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I recently bought a new GM vehicle in the USA. It has a factory remote start and I can use an app to perform vehicle functions and reports, including being able to start my car remotely from my smart phone.

When I attempt to start my car via GM's app, it displays this message before allowing me to continue:

Use remote start when it is safe and legal

What factors should I consider when determining if it is "safe and legal" to use remote start? Is this a simple CYA by GM's legal team, or are there truly factors to consider?

I am unable to think of any time during the normal course of using a car where I could safely or legally drive into a parked location, but not out of it. The single case I can think of for safe usage of remote start is not to use that function when the car is parked in an attached garage, or any garage with the door closed (unsafe levels of exhaust may accrue).

What else should I consider?

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    I'm sure it's a legality thing ... you posted my reason for safe: inside an enclosed garage. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Oct 29 '16 at 20:48
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Leaves or litter could have accumulated under your car and be ignited by the hot exhaust pipe.

Some critter could have taken shelter in the warm engine compartment. It might run off if you enter the car to start it, but would be surprised by a remote start. Aside from the danger to the critter, this could damage the car.

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    I think this answer captures one essential idea that the others do not: if a driver physically enters the car, it is reasonable to assume the driver would clear any hazards (accumulated debris, snow, etc) before starting the engine and driving away. With a remote start on a phone, which could be triggered from well outside of visual range, those checks cannot be performed. – user4896 Oct 31 '16 at 23:20
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Remote start is, in my opinion, never safe, and an ill-advised feature (but your opinion may differ, there is obviously a market for such a feature or GM wouldn't build it in).
I would personally have the manufacturer disable it, and have them confirm in writing that it is disabled, just to be on the safe side liability-wise myself.

There is not much to gain from being able to perform a remote start, other than "being cool", and warming up the engine. Which, arguably, is a bad thing. It may seem like a comfort feature especially if you live in a quite cold area, but there are better options (aux heating) if that's desired.
From an engine's point of view, needlessly running idle while cold is just as bad as running full thrust. Neither one is something you want to do if you love your engine.
To add to that, exhaust (in particular NOX and fine dust) is maximized running idle on a cold engine.

Some safety considerations against remote start are:

  • Car not just starts, but actually starts driving, runs over somebody. This is something that I remember happened a couple of times due to a defect in the 1980s with... I believe it was Audi (don't nail me down on that, might have been a different company). Now, this defect is a feature.
  • Car starts at an inappropriate moment, for example when you are bent over the hood with your head and hands inside, and you accidentially press the "start" button on the clicker inside your pants' pocket, or your phone does a kind of "ass call". Or, you know, "just because". Software does have failures, and such things do happen.
  • Your phone (which is hopefully not an Android phone susceptible to DirtyCoW, such as presently all Android phones) is taken over by a malicious app. Some "cool kid" in another country has a fun time starting your car, too bad for you that something tragic happens. Someone is injured or killed with your car and wants indemnity. You are the only person one can lay hands on. Good luck.
  • The car itself, or a server at GM is hacked. That's much less likely than the previous point (the previous one is really serious), but still entirely possible.
  • Car starts -- legitimately, and correctly -- and runs idle for a few minutes, and causes a fire due to e.g. the catalyzer's heat lighting a patch of grass. Since nobody is around (it's remote!), nobody gets aware of the problem until way too late.
  • Car starts -- for any reason, legitimately or illegitimately -- in a sealed environment (garage?). The next person entering the garage 15 mins later (you, quite likely!) dies of CO intoxication. Due to CO's very high affinity to hemoglobin, taking one or two breaths in such an environment is often enough to be inescapably lethal. No, you can't run outside as soon as you notice. Your hemoglobin simply won't take up the oxygen once loaded with CO.
  • Liability: In case anything happens (including hacker attack or defect, or even an accident where someone falsely claims your car started on its own) -- can you present credible evidence of your innocence? Do you even have access to anything like a log file? You can bet that GM will have their army of lawyers and will sufficiently cover their assses. How big is your army of lawyers?

In addition to being "inherently not safe", it may be "not legal" to use remote start for a variety of reasons, among these local laws which may forbid the use in public space (in fear of bad things happening). But also, for the same reason, it may be forbidden e.g. by company policy in the parking lot at your work place, etc. etc.

The only "undoubtedly legal" location to use remote start would be on your own property, and even then you cannot be 100% sure.

For example, in some countries (including e.g. my place) it is explicitly forbidden by environmental laws to have the engine run idle "to warm up", even without using remote start. It is also illegal to have a vehicle unsecured-ready-to-drive, which is arguably the case when the engine is running with no one around.

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    "unsecured-ready-to-drive" would not apply with remote start. There are valid reasons to forbid having keys in the ignition, vehicle running, doors unlocked (e.g. theft). But I have yet to encounter a vehicle that can be started remotely and driven without the key in the ignition (or inside the vehicle with those awful "keyless" ignitions). I have personally owned three vehicles with remote start (and driven others) and at no time would the transmission shift out of park without the ignition turned to "on." – user4896 Oct 31 '16 at 23:24
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One obvious example would be if the bonnet (hood) is open and someone could be harmed by contact with fans, belts etc. I would guess that there is an interlock to prevent this happening accidentally but even so it is something you should consider.

There may also be cases where is it illegal to leave the engine running while a vehicle is parked for emissions control ect

However I would say that the issue of exhaust fumes in an enclosed space which you have already identified is the biggest single hazard as this could very easily be fatal.

  • Actually, while most aftermarket remote systems I've seen/installed have a hood sense, I have not seen any GM vehicles fail to remote start using the factory system while the hood was open. The hood sense pin is often only present if vehicles equipped with a factory-installed security system. – isaacparrot Oct 30 '16 at 4:29
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In certain jurisdictions it is illegal to leave your engine running while unattended. This is true in some US states including Pennysylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, and South Carolina, and in the UK at least.

  • This is the runner-up answer, bringing attention to the fact that having a running vehicle without a driver may be illegal in certain jurisdictions. Further reading indicates that some jurisdictions have exceptions for remote start (no key present), while others predate that technology and are in a gray area due to now-ambiguous wording in laws. – user4896 Oct 31 '16 at 23:21
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I wouldn't use remote start if there's unsupervised kids in the car. :)

  • I think as long as the garage conditions I outlined in the question are not satisfied it should be safe. Possibly even more safe than not starting the vehicle: imagine having the remote start on and the car cooling off on a hot day as opposed to the windows open and more vulnerable to crime. – user4896 Oct 30 '16 at 4:48
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If it's inside a garage and left running too long you could have CO issues.

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    I mentioned this specific scenario in the question, do you have anything else to add? – user4896 Oct 30 '16 at 4:49

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