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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
October 23, 2022
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
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

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.

Which cars support it?

Android digital car key
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

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, and 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.

Supported phones

Google pixel 6 pro vs picel 7 pro back
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Android digital car key currently works with Pixel 6 series and Pixel 7 series devices. 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. Keep in mind 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 Pixel 7 quick settings
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Setting up and using 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. Select the Set up your digital key notification.
  5. Sign into your Google account.
  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.

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

  1. If your supported vehicle has an available app, you can use it to set up Android digital car key.
  2. Launch the app and set up or sign into your account.
  3. Find the digital car key options and follow instructions.
  4. Sign into your Google account.
  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.

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

  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 instructions. You might need to update your device.
  4. Select the Set up your digital key notification.
  5. Sign into your Google account.
  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.

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.

Also: Learn about Android Auto

FAQs

Android digital car key works on Pixel 6 series phones, Pixel 7 series phones, 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.