After steadily decreasing for 10 years, car thefts are now on the rise with the number of cars being stolen tripling in the worst affected areas. The leading cause of the increase in thefts is due to keyless car technology and the availability of technology bought online that can counteract it.
Despite being designed to be convenient for motorists, keyless technology is actually causing security concerns as thieves are finding it easier to hack the systems used and steal cars from both driveways and public car parks, using technology that can be bought online.
Car theft on the rise
Car theft has been declining over the past decade due to vehicles being fitted with immobilisers, alarm systems, and tracking devices, but the introduction of keyless technology has seen incidents increasing with some areas experiencing 3 times as many car thefts than they did three years ago.
There were 85,688 reported car thefts in 2016 which is up 30% on 2013’s figure of 65,783, and Warwickshire has seen a 189% increase in car theft over the past three years which makes it one of the most affected areas in the country.
Other areas which have seen significant rises are Hampshire with a 59% increase, West Yorkshire with an increase of 57%, and Norfolk which has seen a 56% rise.
In addition to this, Cleveland Police have stated that 90 keyless cars have been stolen in their region since December, and half of these were Ford Fiestas which have been the top-selling car for 10 years and are very popular with families.
How cars are being stolen
With the right equipment, a thief can steal a car in just 30 seconds, all they need to do is boost the key fob signal so that it reaches a device held by a second thief waiting by your car door. The first thief simply holds a relay box by the front door and this box can detect a keyless fob from up to 100 yards away.
The car door will then unlock due to receiving the boosted signal from the fob, and the second thief can get into the car, press the ignition button, and drive away in no time at all.
Relay boxes are not hard to get hold of and can be picked up from Amazon for £260.29 or eBay for £278.77 which makes them very accessible to those who want to steal keyless cars.
Many of these stolen cars will then be taken to illegal ‘chop shops’ where they will be dismantled so that the parts can be sold. It is for this reason that cheaper, popular models such as Ford Fiestas are being chosen as there is a lot of demand for these spare parts.
Despite 25% of all keyless car thefts in the West Midlands being Fords, Ford themselves have said that the numbers do not suggest that their cars are being targeted, and most car manufacturers currently say that cars are more secure now than they have been before.
Tips for keeping your car safe from theft
If you are concerned about your car being stolen there are things that you can do to ensure that you are keeping it as safe and secure as possible, both at home and when parked in a public place:
- Invest in a steering or wheel lock as these are very obvious deterrents which thieves will want to avoid
- Keep keyless fobs in metal tins or in a bag which will block its signal like a faraday cage so that it cannot be boosted via a relay box.
- Don’t leave your car keys in the hallway at home with your other keys, wallet and coat as some enterprising thieves can grab it through the letterbox.
- Always check that your car is locked before leaving it as thieves have also been found to use jamming gadgets to intercept the signal emitted when you try to lock the doors.
- If your car is parked on a driveway make sure you have security lighting, you could also invest in a camera that triggers an alarm to your phone if there is a motion on the drive.
The important thing is to be aware that car theft is on the rise across the country, make sure that you are aware of the car theft statistics in your local area, which should help you make an informed decision as to whether you need to be more protected in various ways from this rising threat. Investing in a metal box or faraday cage bag to put your keyless car fob in is probably the simplest and cheapest thing to do right now and costs around £10.
Have you experienced any security issues due to keyless technology? Do you feel that cars are the most secure that they have ever been? Let us know in the comments below.
Why is it possible to obtain Relay Boxes to boost the signal? Surely they can have no legitimate purpose and their sale should be banned.
Amazing, John. An overnight solution!
They’d just be sold on the black market/dark web/whatever.
Thats true Dave, but there is no point in making it easy for the thieves. Thinking about it, why dont the police just set themselves up supplying relay boxes. You would catch the thieves in no time…..
