These Tricks Will Save You When Your Key Fob Dies

Updated: Jul. 15, 2023

Don't panic if your key fob dies and you don't have a replacement battery. These little-known methods will get you back on the road.

Your car key fob is a small but mighty device. Have you ever wondered what would happen if it died while you were, say, at the grocery store? How do you start your car (or even get into your car!) with a dead key fob? Luckily, there is a way.

How To Use Your Car Key Fob When It’s Dead

Okay, your key fob is dead and you don’t have an extra battery. Don’t panic. Unlocking and starting your car with a dead key fob is actually pretty simple.

In most cars, the system has been designed to work with a remote that’s low on battery or out of juice completely. Of course, the exact method for using a dead key fob will depend on your car model, so check your owner’s manual for specifics. Here are a few common tricks that work for many types of vehicles.

First, you’ll need to unlock your car. Luckily, there’s an old-fashioned car key inside most key fobs.

  • Look for a small sliding button on the back side of your fob. Slide or press the button to remove the key fob cover. You might need to use your fingernail and a little oomph to get it to release.
  • Once you have the mechanical key, use it to open the door. If you don’t see a key slot in your door, it’s probably hidden behind the handle cover. Use the key to gently pop off the handle cover and access the key slot.

Now that you’re inside, here’s how to start the car with a dead key fob:

  • Put the mechanical key back into the key fob and close it.
  • Use the key fob to push the START button. Instead of using your finger as you normally would, press the key fob against the button. This is a backup system many manufacturers use to ensure the car can start even when the fob is dead.
  • In some vehicles, you can start the engine with a hidden key fob slot. In some Ford models, for example, the backup slot is inside the cup holder. The slot is the perfect size to fit your fob. Slide the dead key fob inside the slot, and then use the push button start as you normally would.
  • If neither of these methods work, check for a physical key slot in the steering column (some Mazda models have this feature). Insert the mechanical key into the key slot to start the car.

Other Ways To Unlock Your Car

Still worried about being stranded with a dead key fob? Here are a few additional methods for accessing your car when the key fob is dead:

  • Access the car remotely. If your car has an app, use it to unlock your car from your phone. Once mostly a luxury car feature, now most car manufacturers offer an app. The FordPass Connect app, myChevrolet mobile app, MyMazda app and Toyota app all allow you to unlock the doors from your phone. You’ll need to set up these apps before your key fob dies, and certain remote services will charge a monthly fee.
  • Get closer. If your key fob isn’t working from the same distance it usually does, the battery might just be low, not dead. In this case, your car might unlock if you move closer to it. Place your key fob right against the door handle and press the unlock button.
  • Call roadside assistance. If all else fails, call for help. Before you run into trouble, confirm your insurance covers roadside assistance, then save the number on your phone. Keep another copy in your purse or wallet in the event your phone is dead (or locked in the car!).