Keyless car theft: What you need to know

Have you ever noticed a £100,000 Range Rover parked on your street that’s fitted with a cheap steering lock and wondered, why?

The answer is all down to keyless entry systems. In 2018 car security firm Tracker reported that 88% of the stolen cars it recovered had been stolen using keyless entry theft methods – an 8% increase from 2017.

Keyless entry systems might appear high-tech but really they just rely on radio waves to prove the presence of the car’s key on your person. But, with the correct tech, the system can easily be tricked allowing criminals to get into and start your car without needing the key.

The good news is that this type of theft is simple and inexpensive to stop, so keep reading for all you need to know about keyless car theft and how to prevent it.

What is a keyless-entry car?

A keyless-entry system is self-explanatory, it means you can get into and start your car without ever having to fumble in your pocket for a key.

The system works using short-range radio waves. The key in your pocket or bag transmits a signal that’s picked up by a receiver in your car – if your car recognises the signal you’ll be able to unlock and start it. If it doesn’t recognise the signal – or there is no signal – you can pull the door handle as much as you want because it won’t open.

Keyless entry was introduced for pure convenience reasons. You don’t need to worry about finding your keys every time you get in the car because, so long as they’re on your person, you’ll be able to get in and start it. Juggling children and shopping? No worries, if you’ve got the key you’ll be able to get in your car without having physically unlocked it.

The technology has come on since its original introduction, so you can now send virtual keys to people your lending the car to, essentially turning their mobile phones into a temporary keyless key.

Are keyless entry cars easier to steal?

The answer to this question is a resounding – yes. So long as criminals have the right kit stealing a keyless car is relatively easy. Keyless car crime means there’s no need to gain entry to your home to steal the keys and no need to physically steal them from. So, while keyless entry systems make it easier to steal a car, they also lower the risk that you yourself will be harmed for your car keys.

Keyless car theft how to prevent it

While stealing a keyless car is relatively easy, following a few simple steps can make a criminal’s life a lot more difficult, if not completely impossible.

The most obvious step is to keep your key as far away from your car as possible, and as far away from the windows and doors of your house – thus making it harder for criminals to detect and amplify your key signal.

The same is true if you park your car on the street. Parking it a distance from your house will make it harder to amplify the signal, also thieves won’t necessarily know which house contains the corresponding keys.

Another simple fix is keeping your keys in a biscuit box or, if you don’t mind looking a little silly, your microwave. Radio waves cannot penetrate metal and if thieves can’t detect your key signal, they can’t steal your keyless car. If you fancy something a little smarter looking than a biscuit box, you could buy a Faraday safe box or pouch that is purpose-built to block radio signals.

According to the office of national statistics, 66% of keyless cars that get nicked are stolen between the hours of 6pm and 6am. In other words, if you work normal working hours and you can protect your car at home, you have eliminated two-thirds of the risk.

Of course, you can apply the same physical barriers to keyless cars that you apply to cars without the system. So, if you’re a two-car household, you can use the car that doesn’t have keyless entry to block the car that is fitted with it. Or you could just use a locking post to block access to your drive.

Other measures that will do the job include using a steering lock. This highly visible deterrent will likely put off a thief who’s looking for an easy win. The same is true of wheel clamps that lock around your car’s wheels or a pedal box that encases your car’s brake and clutch pedals.

For another layer of protection, it’s also worth considering fitting a tracker device.

What are the manufacturers doing?

Finally, a number of manufacturers have introduced preventative measures aimed at curbing keyless car theft.

Fobs used by companies such as BMW, Audi, Ford and Mercedes now come fitted with a motion sensor that deactivate the signal when the key’s not in use.

Jaguar and Land Rover, meanwhile, uses ultra wide-band radio technology which stops thieves being able to isolate the signal to your car.

Kia has also taken its own unique approach, it provides a Faraday bag with every new car it sells.

Most cars fitted with keyless entry allow you to turn the system off – so thieves can’t exploit weaknesses in the system – although you do also lose all the convenience of having the feature fitted in the first place.