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How to fight the keyless entry thieves

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Security experts are offering advice to motorists as fears grow of thieves targeting keyless entry systems to steal cars from driveways.

And remarkably in an age where cars have never been so technologically advanced, the advice includes fitting old-style security locks that physically attach to the car’s steering wheel.

The move follows national tabloid newspapers highlighting what they described as a “terrifying” video, released by police and showing thieves stealing a car from in front of a house in Solihull, Birmingham.

In an attack that lasted less than a minute, the criminals used a pair of radio transmitters, waving one in front of the house to amplify the signal from the car’s keyless entry fob, and using the other to ‘trick’ the car into thinking they had the key and unlocking.

Keyless-entry The Car ExpertSignal targeted

This is the latest in several ‘transmitter relay’ attacks exploiting a vulnerability in a vehicle’s keyless entry system, according to leading UK automotive safety and technology body Thatcham Research.

Keyless fobs, which should not be confused with standard remote fobs, allow drivers to easily open and start their vehicle without pressing the fob or even having to remove it from their pocket.

“Keyless entry systems on cars offer convenience to drivers, but can in some situations be exploited by criminals. Concerned drivers should contact their dealer for information and guidance, and follow our simple security steps,” says Thatcham Research chief technical officer Richard Billyeald.

He adds that Thatcham is working closely with the Police and vehicle manufacturers to address this vulnerability – an approach that has driven vehicle crime down by 80% from its peak in 1992.

Thatcham Research suggests drivers of cars with keyless entry systems should take the following steps;

  1. Contact your dealer and talk about the digital features in your car. Have there been any software updates you can take advantage of?
  2. Check if your keyless entry fob can be turned off. If it can, and your dealer can also confirm this, then do so overnight.
  3. Store your keys away from household entry points. Keeping your keyless entry fob out of sight is not enough – thieves only need to gain proximity to the key to amplify its signal.
  4. Be vigilant. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity in your neighbourhood – and report anything unusual to the Police.
  5. Review your car security. Consider aftermarket security devices such as Thatcham-approved mechanical locks and trackers, which are proven to deter thieves. A list can be found on the Thatcham Research website here

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.