Anyone buying a new car should be shying well away from the push-start ignition vehicles as those are the ones that are being stolen with increasing regularity all across the world. Modern technology has also made it easier for thieves to get inside these vehicles. They can match the transponder settings on the keyless entry FOB and gain entry inside your vehicle.
Modern technology may have worked wonders for car automakers, but it has also thrown a new problem: the theft of keyless entry cars. It’s on the rise and has been for some time as thieves have now gotten devices that can unlock car doors and start the engine without needing a physical key. If you want to know more about how this crime is happening, you’ve come to the right place as we will be discussing all the basics of keyless car theft and how you can prevent it from happening to you.
What Is Keyless Car Theft?
Keyless car theft, also known as relay theft, is a method in which the thief gets inside your vehicle without having the physical key FOB. The target vehicles are primarily those with ignition and keyless entry systems. Criminals are increasingly sophisticated and are able to hack keyless systems fairly easily. The technology can be harnessed by criminals who drive away after accessing its system.
The crime is quicker and simpler than you may think, and it only takes about two minutes for a thief to steal your car. A car was stolen every 48 minutes in Canada (2021), as keyless car theft has become an increasing problem worldwide. Automakers have also recognized the problem and have come out with some solutions, but more on that later. First, we have to discuss how keyless car theft works.
The Mechanics of Keyless Car Theft
A keyless FOB has a transceiver built into it, which receives and sends radio signals that are preset by the manufacturer. Each FOB chip is designed to transmit specific RFID tag information that corresponds to what the reading device was programmed to accept. The FOB and the car send these encrypted preset signals to lock and unlock the doors when the key is within range and vice versa. Thieves target these signals to get inside a car without having the key.
Criminals carry devices with them and can get inside your car within less than two minutes using the coded signals between the FOB and the car. This requires two receivers/transmitters to intercept and then transmit the signal from the FOB. The first unit intercepts the preset signal of the FOB, even through a home wall, and transmits it to the second unit kept close to the car. It sends the cloned signal to the car, duping the security system by thinking that the key is nearby and allowing it to be unlocked and they drive away.
It’s become a common crime and one that has got people scratching their heads as to how they should deal with it. Once the car is stolen, it can be sent abroad, resold with fake documents, or taken apart for parts.
Is it Easier to Steal Keyless Cars?
Yes, keyless cars are easier to steal than their counterparts in most situations, but it depends on the situation and the car model. Some car models have a keyless entry that unlocks the doors but still requires a key to start the ignition. The cars that are most vulnerable to keyless entry theft are the ones that have keyless start and keyless entry.
Relay theft isn’t a new phenomenon and has been going on for some time now, so car manufacturers have developed new technology to thwart criminals from stealing them. Some car models come with advanced designs that can prevent the interception and cloning of the keyless FOB. We will be discussing them in detail below to show you how some manufacturers are dealing with the threat of keyless car theft.
How Are Manufacturers Addressing the Situation?
Most vehicles with keyless entry and keyless start features are vulnerable to keyless car theft compared to vehicles that don’t have either feature. Most new vehicles are coming with this feature as a standard or an optional extra, and there are thousands of second-hand vehicles on the road have this technology installed in them already.
However, some models are harder to steal than others because manufacturers have recognized the problem with keyless car theft and are addressing the situation. For instance, Jaguar Land Rover has fitted their models with a new radio technology known as ultra-wide-band (UWB), which prevents thieves from intercepting and cloning the signals from the keyless FOB. The FOB frequency transmits over a wider range of channels, preventing thieves from cloning the signal.
Other manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz, Audi, BMW, and Ford have installed motion sensors in keyless FOBs, which prevent them from sending out signals if they haven’t moved in a while. That offers protection when the keyless FOB is put in one place, but it’s not as secure as when you’re moving about with the FOB in your pocket.
Now some manufacturers have added a secondary option to the FOB where you can activate the sleep mode automatically, after it hasn’t moved for some time, or immediately when you can push a button on the FOB to put it in sleep mode. Key FOBs that aren’t manually deactivated are vulnerable in the same manner as standard keyless FOBs, especially if you park your car and walk away, which leaves your car at risk of being stolen.
What Markets Are These Cars Being Sold At?
Keyless car entry theft has become a common problem worldwide, from the European Union to Canada and the United States. Most of these cars are being stolen right from outside people’s homes or when they leave their cars and go shopping. The problem is that the technology being used by criminals is easy to acquire and isn’t hard to master.
Even with the solutions that car automakers have come out with, it is still a big problem that will not go away. West Africa is the market where these cars most commonly find themselves after being stolen. The cars are usually driven to a safe house for a cool-down period, where the criminals can ensure they aren’t being tracked.
Once they are safe and assured that the cars aren’t tracked anymore, they drive them to different ports where they are transported to Africa and other parts of the world. Some cars even have their original number plates on them while being sold, and they sell for double their value. Police have said that 80 to 85 percent of stolen cars are linked to criminal organizations overseas.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any regulations that can ban the tools used to intercept and clone key FOB signals. It seems like anyone can get their hands on them and easily steal a keyless entry and keyless start car and drive off with it. The problem is compounded by the fact that most of these cars are never found again as they are quickly transported out of the country.
How Do You Prevent Keyless Car Theft?
There are a couple of options available to you if you want to prevent keyless car theft. The first option is to park your car inside your garage so that criminals don’t get easy access to it. The second option, very old school, a steering wheel lock for your vehicle that prevents criminals from driving off in your car even if they get access to the entry FOB. You can also purchase special pouches to store your keyless FOB, which stops it from sending out any radio signals to your car while parked. Some wireless signals from the FOB can be temporarily disabled, the process is not always obvious and a specific sequence of buttons can be pressed. The owner’s manual should include details on how to disable your car’s keyless entry system. You can also contact the manufacturer to find out more. The crime ring that is running these thefts is strong and smart, and know that you will try everything in your power to stop your car from being stolen.
The market is filled with stolen cars that criminals have taken by intercepting and cloning the key FOB and driving off with the vehicle. There is little that can be done to stop them except purchase cars from manufacturers that have addressed this problem. You can also talk to your car dealership when purchasing a car with keyless entry and keyless start about potential problems you may encounter and how to reduce the risk of your car being stolen when you leave it parked. Apart from that, you should invest in other security features and get a tracking device installed in your vehicle to prevent criminals from stealing your car and shipping it overseas, where it will be sold at higher prices.
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