Protect yourself from keyless car theft

The number of cars being stolen has seen a spike in recent years – with a 30% rise since 2014, according to data from the Freedom of Information Act.

That’s not to say that vehicle security technology hasn’t improved. In the early 1990s, The Office of National Statistics revealed vehicle-owning households had a one in five chance of being victims of vehicle-related theft, yet as of March last year it had reduced to one in 25!

However, as technology develops, so do the techniques of tech-savvy thieves. Today, car thieves are learning how to hack the latest security systems, which is becoming an increasing danger for drivers of keyless cars.

Tracker revealed that there were around 85,000 cars stolen in the UK in 2017 and a massive 70 per cent of the owners of these vehicles still had the key on them.

How are they doing it?

Keyless car entry and ignition is a relatively new development and a luxury in car technology. Keyless cars use a radio signal to unlock cars automatically and allow the driver to simply press the ignition button to start. But, as with many advances in technology, it brings with it a degree of risk.

Organised gangs of criminals have found a quick way to hack the keyless system through a technique called ‘relay theft’.

One thief will use the electronic 'relay device' and stand near the front of the car owner’s home, where keys are often kept. The device will then pick up the radio signal from the car's key fob.

A second thief will be standing closer to the car with another device that can pick up the signal from the first device. This will trick the vehicle into responding as if that device is the key. When the car is unlocked, the thieves can drive it away. A car can be stolen like this from your driveway in a matter of seconds.

Criminals are also using locking jammers. These systems allow the signal to be blocked when you go to lock your car. This means you walk away unaware that the car is actually unlocked, giving criminals easy access.

Cars most at risk

In 2017, German company, ADAC, tested 24 different cars from 19 manufacturers made between 2013 and 2015 and found they could break into every single vehicle. They've produced a list of makes and models they believe to be most at-risk:

  • Audi: A3, A4, A6
  • BMW: 730d
  • Citroen: DS4 CrossBack
  • Ford: Galaxy, EcoSport
  • Honda: HR-V
  • Hyundai: Santa Fe CRDi
  • Kia: Optima
  • Lexus: RX 450h
  • Mazda: CX-5
  • Mini: Clubman

How can this type of theft be prevented?

Due to the increasing threat of keyless theft, online retailers have been urged to block the sale of relay devices. The police and technical experts are also working on methods to identify and combat hackers.

If you have a keyless car, there are also ways you can help to prevent keyless relay theft:

1. Check your door is locked

First things first, to make sure no device has been used to block the signal when locking your door, check that your door is actually locked before walking away.

2. Switch your key off

Is it possible to turn the keyless entry feature off when you’re not using it? Your manual should indicate if this is possible or if you can’t find the answer, your dealer should be able to tell you.

3. Store your car keys carefully

Whether your car keys have a keyless entry feature or not, it’s safest to keep them away from doors or windows in your home. This way, there’s less chance of car thieves picking up a radio signal from your car's key fob.

4. Buy a signal blocking pouch

You’ll find signal-blocking pouches, faraday bags, available via online retailers, such as Amazon. The smart materials used will block your key from transmitting its code and stop criminals in their tracks. It’s recommended to test the pouch first by placing the key inside and clicking the button as you approach your car.

5. Use physical barriers

Sometimes, old-fashioned security devices are the safest way to protect your car. Using a steering wheel lock, a driveway parking post, or even a wheel clamp can help to prevent relay theft, even if the thieves are able to gain entry to your car.

 

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