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What is an Engine Immobilizer? - Everything You Need to Know

onMarch 19, 2023

The automotive sector has achieved enormous strides in the civilized era, and automobiles are now much more than just a means of mobility. Technology has advanced, making automobiles considerably smarter and safer. The engine immobilizer is one such safeguard element that has gained a lot of popularity in present cars. A crime like breaking and entering is not very new to the world, but this type of crime is most common in countries like India. 

Even though the country is advancing greatly yet, most of the time, user cars get stolen since the vehicle can’t be able to decide if the key is real or not. Keeping the same thing in mind, the engine immobilizer was introduced years ago, and ever since its introduction, the device has been able to stop many robberies. An electronic security device called an engine immobilizer is placed in contemporary automobiles to deter theft and unlawful entry. Our article tries to give a thorough explanation of engine immobilizers, including their significance in contemporary cars and all the information our readers really need to understand fully.

A Glance at Engine Immobilizer

An anti-theft device called an engine immobilizer stops the engine from igniting without the correct key. Modern cars are equipped with an electronic security system to discourage carjacking. An integrated chip in the key and a sensor in the ignition switch of the car are both used by the engine immobilizer. 

The engine control module checks to see if the chip in the key matches the permitted code after receiving a response from the sensor when the key is turned on. Engine starting is permitted if the code matches; else, engine starting is prohibited. Since it is very complex to use for any user, it is very easy to use, and the buyer might want to confirm if it is equipped with this system or not. It might not be the permanent solution, but it has already stopped crimes like a carjacking. Many people use vehicles for a variety of crimes, and stopping a vehicle theft also affects other crimes where a car is involved. That also results in a huge decrease in various crimes over the years.

Car owners are searching for different ways to safeguard their automobiles since the incidence of auto thefts has considerably grown over the past years. Modern cars now come standard with engine immobilizers as a security precaution. Theft of cars and unauthorized entry have both been successfully avoided thanks to this gadget. It adds an additional layer of security, making it far more challenging for carjackers to hijack a vehicle. 

Since an engine is a main component and is also required to start any car and to use the engine immobilizer will stop anything that is not authentic. It simply stops the engine from starting, so it is almost become impossible to start a vehicle. It is no secret that people, especially in India, use cars, mainly stolen vehicles, in a variety of crimes that include the terrorists attack as well. These attacks not only prove to be dangerous for people but also for the country. Many companies like BMW offer many features, such as unlocking a car through the phone. Many people also consider this for the security and seamless experience. 

The goal of this article is to give car owners a thorough grasp of an engine immobilizer, its significance, and all there is to understand about that as well. Beginning with the description of an engine immobilizer to its operation, the necessity of an engine immobilizer in contemporary automobiles, and the various types of engine immobilizers on the market will be covered in this article. Vehicle owners are going to have a decent understanding of engine immobilizers and the ways they can assist in safeguarding their vehicles against crimes like theft and unlawful intrusion at the end of this article.

How Does an Engine Immobilizer Work? 

A safety mechanism that aids in preventing illegal intrusion into a vehicle’s engine is the engine immobilizer unit. This mechanism is now a common component of several new automobiles manufactured in India. Transponder keys, electronically controlled modules, and antenna rings are a few of the system’s essential parts. A tiny computer chip located within the transponder key transmits an electrical signal to the immobilizer control module. Any modification made to this chip is very complex due to the concern with security. 

However, if people see such modifications in the system, they may contact the authorized service centres to fix the problem. The key cylinder is surrounded by an antenna ring that picks up the transponder key’s transmission. It is a quick, safe, and efficient way to protect a vehicle from a theft crime. It is expected that in coming years, the system will become much more complex to increase security, but also it will remain seamless as it is now. Any car manufacturer always makes and adds features keeping in mind the consumers. In India, most of the complaints are related to car thefts since people might be using the vehicle for a variety of purposes, including more crimes. 

The Engine Control Module’s (ECM) function in the immobilizer system is critically important. The ECM is in charge of interacting with the immobilizer control unit, which subsequently permits or disallows the engine to start. The ECM communicates with the immobilizer control module in order to start the engine. The control module then determines if the signal is accurate and corresponds to the signal that was pre-programmed. 

The engine will ignite if the signals are in sync. The engine won’t turn on if they don’t match. It might sound very straightforward, but it is much more complicated than anyone realized. The system is quite programmed that deliberately keep security in mind. Any attempt to temper this system may result in stopping everything that might start the car. People are always in a hurry and in worry that what they will do if their vehicle gets stolen since many people work far from home and a car might be a single way to get back home.

