Keyless car theft: what you need to know

Car theft

If your car has keyless entry, a tiny little bag could save it from being stolen – and it only costs a fiver. The Master Locksmiths Association is warning that theft of keyless cars is on the rise, pointing to a report by Which? in January which found that four of the UK's five bestselling cars – the Ford Fiesta, the Ford Focus, the Volkswagen Golf and the Nissan Qashqai – were vulnerable.

So if you don't have one already, the Master Locksmiths Association recommends getting a little bag called a Faraday bag and keeping your key in it at all times.

How does keyless car theft work?

Keyless entry works through radio signals transmitted between the key and the car. These allow the key to detect when it's near the car and open it automatically – and is very convenient if you've got your hands full, or your keys are at the bottom of your bag. But it means the car is vulnerable to criminals who use technology to intercept and capture these signals so they can open your car and drive off in it.

This can be done from outside your home, with the process taking maybe 30 seconds. And when the General German Automobile Club, a car club, tested 237 keyless cars, they found 230 could be unlocked and started by thieves in this way.

The Faraday bag works because it is lined with metal which stops the signals being intercepted. Essentially, it's a tiny Faraday cage (an enclosure which blocks electromagnetic fields, named after its 19th-century inventor, the great scientist Michael Faraday) and should cost between £5 and £20.

Alternatively, keeping your keys in a metal box or even wrapping them in foil will work at home, but might not be practical out and about.

Police believe keyless car theft is linked to organised crime, and if your car is stolen, you may well not see it again. Clive Wain, head of police liaison at Tracker, a company which traces stolen cars, told Auto Express: “Many vehicles will be shipped to eastern Europe. Police have also found an increasing number of chop-shops where prestige cars are broken down for parts within hours.”

Anything else I can do?

The Master Locksmiths Association – the UK's largest trade association for locksmiths – has these further tips for protecting your car from theft:

  • If you don't have a Faraday bag, keep your keys away from doors and windows so they are out of range of interceptors.
  • The signals on some keys can be switched off. Look in your car manual to see if you can do this, or contact the car manufacturer.
  • A steering wheel lock can be a real deterrent. Ironically, as car theft has become more sophisticated, most modern car thieves have laptops rather than tools and will be stumped by a good old-fashioned mechanical device. Look for Sold Secure accreditation.

At HarlowandMaidstone car dealers Carwise Group, we have a wide range of used cars for sale of different makes and models – and are always happy to offer advice on security, safety or any other aspect of car ownership. You can see all the models we have in stock on our website – to book a test drive, call us on 01622 233151 or 01279 216163.