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What is Android digital car key and how does it work?

You'll soon be able to leave your keys at home!
By

Published onApril 25, 2023

Google IO 2021 Sameer Samat talks Android digital car key

Do you often find yourself jealous of Tesla users and their digital car keys? These electric vehicles can be operated with a card or smartphone, making driving a more seamless and simple experience. It’s only a matter of time before this technology becomes more widespread. The proliferation is starting now that smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung are beginning to offer these features to more of us. Enter the Android digital car key, the feature that will let you dump physical, cumbersome keys once and for all.

What is Android digital car key?

Pixel 7 Pro hazel on a table next to coffee - Android digital car key

The whole concept is straightforward to understand. A digital car key is a feature that allows you to lock, unlock, and start your car using your smartphone. It works with NFC (Near Field Communication). This technology can help devices communicate within very short distances of four centimeters or less.

Once set up, Android digital car key allows users to put phones near supported car doors to lock/unlock them. Additionally, the user can place the phone on the car key reader to start the vehicle.

Google has been very clear about its expansion to use UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) technology, which would enable using Android digital car key without getting the phone close to the handle or digital car reader. Phones with UWB support include the Pixel 6 Pro, Pixel 7 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, and the Galaxy Fold 2, Fold 3, and Fold 4 devices.

Ultra-Wide Band makes it possible to use features like passive entry. Passive entry allows you to unlock cars when you get close to the car, turn the car on when you’re inside, and lock the doors automatically when you step away from the vehicle. All without ever taking your phone out of your pocket.

Which cars support it?

Android digital car key

Don’t go trying this just yet! Chances are most of us can’t use Android digital car key just yet. Car manufacturers have yet to adopt this technology widely; only a handful of vehicles currently support Android digital car key.

For now, the only manufacturer genuinely supporting Android digital car key is BMW. However, Google has partnered with the Car Connectivity Consortium to bring this to other vehicles. Other CCC partners include General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. This means these manufacturers should start joining the party soon.

Additionally, BMW has also rolled out UWB support, so that’s nice to have. Needless to say, Android digital car key is taking its sweet time coming to market.

Supported phones

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Google Pixel 7 Pro in hand

Android digital car key currently works with Pixel 6 series and Pixel 7 series devices. It also works on some Samsung phones. More specifically, a Samsung Galaxy S21 series device or newer should be able to use Android digital car key. Google also mentions some other devices running Android 12 or newer have access to the feature.

Can I use the Android digital car key if my phone is off

Current NFC and UWB technology is impressive and requires very little power. This is why Android digital car key can continue working “for a few hours after your phone’s battery has drained,” as per Google.

This is only the case if you don’t require the screen to be unlocked for Android digital car key to work, though. Unlocking the screen isn’t necessary by default, and you must change the settings to change this. Remember that if the Android digital car key requires the screen to be unlocked, it won’t work when the phone is off.

How to set up and use Android digital car key

Google Wallet logo on smartphone next to credit cards and cash Stock photo 10

Setting up and using an Android digital car key is very simple. Let’s walk you through the basics.

How to pair your phone to your car using an email:

  1. Your car manufacturer can send you an email link to pair your vehicle to Android digital car key. Request it.
  2. Open the email, and select Add to Android.
  3. An update may be necessary. Go through with it.
  4. Sign into your Google account.
  5. You’ll be presented with the terms of service. Read them.
  6. Hit Agree & continue.
  7. Edit the name, if you wish to.
  8. Place the phone on your car key reader and wait for it to pair.
  9. Once the process is finished, the key will show up in Google Wallet.

Pair your phone to your car using your car’s app:

If your supported vehicle has an available app, you can use it to set up Android digital car key.

  1. Launch the app and set up or sign into your account.
  2. Find the digital car key options and follow instructions.
  3. Sign into your Google account.
  4. Take a look at the terms of service.
  5. Hit Agree & continue.
  6. Edit the name, if you wish to.
  7. Place the phone on your car key reader and wait for it to pair.
  8. Once the process is finished, the key will show up in Google Wallet.

How to pair your phone to your car using your car head unit:

PoleStar 2 Android Automotive dash 2
  1. Find the digital key setup wizard in your car’s head unit and select it.
  2. Unlock the phone and set it on the digital card reader.
  3. Follow the instructions. You might need to update your device.
  4. Select the Set up your digital key notification.
  5. Sign into your Google account.
  6. Check out the terms of service.
  7. Hit Agree & continue.
  8. Enter your activation code.
  9. Edit the name, if you wish to.
  10. Place the phone on your car key reader and wait for it to pair.
  11. Once the process is finished, the key will show up in Google Wallet.

Once your phone is set up and paired with your vehicle, you can put your phone near the handle to lock or unlock the vehicle. You can also place your phone in the digital key reader and press the Start button to turn the engine on. If you ever want to stop using the feature, you can delete the Android digital car key.

How to delete your Android digital key:

  1. On your Android phone, open your digital car key.
  2. Tap the three-dot menu button.
  3. Select Delete Key.
  4. Confirm by selecting Delete.
  5. Follow the instructions and hit Confirm.

How to turn off passive entry:

Do you dislike the idea of the car locking and unlocking itself automatically? You can turn off passive entry. Here’s how:

  1. Launch the Google Wallet app.
  2. Select your Android digital car key.
  3. Tap on Details.
  4. Turn off Passive entry.

Change lock settings for your Android digital car key:

Pattern unlock screen on Google Pixel 7 Pro stock photo 1

Another cool feature that may have caught your eye is the ability to use a turned-off phone to unlock your car. To do this, you need to make it possible to use your Android digital car key without unlocking the screen. Here’s how to turn this feature on or off.

  1. Launch the Google Wallet.
  2. Select your car key.
  3. Tap on Details.
  4. Pick Require phone unlock.
  5. You can pick and choose which actions you want to be able to access from a locked screen. These include Unlock car or Start car. You can also pick Unlock, lock, and start car. Alternatively, select Off to turn it all off.
  6. Hit Save after you make your selections.

FAQs

Android digital car key works on Pixel 6 series phones, Pixel 7 series phones, Samsung Galaxy S21 or newer, and select Android devices with Android 12 or higher.

Android digital car key can unlock, lock, and start a supported car.

The technology is based on NFC and UWB. It also needs a data connection.

Transferring your Android digital car key is simple. You just have to delete it from your current device and go through the setup process on the new one.

Yes. For supported vehicles, you will even see the option in the Google Wallet app.

Given you make it possible to use Android digital car key features with a locked phone, you can continue using a dead phone to control your car. This will work for a few hours, only, though.