The main goal of the immobilizer is to minimize auto theft as much as possible. It is quite having a simple working structure that stops the engine from running without the authentic key. The immobilizer control unit prevents the engine from starting regardless of whether a robber attempts to hotwire the vehicle or uses a different key that looks alike the authentic key, but it is not. The knowledge that their car is protected from theft thanks to just this technology offers the proprietor of the vehicle a sense of security. It might also be one thing that helps a user to sleep peacefully at night.

Many of the cars produced by automakers, including Maruti Suzuki, Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai in India, now have this capability. A defensive element, such as an immobilizer system, is also a requirement for all cars produced after April 2019 in India, according to the authorities. This action is intended to lower the nation’s car theft rate. With an increase in crimes related to cars, it becomes quite difficult to ensure people about their security. Keeping that in mind, the system is introduced as a capable security measure that proves to be a great way to stop car thefts.

Types Of Engine Immobilizers

Cars these days include an essential safety mechanism called an engine immobilizer that helps deter theft. Transponder key-based immobilizers, as well as electronic fob-based immobilizers, are the two primary main sorts or categories of engine immobilizers.

The Transponder Key-Based Immobilizer System

The transponder key-based immobilizer connects to the car’s computer via a microprocessor that is incorporated into the key. The car’s computer transmits information in the form of a signal to the key when the driver puts the key in the ignition, and the key’s chip answers with a special code. 

The automobile will run if the identification code is correct. The engine won’t even start until it doesn’t correspond. Immobilizers with transponder keys are frequently seen in vehicles made by manufacturers, including Honda, Maruti Suzuki, or Tata. Any attempt to temper anything with the system might result in not starting the car even with the authentic key. It is important to note it happens very rarely and only if the user fails multiple times. In that case, the owner must take the vehicle to the service centre to fix the issue.

Electronic Fob-Based Immobilizer

On the contrary end, the electronic fob-based immobilizer makes use of an electronic fob that remotely connects to the car’s computer. When a specific signal transmitted from the fob is detected by the car’s computer, the engine will start. The engine won’t start unless and until the system does not seem to determine the authenticity of the key. 

As the driver isn’t required to put the key in the ignition to get the vehicle moving, the electronic fob-based immobilizer is more practical than the transponder key-based immobilizer. This kind of immobilizer is frequently seen in vehicles manufactured by companies like Hyundai, Mahindra, and Renault. The same system is introduced with BMW as well. It does provide a seamless and secure experience to the user.

The transponder key-based immobilizer is more affordable and dependable when compared to the electronic fob-based immobilizer, which is more practical but also more costly. The transponder key-based immobilizer is less likely to break down, and since it doesn’t need a battery, the key can’t lose power. To power the vehicle although, the driver must turn the ignition key. 

The electronic fob-based immobilizer, on the other hand, is more practical because the driver merely needs to carry the fob. Unfortunately, the fob’s battery can run out, and replacements are more costly again. However, one more thing to keep in mind is that being a security system that helps stop car theft makes it necessary to have the system since it is quite essential for user and car security. It is not a secret that any person who buys a car puts most of his/her lifetime earnings into buying it since it is a huge thing in a person’s life. 

Transponder key-based and electronic fob-based engine immobilizers are the two primary varieties, and both are crucial to avoiding car break-ins. The decision is based on personal choice and financial constraints, and each style has benefits and drawbacks. Engine immobilizers are utilized by a number of Indian automakers, notably Honda, Maruti Suzuki, Tata, Hyundai, Mahindra, and Renault. An engine immobilizer must be placed in vehicles in order to prevent theft, given the rising frequency of auto theft instances in especially India. People of any age or place can’t really quite think about the security of their family and vehicles, so installing this system might be considered a way that provides peace of mind to the owners.

Advantages Of Engine Immobilizers 

Engine immobilizers are electronic security systems that make it almost impossible to begin a car’s engine without the proper authentication of the authorized key that is provided by the car manufacturer. Installing an engine immobilizer in the car has a number of benefits. We’ll go over a few of the key advantages that these systems provide, which are given below.

Improved vehicle security

Improved vehicle security is one of an engine immobilizer’s main benefits and also the most obvious. These systems make it considerably more difficult for criminals to break into vehicles since they require the proper key, and only then, after the authentication, the engine will start. As a result, anyone can park their car more confidently because it will be less susceptible to theft.

Reduction in theft-related insurance claims

An additional advantage of an engine immobilizer is that it may result in a decrease in insurance claims linked to burglary. Drivers who have these devices installed in their vehicles frequently receive insurance premiums from insurance providers. This is because there is a lower danger of theft, which lowers the likelihood that the insurance carrier will have to pay out on a claim.

Increased resale value

The car’s resale value may also go up if one has installed an engine immobilizer. This is due to the likelihood that a car with additional security features will attract potential purchasers. Because a buyer knows that a car with an engine immobilizer fitted is less likely to be taken away, they could be ready to pay extra for it. Security is among the many key points when a person decides to buy a car.

