Are keyless cars safe?
Convenience, it’s fair to say, drives so many of our priorities and decisions these days, and that very much extends to the world of motoring.
Just consider, for example, the emergence of keyless entry systems on cars. As the term suggests, a keyless entry system is a form of technology that allows the driver of a vehicle incorporating such a system to get into and start their car, without the need to even reach for a physical key.
Your own car may incorporate such a system. And you may have been thankful for it during those times when you needed to access your vehicle, but couldn’t easily use your key – perhaps because your hands were full with shopping bags or dealing with the kids.
There is, however, a potential major downside with keyless entry systems: the fact that they might make your car easier to steal.
But shouldn’t keyless systems make my car more secure, rather than less?
You might have thought so! After all, not only is a keyless entry system convenient – as we’ve detailed above – but it also sounds vaguely high-tech. Alas, that doesn’t automatically translate into your vehicle being more secure as a result.
You see, keyless entry tech is somewhat simpler than many of us presume – it’s really just a solution that uses radio waves to indicate the driver is nearby with their keys for the car.
Basically, short-range radio waves transmit a signal between the car keys in your bag or pocket, and a receiver in your vehicle. As long as the car equipped with this technology recognises the signal, it will unlock the door so that you can get in and start it.
The ‘transmitter relay’ trick to unlock keyless cars
Unfortunately, though, there have been reports in recent years of criminals intervening in the above process to steal vehicles with keyless entry systems.
They do this by using two relatively cheap devices to effectively ‘trick’ a car into thinking the entire key fob is nearby. This causes the car to unlock, so that the miscreants can simply drive it away.
As explained by the Manchester Evening News and other outlets, this ‘transmitter relay’ trick essentially works as follows: the criminals buy a relay amplifier and transmitter, potentially just for a couple of hundred pounds, and while one would-be thief stands next to the car with the transmitter, an accomplice waves the amplifier near the house where the vehicle is parked.
If the car’s fob inside the house is near enough, the amplifier will pick up its signal, amplifying it and sending it to the other criminal’s transmitter. This effectively turns the transmitter into the key, with the car being ‘fooled’ into thinking the real key is close by.
Then, it’s a simple case of the criminals opening the car door, pushing the ‘start’ button, and driving off.
Is there anything I can do to prevent being a victim?
Probably the best thing you can do to minimise your chances of your vehicle being stolen as a consequence of this trick, is buy a car that has appropriate safeguards built into it.
The good news is that if you like the idea of having a keyless entry system on your next vehicle because of the convenience, you don’t necessarily have to go without one altogether.
Many manufacturers have worked hard to improve the technology on their cars in recent years to combat the problem. However, as Which? has reported, some marques don’t have such a great track record when it comes to putting fixes in place.
So, be sure to do your research into vehicles to make sure you don’t buy one of the ‘riskier’ models. Then, take a look at our car finance calculator to determine how we could help make the car you have your eye on more affordable.
Finally, don’t forget to implement the simpler measures that can help lower your risk of this kind of crime. Oft-cited tips include keeping your key fob as far away as possible from your car – not least so that it’s also far from obvious to criminals which house nearby might actually contain the fob – and keeping the fob in a biscuit box, as radio waves cannot pass through metal.
Even those familiar more old-fashioned security measures, such as keeping your car in a garage rather than on the street, and using in-car security devices like steering wheel locks, can all help reduce the opportunity for prospective thieves. Every little really does help!