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How to prevent keyless car theft

Years ago, a car thief would need to break into a car and ‘hotwire’ it – that’s ripping out the ignition wires to start the engine – to steal it.

However, with the growing use of technology, many cars now have keyless entry and ignition systems. While these systems offer convenience, they also present new security risks.

Keyless car theft, also known as relay theft, sees a thief stealing a car without needing a physical key. And it’s very easy to do.

Here, we explain more about the problem and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of keyless car theft.

How does keyless car theft work?

Modern keyless entry and ignition systems in cars use fobs or cards with embedded chips that emit a radio signal for the car to recognise.

That means that when the car’s sensors detect the signal, it will unlock the doors.

However, thieves can exploit this technology by using a device called a relay box which will amplify the signal from a key fob.

For it to work, the thief will stand outside the owner’s home, and amplify the signal from the fob to the car.

Once the car’s sensors detect the amplified signal, it will unlock the doors.

The rise of keyless car theft

Keyless car theft is a growing problem, and one UK car insurance firm has revealed its scale.

Insurer LV says that the theft of keyless cars rocketed by 59% between 2021 and 2022.

Worryingly, the firm found that car theft rose by another 28% in 2023 to reach a record level.

It says the theft of keyless cars is to blame for the rise.

Which keyless cars are the most stolen?

LV points to the most stolen keyless marques as being Lexus, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia.

The car insurance firm also says Birmingham, London, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool are the car theft hotspots.

But don’t think the spate of thefts is restricted to big cities, the insurer says that in the last two years, Romford, Stockport, Chelmsford and Coventry have seen numbers rocket.

Tips to prevent keyless car theft

There are steps you can take to prevent your car from being a theft statistic. Here are some of the most effective tips:

  • Park in a well-lit area: If possible, always park your car in a well-lit area at night. Thieves are less likely to target cars that are parked in well-lit areas, as they are more easily seen by potential witnesses.
  • Invest in a tracking device: A vehicle tracking device such as these can be a valuable tool for recovering a stolen car. There are a variety of tracking devices available on the market, so you can choose one that fits your needs and budget.
  • Keep your keys away from doors and windows: It is important to keep your key fob away from doors and windows. This will help to prevent thieves from amplifying the signal from inside your home. That means if you are in the habit of dropping car keys into a pot by the front door, or keeping them in a coat pocket, then you need to stop.
  • Consider a steering wheel lock: A steering wheel lock is a visible deterrent that can make your car less attractive to thieves. While a steering wheel lock will not prevent thieves from stealing your car altogether, it may make them think twice about targeting your vehicle.
  • Talk to your insurance company: Not all car insurance policies cover keyless car theft. Talk to your insurer to make sure that your policy covers you in the event that your car is stolen.

For van owners with keyless technology, it is a good idea to fit deadbolts for extra security – especially if you are storing expensive tools overnight.

There’s also another crucial tip: How many times do you need to press your key fob to secure your vehicle?

This is where reading the manual will be handy because some fobs will see the car being single-locked with just one press.

You might need to press the fob twice to engage the vehicle’s full suite of security features.

Other car security measures to consider

In addition to the tips listed above, there are several additional security measures that car manufacturers are developing to prevent keyless car theft. These measures include:

  • Motion sensors: Some keyless entry systems use motion sensors to detect the presence of a key fob. If the system does not detect the key fob inside the car, it will not allow the engine to start.
  • Signal scrambling technology: There are keyless entry systems that will use signal scrambling technology to make it more difficult for thieves to amplify the signal from a key fob.
  • Smartphone integration: Car manufacturers are developing systems that allow drivers to use their smartphones as key fobs which use Bluetooth technology to communicate between the smartphone and the car. One benefit is that Bluetooth has a shorter range than radio signals, so it is more difficult for thieves to amplify.

Preventing keyless car theft

Having a car stolen is a risk that all vehicle owners face, but for those who are facing the prospect of keyless car theft, you need to act.

Not only do you need to be aware of the extra security measures you need to take, but you can stop thieves in their tracks by using a Faraday cage.

And you can stop leaving your car keys by the front door.

Check too how many times you need to press the key fob to secure your vehicle.

Add a visual deterrent and a tracking device – with an easy-to-see sticker on a window – to help reduce your car’s chances of becoming a statistic.

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