Thefts of keyless cars are on the rise and research by the German Automobile Club (ADAC) back in 2019 revealed that of 237 cars tested, only 7 were secure enough to prevent a thief from gaining entry and starting the vehicle.
If you own a vehicle with a keyless entry system, this guide is for you.
- How keyless entry works
- Why manufacturers use this system
- How thieves steal cars with keyless systems
- See how long it takes to steal a car with a keyless entry system (video)
- Products you can buy today to protect your vehicle from this type of theft
As always, our team here at Job Prices is focused on helping consumers get value for money.
How Keyless Car Entry Systems Work
Many modern cars are now equipped with a keyless entry system which is comprised of a small plastic key fob which emits a radio signal to unlock the doors and allow the ignition to be activated.
The key fob typically emits the signal all the time, 24 hours a day, but the car only detects it when fob is within range, which is usually 3 – 15 metres.
The system shouldn’t be confused with a standard key fob, where the user needs to press a button to transmit the radio signal.
Why Manufacturers Install Keyless Entry Systems
Mostly for convenience – there’s no need to search your pockets on rummage through a handbag to find your keys. Just walk up to your car and the doors will automatically unlock for you.
In the early days, this technology was considered secure as, without any keyholes, there was nothing for thieves to pick or force open.
Unfortunately, technology has now overtaken most keyless entry systems and many are insecure and open to thieves.
How Thieves Steal Vehicles With Keyless Entry Systems
As the key fob is emitting a constant radio signal, the thieves only need to amplify the signal and transmit it to the receiver inside the vehicle.
This can be easily achieved by purchasing equipment online that detects the signal from the key fob amplifies it and sends it to a transmitter that a second thief is holding near the vehicle.
When the vehicle’s receiver detects the boosted signal, the doors are unlocked and the ignition switch or button is activated.
This type of theft is commonly known as “relay theft” as the thieves are simply copying and relaying the radio signal from the key fob so can travel further.
How Long Does it Take a Thief to Enter and Steal a Car? (Video)
A little over a minute and all done in complete silence, no drilling, no lock picking, no breaking windows and no alarms activated.
In the video above, did you notice the thief shining a torch into the car?
They are looking for security devices such as steering locks or similar.
Products and Suggestions to Help You Secure Your Car From Keyless Relay Theft
Only a few years ago, this type of theft was considered quite rare as thieves predominately targeted high-performance vehicles.
As of 2019, almost all manufacturers offer keyless entry systems on at least one model in their range.
If you own or are about to buy a vehicle with a keyless entry system, we suggest the following:
1) Check If Your Vehicle Model is Vulnerable
According to the Guardian Newspaper, only three models in the UK are not susceptible to relay theft: Jaguar I-Pace, Range Rover and the Land Rover Discovery. These models contain software that can accurately determine the true distance between the key fob and the vehicle, so cannot be fooled by the relay device.
Mercedes and BMW are developing a key fob that will only transmit the signal when it detects motion i.e when it’s in your pocket and not hanging on a hook or sitting on a worktop.
It’s unclear whether any updated system can or will be retrofitted to existing models on the roads.
We suggest you contact your local dealership and ask about the vulnerability of your vehicle and whether there are any software or hardware updates available.
2) Buy a Blocking Pouch
One cheap and easy way to prevent relay theft is to block your keyless fob from transmitting the radio signal.
There are several products on the market today that contain materials designed to block radio signals.
Clockmate currently has the best reviews and ratings on Amazon and prices start from £6.00:
You could also store your car’s keyless entry fob away from doors, windows and external walls of your house, making it more difficult for a thief to copy the radio signal.
3) Switch Off The Remote Fob Altogether
Some remote fobs can be deactivated by the user, so check the documentation or menu screen in your vehicle.
Other fobs can be deactivated but only by the main car dealership, so give them a call to discuss your options.
Unfortunately, some remote fobs cannot be deactivated at all and your best option is to block the radio signal with a pouch.
4) Install a Steering Lock
Steering wheel locks come in many different shapes and sizes but the circular disc locks are considered the toughest to crack.
These locks also act as a visual deterrent, thieves know that any attempt to steal a car with a sturdy disc lock fitted isn’t going to be an easy task.
The aptly named Disklock is the number 1 brand in the UK and prices start at around £130.
The downside of steering disk locks is their size and bulkiness.
Once you get the hang of setting up the lock, you’ll find it only takes a few seconds but storing the device isn’t easy as they’re huge.
5) Install a Tracker
Did you know that when professional thieves steal a car, they often leave it parked near a main road for a few days?
It may sound like an odd thing to do but there is logic to this approach:
If the car has a tracker fitted, the police will recover the vehicle, usually within a day or two.
If no tracker has been installed, the car will still be there a few days later.
The thieves then come back and take the car to their yard for breaking up or transportation, usually abroad.
It’s for this reason that up to 90% of cars that are fitted with a Thatcham Category 5 tracker are recovered.
While there are tons of cheaper self-install trackers on the market, for high-performance vehicles we recommend a Category 5 tracker.
Our research into prices shows that you should expect to pay around £500-£600 for the initial installation and between £150 and £200 per year for a subscription. (example).
Don’t forget; many insurers offer significant discounts for cars with a Thatcham Cat 5 tracker fitted.
6) Have an Anti-Theft Kill Switch Installed
Kill switches are an added layer of security worth considering.
The switch acts as a breaker between the ignition switch and the ignition. With the switch in the off position, the car cannot be started, in the on position, it can.
A well-hidden kill switch will deter most thieves and seriously delay even the most professional gangs.
Kill switches are installed in the aftermarket so your local main dealer probably won’t be able to help you but a few Google searches and we’re sure you’ll be able to find a company to install a kill switch for you.
With thefts of keyless cars skyrocketing in recent years and a slow lacklustre response from most manufacturers, it makes sense to invest in a security product, especially as a pouch costs less than £10.
Those of you with high-value vehicles may feel it’s worthwhile going the extra mile with disc locks, trackers and kill switches the most common options.
This guide to securing your keyless car was written by Danny Woodley and was last updated in May 2022.
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