Prevents hot wiring 

Hot wiring is among the few techniques that thieves mainly use to steal a vehicle. Before the immobilizer system, it is quite hard to prevent hotwiring. With the usage of an immobilizer system, it becomes almost impossible to start a vehicle with hotwiring since it has become the requirement to check if the key used in the system is authentic or not, and unless and until the key is authenticated, there is almost no way to start a car.

Greater peace of mind 

Anyone always feels more confident knowing that their car is safe. Whether keeping the car unattended for just an extended amount of time or leaving it in a public location for parking, an engine immobilizer might make one feel more at ease. It makes a person more relaxed and more confident, and they live life to the fullest due to this.

Easy to use 

The use of engine immobilizers is simple. The engine will start once you merely place the proper key in the ignition. Because there are no difficult procedures to follow, the system is incredibly user-friendly.

Compatible with other security systems 

Engine immobilizers work with other security measures like alarms and tracking technology. This implies that you can design a comprehensive security package for your car that offers the highest level of anti-theft defence.

Limitations of Engine Immobilizers 

Vehicle engine immobilizers are a beneficial security measure, but they have significant drawbacks. It’s critical to be aware of these restrictions in order to make proper use of the immobilizer system and maintain car security. Some of the drawbacks are as follows.

Dependence on the driver’s diligence

The fact that engine immobilizers rely on the driver’s attention to detail is one of their key drawbacks. The immobilizer loses its effectiveness if the driver forgets to turn it on or doesn’t secure the doors. Even though the system is quite efficient in use, it still requires some interaction with a user. 

Vulnerability to hacking

Immobilizers are intended to keep someone from getting into the car without permission, but they are still vulnerable to hacking. Hacking tools can be used by knowledgeable thieves to disable the immobilizer and steal the vehicle. Hacking can be considered a major fault in the system since the system works on hardware as well as software, so it is quite possible that the system might be vulnerable to hack. It can be due to various causes, like people taking it to the local garage for repair rather than the authorized service centre.

Impact on repair and maintenance costs

Engine immobilizers can indeed be intricate devices that call for skilled maintenance and fixing skills. More maintenance and upkeep expenses may result from this, particularly if the system is malfunctioning or has any sort of problems.

False alarms

Engine immobilizers may set off erroneous sirens, which can be annoying for the driver and other individuals nearby. Regardless of whether there is no real danger, this could occur if the immobilizer system notices a problem with the car’s electrical system. The system is quite complex but also sensitive to some extent.

Battery drain

Immobilizer systems depend on the vehicle’s battery for electricity, which can occasionally cause battery drain if the car is idle for a long time.

Incompatibility with aftermarket parts

The functionality of the immobilizer system may occasionally be hampered if someone modifies the car with duplicate parts or accessories. This may make it challenging to start the car or maybe result in an immobilizer breakdown.

Limited effectiveness against tow-away theft

Engine immobilizers are made to keep someone from entering the car without authorization; however, they are less efficient against tow-away theft. Whether the immobilizer is on or not, a persistent burglar can simply pull the vehicle away.

Compatibility with older vehicles

Since engine immobilizers are a relatively recent invention, they might not be present in older automobiles. Immobilizer system installation for older automobiles can be costly and necessitate specialized tools and skills.

Few Final Words

The engine immobilizer is an essential part of making sure that cars and the people inside them are safe. Technology improvements have increased the effectiveness and difficulty of bypassing immobilizers. Given the surge in auto thefts and the demand for enhanced security measures, the significance of immobilizers in the Indian automotive sector cannot be understated.

The references make it abundantly evident that engine immobilizers have developed into a necessary component in contemporary automobiles. In order to prevent car theft and unauthorized key use, this function adds an additional level of protection. It’s a positive development for vehicle security that the immobilizer is now a basic feature in the majority of automobiles. Understanding the advantages of this technology and wanting to make sure it is implemented in their cars are crucial for Indian auto drivers.

One can anticipate additional advancements in immobilizer technology over the coming years, which will make vehicles even more secure. These advancements could also include improved encryption techniques which might stop the hacking attacks to some extent, brand-new authentication technologies, and effective communication mechanisms. It also improves the seamless experience. The demand for increasingly sophisticated security measures will only expand as the number of linked automobiles increases, and the engine immobilizer will remain to be a key component in this context.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How to confirm if someone’s car has an engine immobilizer or not?

To confirm if the car has an immobilizer, simply check that the car owner can read their car handbook. In case it is not available, or something happens to it, the owner can simply visit the car-authorized service centre. The centre can detect if the car has an engine immobilizer or not, and if the user wants, they can install it at any service centre at some cost. 

