In 2022, over 60,000 cars were stolen in the UK, according to the DVLA. This was up 26% from the previous year. It’s thought that this increase is, at least in part, due to thieves using technology to hack keyless car systems.
So, what can you do to protect your keyless car from car theft? Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the risk. First, we look into how keyless car theft works.
What is a keyless car?
A keyless car uses a system that can start the car without needing to insert a key. Instead, your key can stay in your pocket or bag. The key emits short-range radio waves that will be picked up by a receiver in the car.
As long as the car recognises the correct radio waves, you will be able to unlock the door and start the car without ever getting the key out of your pocket. There will usually just be a button you will have to press to start the engine.
Some keyless cars only use the system to unlock to car, and then you will need to insert the key to start the engine. Others will use a keyless system for both unlocking and starting the car.
What cars use keyless systems?
More and more cars are using keyless systems to benefit from the convenience of not needing to insert a key. Some cars have keyless start as standard, while others may have it as an additional feature. Manufacturers such as Porsche, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes all often use or offer keyless start. The feature can also be found on more mid-range cars, such as Ford, Vauxhall, and Renault.
How does keyless car theft work?
Keyless car theft, also known as relay theft, works by using technology that exploits the keyless system. Criminals can copy or amplify the signal that’s emitted from the key and send it to the car. The whole process can be done quite quickly, in just a few minutes. Many people keep their car keys near the front door, so thieves can easily pick up the signal by standing on the driveway or walking around the perimeter of the house. Another person will have a device that sends the signal to the car.
They are then able to open the car, and for the cars that have both keyless entry and keyless start, start the engine and drive away.
Which cars are at risk of keyless car theft?
Thatcham Research recently conducted a study in 2020 to find which car models may be more susceptible to keyless car theft. They rated cars as Poor, Basic, or Superior with regards to how well they stood up against keyless hacking. The vehicles they rated were as follows:
|BMW X6 M50d||Superior|
|BMW 218i Gran Coupe M Sport||Superior|
|Hyundai i10 Premium Mpi||Basic|
|Land Rover Discovery Sport D150||Superior|
|MG HS Excite T-GDI||Poor|
|Porsche Taycan Turbo||Superior|
|Subaru Forester e-Boxer XE Premium||Poor|
|Tesla Model 3||Basic|
|Vauxhall Corsa Ultimate Turbo 100||Poor|
Since the study, many manufacturers have taken extra steps to boost the security of their cars and the keyless systems. For example, some manufacturers, such as Land Rover and Jaguar, have fitted cars with ultra-wide-band radio technology, which transmits the signal over a range of frequencies, making it harder for thieves to pick up the code.
Others, such as Audi, BMW, and Ford, have installed a feature so the key will stop sending out the signal if it hasn’t moved for a while. Sometimes this is done automatically with a motion sensor, and others have a button on the key that the owner can press when they want the key to stop transmitting the signal.
How to prevent keyless car theft
If you have a car with keyless entry and start, there are a few steps you can take to help prevent your car from being stolen via the keyless system.
Keep your keys away from your car
You can help prevent keyless car theft by keeping your key away from the car. This means not leaving it by the front door and also keeping it away from windows. This will make it harder for thieves to pick up the signal.
You can also park your car away from your house, especially if you use street parking. This will make it difficult for thieves to know which house the car belongs to and also makes it hard for them to amplify the signal enough for it to be received by the car.
Use a Faraday pouch
A Faraday pouch has a metallic lining that blocks the radio waves. This means the signal can’t be picked up by thieves and their technology, although they’re not 100% effective, so you shouldn’t only rely on the pouch.
You can buy Faraday pouches fairly cheaply online. Kia has also started to give Faraday pouches out with car sales as standard for their vehicles that use keyless systems.
Stop the car from being driven away
Whilst a thief might be able to open and start your car using keyless hacking, you can make it so they won’t be able to drive away. You can do this by using a steering wheel lock. Whilst this might not be 100% effective in stopping a thief – they may be able to break into the lock – it could be enough to deter thieves by making it more difficult.
If you live in a home with multiple cars, you could also use a car that has a traditional key and ignition to block in the car that has a keyless system.
Fit a tracking device
Fitting a tracking device won’t stop your car from being stolen, but it can make it much easier to retrieve if the worst does happen. Make sure to have it professionally fitted, as this will make it difficult for the thieves to find it and remove it themselves.
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