UKCrimeStats reports that across England and Wales in December 2019 alone, there were 34,627 reported cases of vehicle theft. The days of stealing a car by hot wiring are long gone. Car thieves today are using a variety of increasingly sophisticated techniques in order to gain access to cars. The police and car manufacturers are left playing catch-up as techniques are constantly evolving and adapting quickly to modern cars.

If your car has a keyless entry system, then it joins thousands of cars, including four of the most popular models in the UK from Ford, Nissan and VW, that can easily be stolen by using cheap electronic equipment bought online.

In this month’s article we take a look at four common methods used to steal vehicles that have keyless entry systems and keyless start buttons, and some measures you can take to keep your car safe.

  1. SIGNAL RELAYING

Keyless systems use a relatively simple process. The fobs emit a short-range radio signal that spans only a few yards. When the vehicle is close to the fob, usually within a few metres, the car recognises the signal and unlocks its doors. The same process is used for the ignition on cars with start buttons. The fob signal usually needs to be inside the car itself.

Relay thieves use wireless transmitters held up to the front door or window of a house, or the handbag/pocket of the car owner, to capture the signal from the fob and relay it to the target vehicle. An accomplice standing close to the vehicle captures the signal, fooling the car into unlocking. Once the accomplice is inside the car, the process can then be repeated to start the engine.

  1. SIGNAL JAMMING

A device transmitting on the same radio frequency as the key fob is used to jam the signal that locks the car. This device may be in the pocket of a thief in a car park, or left hidden near a driveway of a vehicle being targeted. When the owner presses the lock button on their key fob, the signal is prevented from reaching their vehicle and, unbeknown to them, it remains unlocked. Thieves are left with a vehicle with unlocked doors.

  1. KEY PROGRAMMING

Whether thieves use the ‘old fashioned’ method of breaking a window, or use the signal jamming technique described above, once they’re inside the car, those vehicles with a start button rather than an ignition key can be simple to steal.

Every car sold for more than the last 10 years has been required to have a standard diagnostic port fitted. This is typically located in the front foot well. Computer hackers have developed devices that plug into the port, boot up a vehicle’s software and then program a blank key fob.

In keyless cars this can be used to start the engine as well as to unlock the doors. The time needed for the programming process is as short as 14 seconds. The cost of programming gadgets on foreign websites is as low as £10.

  1. CLOSE RANGE TESTING

Some keyless fobs may still be in range of the car when left inside the house, but still near enough to the vehicle. Thieves can discreetly check by trying the vehicle door handles, but are unlikely to be able to drive off in the car if they do get inside. Keyless systems require a fob to be inside the car before the engine will start.

Keyless versions of four of the best-selling cars in the UK are among the hundreds of other models that can be stolen using signal relaying. According to Which?, the Ford Fiesta, VW Golf, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Focus accounted for more than quarter of a million new car registrations in 2018.

The German General Automobile Club (ADAC) tested 237 keyless cars and found that thieves can easily trick 230 of them into thinking that your key is closer than it really is, enabling them to unlock and start your car. A further four cars can be either unlocked or started. Only three – all from Jaguar Land Rover – were not susceptible at all. This means 99% of the cars tested have some form of security flaw.

You can view the full list of keyless cars tested by ADAC here.

STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO AVOID KEYLESS CAR THEFT

Check Your Car Has Locked Properly

Whenever you lock your car, either by touching the door handle or pressing the button on a fob, make sure the indicators flash and the mirrors fold in (if you have that functionality), and listen for the sound of the locks.

Block The Signal

To prevent signal relay theft at home, find a safe place to keep your fob that is both out of sight and out of range of the car. You may want to keep them in an aluminium tin or signal blocking box. Some people believe that storing the fob in a microwave works, but we wouldn’t recommend that! Whatever you choose to do, don’t assume that it automatically works. Be sure to test it. When out and about, carry your fob in a shielded wallet or aluminium tin.

Fit Locks

A steering wheel lock would significantly delay the theft of your car by making driving away almost impossible. Car thieves may be deterred by the fear of being caught in the act. It may also be possible to fit a lock to your diagnostic port, which would prevent computer hacking.

Fit A Tracker

If you have a valuable car, tracking devices are essential. Having one fit means that any unusual activity is monitored and you are sent an alert if it looks like the car isn’t where it should be. Cars can also be followed via GPS if they are stolen.

Switch The Fob Off

Some key fobs have the function to switch off. If yours is one of these, do so, especially at night if the vehicle isn’t being used.

CCTV

Like tracking devices, CCTV cameras aren’t a guarantee that your car won’t be stolen. However, they can be enough of a deterrent to make potential car thieves think twice about targeting your car. If they do decide to take your vehicle or help themselves to any contents, the CCTV footage can make it easier for the police to identify to culprit/s.

SOFTWARE UPDATES

It is now more crucial than ever to have the latest software installed on your vehicle, in order to keep car thieves at bay. Some manufacturers offer the ability to download updates directly from their website and transfer them to your car using a USB. Tesla vehicles can be updated when they’re connected to the Internet through a Wi-Fi router. Speak to your dealer to find out about vehicle software updates, and whether your car manufacturer is bringing in new keyless fobs with added security.

Tony Buckingham, Managing Director of Buckingham Insurance says “Car crime is a persistent problem. If your keyless entry car features on the list published by ADAC, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is likely to be stolen. By taking extra security precautions and ensuring you are adequately insured, can help to give you peace of mind should anything happen.”

To discuss your insurance requirements and to make sure you are adequately covered, please contact us or call in to our offices, either in Clowne or Ripley. Alternatively, telephone one of our friendly staff on 01246 575 625 (Clowne) or 01773 748 627 (Ripley). They will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.