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Keyless car theft – what you need to know

The days of using a key to unlock and drive your car are, according to the manufacturers, pretty much over. Now, modern cars are all going over to the ‘keyless entry and ignition’ system, which gets rid of that age-old problem of wondering where you left your car keys all the time.

However, that doesn’t make your car harder to steal – in fact, recent reports have indicated that keyless cars take under 60 seconds to break into, and the thief doesn’t even have to burgle your house or grab your handbag to get at your entry fob. So what can you do to stop it? We take a look at keyless car theft, what you can do to protect yourself, and how to avoid that expensive insurance claim.

What is the keyless entry and ignition system?

The keyless entry system employs radio frequencies which automatically unlocks and prepares the car to start as the owner approaches. Once the driver is sitting in the seat the car is started with a push-button ignition system, rather than the traditional key-operated ignition barrel at the side of the steering column.

The system was developed for use in luxury and high-end cars, especially in brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes. While only a relatively small percentage of current UK cars have a keyless entry system, the number is increasing as more manufacturers adopt the system. Now, brands as diverse as the Toyota Hybrid to the new VW Golf 7GTD, the Peugeot 508W and the Land Rover Discovery have keyless entry/ignition systems. Even the humble Mini Clubman and Mini Cooper are ditching the ignition barrel and going keyless.

It’s slick, it’s cool, and the public love it. The trouble is, it’s incredibly easy to hack. And that means smart thieves with a simple understanding of basic electronics can get into your car in under 60 seconds.

Why are keyless cars so vulnerable?

Before you start panicking, the average opportunist thief is not going to have the technical know-how or the specialist electronic kit to whisk away your brand-new car. However, the method used to hack into keyless cars has been developed and utilised by criminal gangs, many of whom are stealing luxury and desirable cars to order.

The thieves use what is known as a ‘relay device’. All they have to do is stand within a certain distance of the key fob. As many people keep their keys in the hallway of their home, that means if a thief stands near the front door of your house, they can pick up the radio signal from the fob and intercept it.

The thief’s accomplice stands closer to the car with a second relay device, which picks up the signal from the first one. The vehicle is fooled into thinking the owner’s key fob is sending a signal to the car to unlock, which it promptly does. All that needs to happen then is that the thief sits in the driver’s seat, which then allows them to activate to button start and drive away.

All of this takes less than 60 seconds, and the car can be stolen from the driveway without the owner ever being aware that the theft is taking place.

What are the chances of getting my car back?

Unfortunately, the chances of getting your pride and joy back are low. By the time you realise that your vehicle has been stolen (unless you’re very fortunate to catch the thieves in the act), the car has probably been moved abroad or sent to a ‘chop shop’ to be broken down into parts to sell on.

The equipment used (the relays) are not difficult to get hold of, but Ebay has stated that they are working hard to try and remove them from their online auction site.

Keyless car theft – can I claim on the insurance?

Absolutely, and in the majority of cases your insurance company will pay out in full. Because it’s such a difficult crime to prevent (and the thieves doing it are incredibly well organised), insurance companies understand that there’s very little you can do to prevent it from happening. It’s important to call 101 and inform the police of the theft as soon as you find your car has gone, quickly followed by a call to your insurance broker to get the claim process activated.

What can I do to stop the thieves?

While it’s difficult to prevent keyless car theft completely, there are some measures you can take to make it much harder for the thieves to drive away with your car:

  • Turn off or disable your fob: when you buy your car, check with the dealer whether the fob can be disabled when you’re at home. For some fobs it’s a simple matter of pressing twice, while others may be deactivated by entering a code or special sequence.
  • Don’t keep your keys close to the front door or downstairs windows: relays that access keyless fobs need to be within a certain distance of the fob, so by keeping your keys well away from entry points to your home you’re taking them out of proximity of the relays, which prevents the thieves from activating them.
  • Go old-school with a steering lock: high tech thieves can be beaten by low-tech defences such as a heavy-duty steering lock.
  • Join the Neighbourhood Watch: there’s a fair amount of ‘loitering’ involved with keyless car theft, so a sharp pair of eyes may quickly notice a couple of thieves acting suspiciously near a property. Mobilising your neighbours so that you all look out for one another is one of the best ways to beat the thieves.
  • Use a Faraday bag: Faraday bags or boxes are lined with metal material and can block the signal to the key fob. They cost under a tenner and can be an inexpensive way to prevent relay thieves from accessing your key fob and stealing your car. Be sure that it works first, though, by testing it yourself to make sure the signal is effectively blocked.

Talk to your insurance company

At Easy2Insure we understand how tough it can be to protect your investments, so we make sure we’re here to help with practical advice as well as great prices on car insurance. If you are the victim of keyless car theft it can send your insurance premiums up. At Easy2Insure we can soften the blow a little, and help you find the best insurance at the best prices. Talk to us today or get a quote online.