New Twists for Garage-Door Openers

Manufacturers are raising the bar when it comes to operating your garage door. Compatibility with technology that is built into your vehicle and allows you to control your door has become standard on nearly all models, but now you can control your door with the swipe of a finger or via your cellphone.

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The way that most people open a garage door is as instinctive as breathing: Just reach for the push-button remote that’s clipped to your vehicle’s overhead visor. And yet garage-door-opener manufacturers and other companies that make accessories for garage-door openers are trying new ways to allow you to open and close your door. These new twists include fingerprint-recognition technology and cellphone control. (See “Wrong Number: Cellphone-Based Remotes Too Costly.")

But all of the new systems that are on the market will drive up the price that you’ll pay for a garage-door opener by at least 18 percent. And in many cases, the new remote-entry systems are not any easier to use than to push that button that’s on your visor.

REMOTE POSSIBILITIES. When it comes to opening and closing your garage door, the traditional push-button remote won’t become obsolete anytime soon (if ever) because of the high cost of the alternatives. Nearly all of the new technologies require that you pay at least $80 extra for a third-party remote or a remote that’s sold separately by a garage-door-opener manufacturer.

Wrong Number: Cellphone-Based Remotes Too Costly

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Even existing technology that has moved into nearly all models will take a bigger bite out of your pocketbook. For instance, all but four garage-door openers that are on the market now are compatible with HomeLink universal garage-door-opener-remote technology. You no longer have to pay a premium of at least $50 to get a garage-door opener that uses HomeLink—a button that typically is built into the rearview mirror or a vehicle’s overhead panel that allows you to open or close your garage door, like you did 4 years ago. But you will have to pay at least $23,000 (and often more) for a vehicle that has HomeLink. At press time, HomeLink was offered on approximately 160 different 2010 vehicle models.

If you’re tired of pressing buttons, Chamberlain, Craftsman and Liftmaster (as well as aftermarket manufacturers Master Lock and Xceltronix) sell devices that open and close the garage door when you pass your index finger over a sensor. These devices are designed to replace standard keypad-based keyless entry systems. They’re typically mounted to the garage-door frame or to a post that allows you to reach the device from your car window. The manufacturers refer to this technology as biometric-based keyless entry. It was brought to garage-door openers in late 2007. These devices recognize only the fingerprints that you program into them, and they’re easier to work than a standard keypad-based entry system is, because there are no number codes to enter or remember. They also eliminate the possibility that someone will lend out your access code.

Fingerprint-control devices that are sold by Chamberlain, Craftsman and Liftmaster work interchangeably with existing garage-door openers of these same brands that have a 315-MHz wireless receiver. A universal receiver (roughly $28) will make older models of these brands (and even a few models by other manufacturers) compatible with fingerprint-control remotes. (Editor’s note: Chamberlain and Liftmaster are owned by the same parent company; Chamberlain is the original equipment manufacturer for Craftsman garage-door openers.)

To see whether your garage-door opener is compatible, visit the manufacturers’ websites or look at the packaging that is on fingerprint-control remotes. You can pay as much as $60 for a fingerprint-control remote.

At press time, the fingerprint-control remote was a standard feature on just one garage-door opener. That belt-drive model—the Craftsman 53939—has an MSRP of $400, which makes it one of the most expensive garage-door openers that is on the market. It’s uncertain whether Chamberlain, Liftmaster or other manufacturers will follow suit by selling the fingerprint-control remote standard with a garage-door opener.

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