There is a new form of car theft that is growing in reported cases across the UK and most cars are vulnerable to it.
More and more vehicles are being fitted with the highly-convenient keyless entry and keyless ignition systems. Each manufacturer has their own version of the technology; appealing to those who have had to wrestle their bags or pockets to find the elusively shy car keys.
What Is Relay Car Theft?
Relay theft - or “Keyless Theft” - is used to open and start a car which utilises the above technology. Usually, 2 or more thieves will approach households with a car outside, armed with easily-obtained and inexpensive transmitters and receivers.
One thief will stand by the house and use a device to connect to the signal transmitted by the key fob - which we often hang on a hook by the door or leave on a hallway table - and relays it to another device, being used by a second thief stood near the vehicle. The vehicle confuses the signal to be genuine and unlocks. The second thief can then just jump in start the engine using the same method.
The entire criminal act can last a few seconds and you could have no idea it was happening.
Which Cars Are Vulnerable?
Car security Tracker has compiled a list of the top 10 models to have been stolen and recovered in 2017 and 2018:
These were just cars that were recovered - with approximately 50% of all stolen vehicles never being found again.
Thatcham, a security research and standards organisation established by the motor insurance industry, tested 11 brand new models and assigned them ratings based on how resistant to being stolen they were.
Failure to resist relay theft knocked the vehicle’s overall rating down an entire level. This is no doubt to highlight the importance of this rising method of crime, which bypasses “20 years of security improvements in a matter of seconds”, according to Richard Billyeald, Chief Technical Officer at Thatcham Research.
Billyeald says: “This initiative focuses on addressing keyless entry/start vulnerability. We’ve seen too many examples of cars being stolen in seconds from driveways.”
“Now, any vehicle that is assessed against the new Thatcham Research Security Rating, and has a vulnerable keyless entry/start system, will automatically not achieve the best rating.”
As you can see from the above information, more than half of the cars tested were less than good - surprisingly including the ultra-premium Porsche Macan - with the Suzuki Jimny falling the furthest from the mark and receiving an “Unacceptable” security rating.
Billyeald also commented on the Jimny’s “unacceptable” security scoring: “This car scores consistently badly across all criteria, missing some fundamental security features that consumers might rightly expect should be fitted to a new car.”
Criticism of the new Thatcham rating system comes from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), where CEO Mike Hawes said: “It confuses rather than simplifies a very complex issue and will not help consumers, rather offering a signpost to thieves and increasing the risk of targeted criminal activity.”
How Can I Protect My Vehicle?
There are a few ways to help combat relay theft and stop it from happening to you.
One way is to purchase a product known as a Faraday bag or wallet to keep your car keys in. Faraday bags are designed to block radio signals (RFID) transmitting through the bag, meaning any tech inside can’t be tapped into - including mobile phones and contactless bank cards. RFID-blocking wallets are increasing in popularity as they use this principle to block contactless bank cards being ‘read’ whilst in your pocket or bag.
Outside of spending money on a Faraday bag, here are some useful tips for helping prevent relay theft:
If you have keyless entry and park on a driveway by your house, you should probably not keep your keys hung by the front door. Think about putting them in a secure part of the house or in a key safe that blocks RFID signals.
Some manufacturers are now developing key fobs that go into ‘sleep mode’ if not used for a set period of time. This stops any signal being transmitted from the key. Ford has developed a key which detects being in motion, hibernating if stationary for more than 40 seconds and ‘waking up’ once it starts moving again.
If your keys can’t tuck themselves in for a quick siesta, then some car keys allow you to switch off the signal manually. Consult the owner’s manual for instructions on how to do this, if applicable to your vehicle.
If your driveway is accessible from the roadside, with no barriers in between, then you should take inspiration from the 45th U.S. President and “build a wall”. Put a lockable gate in there too, a moat if it will fit or seek the benefit of a secure garage or carport.
Along with other low-tech solutions like steering wheel locks, this would halt the thieves’ progress or make sure they couldn’t even get in or out.
Manufacturers are constantly developing fail-safe’s in their cars, to help stop this kind of crime. Make sure you keep your software updated and cooperate with any vehicle recalls for updates and additions.
Software updates are commonly announced and can be performed at your local dealership or, sometimes, by yourself via the internet.
Another form of keyless theft incorporates the use of a machine which, if held nearby when you remotely unlock your car, can clone the signal generated by your keyfob. To combat this, simply lock your car doors manually with the key itself.
Wessex Fleet take vehicle security very seriously and hope that all of our clients and customers remain safe.
All crimes should be reported to the police by calling 101. If it’s an emergency, make sure you call 999. If you have any experience of this form of crime and have any tips of your own that you’d like to share, leave a comment below.