Old school car theft…
As a journalist, when asked to write a newsletter on this subject, it is really interesting from a research perspective. It is also complicated, as some of the information is sensitive. Some info you cannot share for fear of the criminals getting a “heads up” for want of a better term. Other info is sensitive in terms of brand reputation, and for that reason no specific brands are mentioned. The point of this column is simply to make you aware and provide possible solutions which may prevent that awful feeling of coming out of a venue to find your car missing. I hope you enjoy the read and find a solution that would work for you…
I spoke to technical staff at some of the motor manufacturers. I discussed the subject with a security company that is intimately involved with the issue. I chatted to Dealer Principals at different brand dealerships. I interviewed highly informed individuals at Cross Country Insurance Company. Below are my findings. I’m not stating that these are the only methods of theft, nor that the solutions are the only ones out in the marketplace. The criminals’ methods are evolving all the time, so this list is by no means comprehensive.
In a nutshell, since the ‘90s, most cars have used transponder/chip keys linked to their onboard computers. In very simple terms, the key contains a computer chip which is used for authentication. Once plugged into the ignition, the Engine Control Unit (ECU) transmits a code to the key that allows the car to start. To program these keys, diagnostic devices were developed. The worrying part is that many of these devices can be purchased freely on the internet. It obviously gets far more technical, but this is the starting point…
New school car theft…
A practice where the criminals jam the signal from the immobiliser to the car, so it does not lock – even when the owner presses the ‘lock’ button. Most vehicle and gate remotes operate on the same frequency, which makes it much easier to interfere with the signals. Beyond leaving your car vulnerable, the thieves often steal the sports equipment, or laptops etc from inside the car / boot. Dependent on policy, due to the fact that there is no forced entry, the insurance policy may not cover the loss, or could limit the cover.
The solution? Simply double check that your vehicle is locked by testing a door handle before leaving the scene. If it does open after you have conscientiously locked it, get in and drive away – as there is a very good chance the criminals are nearby and observing you.
Some technology leaves vehicles vulnerable as criminal techniques advance exponentially…
What is a “keyless entry car”? This means the vehicle can be opened without touching a button on the key fob. Walking towards the car, the fob will emit a short-range ‘friendly’ radio signal. If the car is in range (usually within a couple of metres), it recognises the signal and unlocks the door/s. Once inside, the fob allows you to press the ‘Start’ button to engage the ignition. “Keyless entry” technology was originally developed to provide owners with the convenience of being able to open and start their vehicle without needing to take the key out of their bag or pocket. Originally only available on premium models, today the technology has filtered down to many less expensive cars – which has contributed to the increase in keyless car thefts.
RELAY CAR THEFT
This method typically requires two thieves working together using a relay transmitter and a relay amplifier. One stands near the car with the transmitter, whilst the other will walk around the perimeter of your house with the amplifier in search of the key fob. Another popular method is to do this whilst your car is parked outside a shop/mall – they see you arrive, and the thief (with the amplifier concealed in a bag / briefcase) gets close to you before you are out of range. If the key is close enough to the car, the amplifier will pick up the signal and transfer it to the transmitter which will then act as the key, essentially tricking the car into unlocking the doors. It’s possible for the whole process to take less than 60 seconds, and it can be done in relative silence with minimal drama. Vehicles equipped with keyless entry or emergency start functionality are obviously most vulnerable to this method.
A ”Faraday Bag”…
Invest in a Faraday bag. It is a pouch which uses layers of metallic material to block radio signals. If you put your key fob in one, it prevents thieves from being able to successfully use relay devices. You could also use a tin or aluminium container. Whichever way you decide to go, it’s important that you test for effectiveness. Take the key fob out to the car in the Faraday bag or metal tin and see if you can still get into your car. However, from a convenience perspective, placing the key fob in and taking it out of a container is going to get tedious and likely result in you not doing so…
The second option would be to disable the “keyless entry” function on your vehicle – which, if you’re able to do this, would probably be the best solution. If you’re more worried about theft than about convenience, this is the way to go! Not all wireless signals from key fobs can be turned off, and the process isn’t always obvious, sometimes requiring a specific sequence of buttons to be pressed. The owner’s manual may provide details of how to disable your car’s keyless entry system if it’s possible. Alternatively (and preferably) contact your dealer for more information.
An Apple AirTag
COMPREHENSIVE FREQUENCY DISABLER/JAMMER
An interesting aside… Whilst I was on the phone with the security company, a top end vehicle had been stolen an hour before from a shopping mall. The vehicle had a tracking device, and, per chance, an Apple AirTag had been left in the vehicle (a tracking device developed by Apple designed to act as a personal key/bag/personal object finder). Despite this, it was as though the car had disappeared off the planet. The latest frequency jammers block Wi-Fi, GSM, Bluetooth, etc – the whole damn lot! So, the solution is to make it as difficult as possible to steal the car in the first place!
The traditional “steering wheel lock” is a bar-like object that you place on your wheel and lock into place with a key. It prevents the wheel from being turned – which is effective, until it’s not! Professional thieves simply cut a portion of the steering wheel to remove the device. That said, it is still a deterrent!
Sometimes old school options are useful!
“Pedal locks” are also an effective deterrent. There are a variety on the market. Some lock the clutch, others lock the brake to the accelerator etc. Some are ‘Wheel to Pedal’ locks, securing the steering wheel in the turned position to the brake pedal. You get the idea… Be sure to choose one that is easier to fit or you’re never going to use it!
Perhaps the ultimate solution is similar to clothing in a city with ‘iffy’ weather. Layering! The more security devices and measures you have in place, the less likely the thieves will choose your vehicle or get away with it. Always check with the manufacturer/dealership before installing anything that could possibly damage your vehicle or cause it to malfunction.
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team