BMW to debut remote engine start function, but is it legal to use?

Analysis of road rules across Australia suggests remote engine start – via phone – may not be legal to operate, despite being offered by an increasing number of car brands.

BMW will debut a remote engine start function on its upcoming 4 Series, 5 Series, and M5 Competition vehicles.

The technology will allow operators to start the car’s engine remotely – using a smartphone app – for up to 15 minutes before driving.

During this time the interior can be heated or cooled and the seat warmers can be activated.

Drivers can activate the function from any location through the BMW ConnectedDrive app.

The application has faced criticism, and currently has a 2.8 star rating (out of 5) on the Apple app store. Objections do not relate to the new remote start feature, but rather perceived functionality and reliability flaws.

The car keys will also be capable of engaging the engine-start function from a distance of 30 to 70 metres away.

Remote Engine Start will also be offered by BMW as a retrofitted ex-factory option (purchased and installed via the app) on selected models.

These include the 5 Series range, 6 Series range, 3 Series Sedan, 4 Series Coupé, and the Z4 Roadster range.

BMW predicts the function will be introduced on other models by the end of 2020.

However, the legality of leaving a vehicle’s engine running while not in use varies from state to state in Australia, and has been subject to disputed interpretations.

It means owners need to check the legality of the smartphone remote starting systems offered on certain Hyundai, Mercedes and, now, BMW cars.

The upcoming Ford app, known as FordPass, will also include a remote start function for select models.

Regulation 213 of the NSW Road Rules (2014), provided to CarAdvice by NSW Police, says “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle, the driver must switch off the engine.”

A spokesperson for BMW Australia told CarAdvice a stringent set of terms and conditions must be agreed to before the technology can be activated.

The forwarded BMW terms and conditions document includes the admission “the use of Remote Engine Start is governed by various laws. The use of this function might be unlawful.”

Above: An extract from the BMW remote engine start terms and conditions of use

BMW recommends that drivers “check the legal situation before use”.

Police officers who spoke to CarAdvice on condition of anonymity said they were allowed to use discretion as well as issue fines, and it depended on the circumstances.

For example, if the engine were left running in a public place – with no-one in the vehicle – and it tempted theft, then the owner would likely be fined.

However, if the technology were used on private property and away from the public, it would likely be hard offence to detect and difficult to enforce.

Translation: if you have a long driveway or live in a gated community, you might get away with it. But it’s probably not a good idea to use the remote start function in a public car park or at the beach.