provide a key pad near the drivers door that allowed you to do this along with other things.

My grandfather had a Lincoln and after pressing the “code” buttons you could press some extra buttons to do the following:
Unlock drivers door
Unlock all doors
open trunk
roll down all windows

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
2 months ago

I think that was just a Ford thing. Came in handy, though. My wife used to hide her keys in her Explorer and lock it up with the keypad when she went jogging, so she didn’t have to carry the keys.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

It was on a late 80’s Lincoln town car that I remember so you could be right.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
2 months ago

It was mostly a Ford thing like Mark said, with a couple exceptions. Nissan offered a similar keypad on the 3rd gen Maxima, and Buick offered a keypad briefly in the mid/late 80s like on the Electra.

Much more recently GM has offered an accessory keypad on some models, mostly trucks, but not sure if they still do. That matches how Ford still offers it on some models – while some models have it integrated into the B-pillar, others are an accessory you can add on.

WalmartTech
WalmartTech
2 months ago

Actually SecuriCode (the trade name ford gave their keypad system) is still alive and well even on their newest products!

Rotarycoach
Rotarycoach
2 months ago

Awesome! And in other lesser known key fob news: don’t forget to hold that fob to your chin to increase the range!

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
2 months ago
Reply to  Rotarycoach

This actually works. I know, sounds like some fake thing on the internet. But I’ve done it for the last 10 years and in many cases it actually helps.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
2 months ago
Reply to  Rotarycoach

Yep, it turns out that big bag of wet, salty fat on the end of your neck works pretty well as a radio wave amplifier!
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/car-keys-locking-range-boost/

Last edited 2 months ago by Dar Khorse
My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
2 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

which end of my neck are you referring to?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

Now if I can just get my eyes to shoot out death beams…

DysLexus
DysLexus
2 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

Yep. I’ve done this also. But I’ve heard from several wackos about how this will give me a brain tumor now.

Pedro Soto
Pedro Soto
2 months ago

I actually like the Mercedes and Honda attempts at preventing accidental window openings. Several times I have had something press against the key fob in my pocket for my BMW and walked out to open windows!

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
2 months ago

Wait… wut.

*checks YouTube for Chrysler key fob window roll down function videos*

No way. This is awesome news. I have a red van with black leather seats. It’s a bit abusive in the summer. Yeah I also have remote start and could get the sucker rolling with AC, but I don’t love having to waste fuel idling like that if I don’t have to. Just being able to roll the windows down 5 minutes before I leave the office will make a huge difference.

TDI in PNW
TDI in PNW
2 months ago

Luxury features are a double edged sword.

My 2002 Infiniti Q45 had this. It was handy a handful of times. This feature failing was the final straw when it got parked, never to be driven again. I looked outside, one day, as the rain was pouring and noticed all the windows were open on the Q45. I went out and rolled them up. Before I went back inside, they had rolled themselves down again. I ended up putting them up and quickly disconnecting my battery.

I still miss that car so I may get a G90 or some other luxobarge as my next car. So many glorious features to potentially fail.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  TDI in PNW

Did you ever figure out what went wrong? If it had unlocked itself as well as rolling the windows down it might have been a bad fob.

TDI in PNW
TDI in PNW
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I intended to, as I loved that car, but I never got around to it. There were a large number of small issues that needed attention and, at that point, it had 196,000 miles. Too bad I never did as it was still near mint, inside and out. Similar to the 300M on this week’s “trade-in Tuesday”, the 340hp V8 in the Q was wonderful and it still had effortless power in the end.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  TDI in PNW

The Q50 is nice. Comes in a buttery smooth 360 HP, 30 MPG AWD hybrid too. My stepdad has one. Lots of things went wrong in the beginning including bad things like the engine eating a spark plug and the car locking him inside a couple of times but once those demons were exorcised under warranty its been a good car.

Last edited 2 months ago by Cheap Bastard
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