However, it is always advisable not to buy anything from the local repair shop in order to save yourself from any damage caused due to local or duplicate parts or accessories. Also, do keep in mind that the engine immobilizer works directly linked to the engine. If in any scenario, a duplicate part damages the engine, there is a possibility that the whole engine must be replaced, or it might take several days to repair as well. It is not only costly but also causes huge inconvenience to the user.

2. How to decide which type of engine immobilizer is suitable for a person?

There are typically two types of engine immobilizers available, namely – Transponder key-based and electronic-based. Each type of engine immobilizer has its pros and cons as well as some similarities, such as both the engine immobilizer can provide seamless and secure experience to the end user. However, if we talk about the pros, including transponder key based is cheap and simple, while electronic-based is a more practical approach to the same technology. 

While taking cons into consideration, the transponder key-based is cheap, but it is quite simple and cannot be used if the key is lost. However, the electronic-based immobilizer is quite costly but can provide a variety of benefits, including keyless car start. This feature is currently available for only A-class cars, but over time it’ll be available for other cars as well. With this, if the user wants to have a keyless experience, they can simply approach the service centre and mention what they want. According to their needs, the manager suggests what might be the best since this feature also requires specific smartphone models such as google pixel 7 or 7 Pro. Also, it is entirely dependent on the user’s preference for which type of engine immobilizer they want.

3. What are some preventive measures to have against a hacking attack?

We recommend if the user detects some abnormalities in the system, they should immediately take the vehicle to the nearest authorized centre so that the engineer check the vehicle completely. However, most of the time, it is possible for normal people to help against a hacking attack. In that scenario, we suggest doing the following:

  • There is some level of security already present in the system; however over time, it needs to be updated. We advise regularly updating the car’s android system.
  • This is highly unlikely; however, if the user finds some random USB device plugged into the car system, we recommend calling the engineer on-site and do not remove the device of your own.
  • Check the smart device for unauthorized access. Google itself claims that the Pixel 7 or 7 pro is quite difficult to hack. However, there are always cases where the hacker might be able to have access to the user’s phone and can be able to replicate the authentication key of the user’s smart car. We suggest checking for unauthorized access on the phone or keeping in mind if there is a slight chance of the phone being hacked, then immediately contact the phone service centre and do accordingly.
  • Network is played a very important role in the engine immobilizer system. However, it is quite possible that using the network, an unauthorized person can also be able to access the vehicle. We advise you to regularly check the network security and change the passwords at fixed times, such as every week or month.

4. What to do if the engine immobilizer stops working?

The engine immobilizer is an amazing piece of hardware that not only just enhances the security of the vehicle but also provides a seamless experience. It is quite a simple piece of hardware, yet the working of the engine immobilizer is quite complex. This makes it another reason to buy it since most thieves or car robbers are mainly experts in hot wiring; however, hot wiring never works when the system is installed, as it is designed in a way that completely puts a stop to hot wiring.

Since the immobilizer is a complex piece of hardware, it is quite possible that, over time, the system might malfunction due to some reasons. In such a scenario, we advise our readers to simply take the vehicle immediately to the nearest authorized service centre for repair. Experienced engineers only can be able to detect and help to fix this complex piece of hardware. The local shop may be able to fix the issue, but since a person can’t be sure if they use duplicate parts or not, it is recommended to visit the authorized service centre only.

5. How to activate the immobilizer system?

The process to activate the immobilizer system is automatic, so the user does not really need to do something. All the users need to do is to put the key in the ignition and start the vehicle, and the system will automatically detect, and post-authentication will start the vehicle. Since being an automated process, it is quite faster as well. The system doesn’t really take much time and starts within seconds. The user won’t even realize if the checking is completed or not.

6. What are the drawbacks of the electronic engine immobilizer system?

The electronic engine immobilizer provides a lot of benefits to the user. However, even after this, the system has some drawbacks, such as it being quite costly. And people with a budget should not opt for this system since the cost of its maintenance is also high. Apart from being costly, it is more prone to hacking. Since it works with an electronic system, it has a feature called a smart key, where the user might use the phone to start the car instead of the key.

7. What are some key advantages of a transponder key-based immobilizer system?

The main advantage of this system is that system is very cost-effective. Any person with any budget might be able to have this system. Also, it is quite less prone to hacking since it not using any sort of wireless connection with the vehicle. The system, in the long run, has less maintenance as compared to the electronic immobilizer. 

8. Is it mandatory to have the engine immobilizer system?

As of now, there is no law for people to have this system; however, the authorities do recommend that cars should have this system. So, it is quite possible that if the car is capable, the system is already present in the car. We advise checking for the system before making a purchase. The user can check themselves or visit the nearest authorized service centre to know more. Also, it adds another layer to vehicle security. We recommend having this system since ever, despite having multiple disadvantages, the system is quite proven to be effective against car robbers.

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