Why is the default mode an insecure broadcasting always on device? Why not encrypted and simply activated by proximity of the original key to the car or a simple manual button? Bonkers. Sounds like a PR own-goal other manufacturers will make capital on.
I am a retired industrial electronic engineer and in the past I have made many of such devices for use in automation on manufacturing production lines. There are many legitimate uses of such equipment. The prices shown in the above article are horendously overpriced as I could probably make one today for about £45.00.
Stop selling these devices is the solution. Amazon not paying taxes and now this. What next for car owners.
Unfortunately taking them off Amazon won’t help much. People who know what they are doing will find them on the dark web. I guess that’s where the Amazon sellers are getting them from.
189% increase is not “tripled”. Back up the headline or retract it!
11% short of triple, so it’s almost tripled…
Does that make a difference
My BMW X6 was stolen in exactly the way you describe. I had a 3rd party tracker expertly fitted and well hidden in the car. Had I just used BMW’s own tracker system I would have never recovered the car.
They ripped the inside of the car apart trying to find the tracker. Somehow they knew there was another tracker in there. They caused over £5000 of damage to my car.
The car was found abandoned 30 miles away in Leeds with the engine still running and a scanner/relay device still in it.
When I took the car to BMW they acted surprised. However one of the people there told me that I should not be leaving my key near the door at home.
Until that conversation I had no idea that there was a security issue with keyless cars.
I’m annoyed that BMW have not highlighted this to their customers. In fact neither Mercedes as far as I know.
Your tin box idea is an excellent one for home. But I believe that manufactures have to put a secondary security system unique to the driver such as fingerprint recognition or a keypad with a simple pin which is used in many countries as standard in even basic cars to start the ignition.
I will not be buying another keyless car until such time as I’m assured they’ve resolved their issues.
Thank you for you article.
People should boycott Amazon until they withdraw these devices from sale. Shame on you Amazon
Because of this article even more would be thieves will now know how to easily get these gadgets. Thanks from a keyless Fiesta owner.
Stop keyless technology is the solution. Why create a problem to solve a problem that didn’t exist?
It’s a gimmick that sells cars they all have to follow or lose custom
Poorly designed security – simple!
My car is keyless, a couple of months back I parked up in a secure compound, got out of the car and was about to press my fob to put the alarm on when first the driver,s window went down and stayed down the other three windows followed suit. I had to get back in the car, switch on and raise all four windows. Someone having a laugh! Since then I have brought my old steering lockout of retirement, trouble is I can not find the key. It really is a keyless car at the moment.
The solution here is actually childishly simple: get car manufacturers to include an option in the car system settings menu that lets you turn off keyless entry, and instead use only the “press button to initiate unlocking” sequence.
You can retain the lack of need to put a key into the ignition, but once again the solution is dead easy: turn on the key-recognition system only when the car is unlocked (either by button or by key in door lock).
Two small changes (actually only one setting to change) and a major security hole is averted.
Audi now do that.
Just go back to the old fashion method of a steering lock. Yes, the thieves can remove that too, but it’s adding time to their theft & not a quick getaway. Another method is the ‘Mr. Bean’ way – take your steering wheel with you – not so far-fetched as it is done on formula 1 cars.
Not sure how easily done on the modern cars, but on the older cars swapping the ignition leads in the wrong order will make your car bang when someone will try to start it and it won’t drive anywhere full stop -)
The new cars were designed to be stolen…
I don’t see why the manufacturers can’t use a proximity sensor so short-range keyless tech is only activated when the fob is a yard or so from the car.
To temporarily deactivate keyless on a Mercedes press the lock button on the key twice in rapid succession.
The battery indicator light of the key more flashes twice briefly and lights up once. KEYLESS-GO is then deactivated.
To activate: press any button on the key.
When the key is inactive a relay box won’t work, so no farraday cage or steering lock required. Also do this to your spare anyway as it preserves battery life.
Is there a table of the best and worst?
