More than 600,000 cars were stolen in the UK in 1992, but thanks to improved vehicle security and a crackdown on thieves by the authorities that number began falling drastically. By 2016 there were just 56,000 vehicles stolen in England and Wales, according to Office of National Statistics figures.
But last year, there were 89,000 vehicles stolen in England and Wales, a 56 per cent increase over the previous year and keyless entry cars seems to be the reason for the rise. Thieves use sophisticated tech to fool the car into thinking the key is nearby, allowing them to enter the vehicle and drive it away.
What is keyless theft?
The process criminals use to steal a car via keyless theft – also known as relay theft – is relatively simple. First, they buy a relay amplifier and a relay transmitter; these electronic gizmos can be purchased from the darker corners of the internet.
Next, they identify a house with a nice car parked outside and, by using these gadgets, can detect whether the car features keyless entry and go.
One criminal then stands by the car with his transmitter, while a second waves his amplifier around the perimeter of the house. If the car key is close enough the amplifier will detect its signal, amplify it and send it to the accomplice’s transmitter.
This transmitter then effectively becomes the key, and tricks the car into thinking the real key is nearby, whereupon the thieves are able to open the car, get in and drive away. The whole process can take as little as 60 seconds and can be completed in near silence and as for safety reasons the engine won’t just cut out when the key is out of range, there is very little to stop the thieves.
Manufacturers are already working on new systems. A few new models already have set-ups that aren’t vulnerable to relay attacks. The functionality is the same, but they cannot be fooled by relay devices.
How to avoid keyless theft – top tips
Keyless theft sounds almost like the perfect crime – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to stop it from happening to you. We spoke to some of the industry’s leading security experts to find out what you can do.
Don’t forget the basics
Owners shouldn’t forget to take standard security measures, ensuring their car is properly locked and keeping keys far away from doors and windows. This will minimise the chances a crook will be able to find and amplify the key’s signal and is general good practice, as it’ll prevent thieves from easily breaking in and swiping them. Keeping your car keys in a metal tin can block signals.
Can you switch off your key?
Though it’s not always obvious, requiring a double button press or a combination of pushes on the key. Check your manual or speak to your dealer to find out if your key has this function.
You could also purchase an aftermarket security device such as a steering wheel lock, a driveway parking post, or even a wheel clamp. Even if the thieves are able to access and start your car, these should prevent them from driving away – and many criminals will be put of by this
According to statistics vehicles fitted a tracking device have a 96 per cent recovery rate when stolen. The odds reduce to 50 per cent for those without. Meaning a car tracking device is a excellent way to help ensure should the worst happen, your can is recovered.
Consider purchasing a Faraday pouch to keep your car key in. These pouches contain signal-blocking materials that stop your key transmitting its code, preventing crooks from being able to detect and amplify the signal.
Is there anything more you can do?
Other steps you can take to keep your car safe include checking if there are any software updates for the car itself and remaining vigilant for unusual activity in your area.
Carmakers themselves are working on countermeasures to combat the issue of keyless theft, with new frequency technologies, software and keys among the developments taking place. Richard Billyeald added that: “if owners are worried about keyless theft, they can contact their dealer to see if the system can be disabled.”