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Every winter in Minnesota, I wish I had a radio controlled remote engine starter. And now I made it a reality. Back in May when I bought my HiHy, I asked the dealer about remote starting. They said it wasn't possible. But I checked a remote start manufacturer's list of compatible vehicles, and the Highlander was on the list, so I thought I'd give it a shot.
I will preface the details by saying that the labor isn't for the faint of heart. If you don't do the wiring right, you risk breaking something, voiding the warranty, or setting off the airbag in your face. (I don't know how easy the latter is to do, but I avoided haphazardly poking around wires I didn't know about).
The parts I bought were Bulldog Security's "Remote Vehicle Starter System" (#RS82, $40) and the "Universal Learning Bypass Module") (#791, $20). I also bought some extra 3M screw on wire taps (easier and safer than the manufacturer's wire splicing by hand). I had to remove the plastic cover at the bottom of the driver's side dashboard (2 bolts), a metal plate which was behind the plastic part (3 bolts), and the bottom half of the plastic steering column shell (3 screws). I removed the ODBC connector,fuel door release and the trunk release wire from the plastic facia to give myself more working room.
The first and hardest part is making the connection to the brake switch. The reason for the difficulty is that the wire harness over the brake switch doesn't have a lot of slack, and it's hard to access. I did scratch my hands up against all the metal plates in this area, so be careful. I disconnected the brake switch harness and added a snap-on tap to the black wire, then replaced the harness back into the socket.
The HiHy uses a little transponder in the key for security. You can't start the car without having the key with the right chip inside it. The bypass module #791 lets you mount a working key remotely, and then uses an antenna to transmit the key's ID to the area around the key hole. You have to put a key into the supplied box (see below). I used the valet key, and wrapped the metal part in electrical tape to prevent shorting. Now because you must have a working key inside your car, a thief could theoretically tear apart your dash and retrieve the key if he knows you have this remote starter system installed. Three wire connections are required for this box (+12 V, GND and to the remote box)
Six connections are required on the ignition harness, which is the plug at the bottom of the ignition key shaft. Two +12 V constant (white and yellow wires), starter (black), ignition 1 (gray), ignition 2 (green), and accessory (blue). For the ground connection I just attached the spade connector to one of the bolts that secures the metal plate. At this time I placed the security bypass loop around the key hole and, plugged in all the wires, and tested the system.
When you first power up the box, you'll hear a relay clicking inside. This just means that the box hasn't been programmed yet. To program, just press the brake pedal and a button on the remote control. At this point the box should stop clicking, and the remote start is ready. After I verified that the system was working, I tucked the two boxes in a space in the center console.
Now the security bypass loop originally comes with a hard, plastic coil surrounding the wires inside. This plastic guard is too thick, and it makes putting the steering column cover hard to put back on. So, I removed the white plastic coil and just wrapped electrical tape around the loop. Then I placed the loop around the top of the key hole. The photo below shows the antenna loop before I finished putting the steering column back together.
The remote starter box also comes with a hood safety switch, which prevents the engine from starting when the hood is up. Installing this requires you to drill a hole in the engine area, and running a wire through the firewall, both not easy to do. Instead of the hood switch, you can just add a toggle switch which connects the safety wire to ground. When that safety wire is grounded, the remote start will be disabled. Be sure to disable the remote start before servicing your engine.
The remote starter also has provisions to power your parking lights, but that's just extra work. Since the headlights come on when the HiHy is started, you can just use that as feedback for a successful remote start.
As for safety concerns, the remote start only keeps the engine on for 5-15 minutes (user settable). Also, the remote kills the engine if the brake is pressed without the key being in the ignition and in the "on" position. So, someone can't just hop into your car and drive off as the steering wheel will be locked and engine will turn off when they press the brake.