” Investing in a metal box or faraday cage bag to put your keyless car fob in is probably the simplest and cheapest thing to do right now and costs around £10.”
So basically keep your keys in a biscuit tin, easy, what is all the fuss about?
It is very dangerous around here, 23 years ago a neighbour had a lawn mower stolen from the garden.
I’ve said from day 1 of keyless entry that this would happen because of the proximity sensor having a too large range why does it need to be 100m radius from the car 2m is the max it should ever be and just look at American cars that can be driven for nearly a km before the engine cuts out when the key is not present why can’t the use a system the uses the human body as a sender so you actually have to touch the handle of the door while having the key to unlock or just make it so you have keyless start but can turn off the keyless door entry
Our justice system treats them too too lightly so there is no deterrent for such thieves !
Don’t you just love progress. Old fashioned steering lock and putting your keys in a tin can, you couldn’t make it up. I’m mad because I sold my old unused steering lock at a boot sale for a tenner, it’s probably worth a fortune now. If car makers can create the tech for keyless cars, then they can surely create a system to protect it. Anyway, we’re soon heading for driverless cars too, so we redundant humans won’t even need to be there, the cars can amuse themselves just driving about on their own and car thieves will be obsolete too – the cars can steal themselves! Just saying!
As an IT professional, you’re mistaken here. the car won’t steal themselves, but other people will steal the car -) with or without a driver and since every driverless car will NOT have a driver inside, it will be even easier for the hacker to do that, since blocking the GPS will cause the car to stop automatically for instance, oh and of course the mobile signal can be jammed very easily as well.
If someone really badly wants to steal your car it will be gone and no manufacturer will ever create a system which will be bulletproof, unless one of those from 007 films when the car explodes.
NO modern technology at all is 100% safe but many do not realise that fact If anyone wants to no security will stop them As soon as a ew secure system is put in place others are trying to break or find a way round it and do
I hate all this tecnology they use just for the sake of it, remember the days when we would just cut a wire in a hidden place and fit a secret immobiliser switch, enough to put many off when they could’nt get it started. I have recently bought a new steering wheel lock, it’s not guaranteed to stop them but good chance they will try an easier car when they see it. I value my car as insurance could not replace as good.
Did customers ask for ‘this’ keyless entry and a start/stop button instead of simply unlocking the car ‘manually’ with a Plip key fob button and then putting the key into the steering column and turning it?
Was that too hard a task? I think not – to both!
Now all manufacturers have to supply it as standard – it’s the latest must have gizmo – and look where it’s got us.
There was nothing wrong with the original Plip key fob with three buttons – lock, unlock and open boot only.
When you pulled the key out of the steering column it locked the steering so the car couldn’t be driven away, nor the steering unlocked without a ‘a physical key’ unless the steering column was ‘got at.’
I think not.
Of course car manufacturers say that their cars are more secure than ever – why would they want to spend money changing something that they’ve created just because it causes us a problem.
I didn’t want a keyless entry car but in the end had no option. Bought a Faraday pouch, bought a steering wheel lock and also installed a parking post!
All of this because it is so easy for these low life scum to take my car!
Daughter parked her keyless car (JLR) in a secure car park in London, came back to find car open and contents gone!
Not just cars they’re after and trust no one, not even car park owners/staff!
Why not build a feature same as on phones etc whereas fingerprint technology is used to start the car , think that would stop it altogether.
Presumably these electronic devices could, if they aren’t already, also be used to read the contactless bank cards that people carry on then as well? This would enable the thief to purchase fuel, etc. Wonderful isn’t it. A favourite place for electronic thefts is airports where the thief clones either the keyless fob or the signal from a remote locking fob and take the vehicle at their leisure, whilst the real owner is away, making it very difficult to recover the vehicle because of the time that has elapsed until the real owner of the vehicle returns to collect it. As a number of smartphones have electromagnetic communications built in, it wouldn’t surprise me if these are being programmed to ‘skim’ details from wallets and fobs.