What is keyless theft and how can you prevent it?

A vehicle is stolen every five minutes in the UK, with keyless entry car theft (also called relay theft) a crime that's increasing exponentially.

What is keyless theft?

Keyless theft (sometimes called relay theft) is when a vehicle that has a keyless entry and start system is stolen, exploiting the technology to access the car and drive it away.

More and more cars are offered or fitted with keyless entry and start as standard, allowing you to unlock the car just by touching the door handle and start it just by pressing a button. It is a desirable feature, but the downside is that it can make your car vulnerable to this kind of theft.

Criminals use a pair of devices to carry out the theft. Firstly, the signal from your car key is captured or amplified - this can be done quite easily even if your key is indoors - and this copied signal is then sent to another transmitter.

This transmitter then acts as an additional key, so the car can be opened, started and driven away. Once the car has been stolen it may be sent abroad, broken for parts or re-sold with false documents.

Does my car have keyless entry?

It is important to clarify the difference between keyless entry and keyless start.

The overwhelming majority of new cars have keyless entry - meaning that you only have to press a button on the key to activate the central locking, rather than physically inserting the key into the door to unlock it. This kind of system is not susceptible to keyless or relay theft.

If you can walk up to your car with your key in a pocket or bag, open the door and start the car all without putting the key in an ignition, then your car has keyless entry and start and is susceptible to keyless theft. 

It is also worth noting that having one system or the other does not protect you from less sophisticated types of vehicle theft.

How to avoid keyless theft

If you haven’t bought your next car yet, the easiest way to avoid keyless theft is to buy a car without it. It is becoming increasingly popular however, so it may be that this is not an option. If you are still in the process of buying, talk to the dealership about the security standards of the keyless function and also ask if the system can be disabled.

If you already have a car with keyless entry and start, there are several things you can do to make theft more difficult.

As well as making sure your car is properly secured, put the keys somewhere safe within your house that is away from doors and windows. Thieves usually have to try and ‘grab’ the signal from outside, so the further away the keys are from the exterior walls, the better.

You can put them upstairs, in a metal box or anything that blocks the signal. Special signal-blocking key pouches, sometimes called Faraday bags, can help, although their effectivness is not guaranteed.

Anything else you can do to make the car harder to steal will be a deterrent. Putting the car in a garage, getting a lockable post on your driveway and in-car security devices such as wheel and gearlever locks are all a help. They may not prevent all thefts but they will slow thieves down and act as a deterrent.

5 tips to avoid keyless theft

While some people may say no car is safe from determined criminals, there are measures you can take to deter would-be thieves.

1Make sure your car is secure

Make sure your car is secure when you park up at home or elsewhere. Look for street lights, CCTV cameras and busy areas, and at home park where you can see the car if possible.

2Disable the keyless system

Disable the keyless entry system if you can. Your dealership may be able to help, consult the vehicle handbook too as you may be able to do it yourself.

3Keep your keys safe

Keep your keys somewhere safe when at home. Preferably away from external doors and in some sort of metal tin or box. A Faraday bag may help.

4Invest in extra security

Add extra security to your vehicle and home, such as a mechanical wheel lock. The Disklok is the most recognised on the market or there's the Stoplock Pro. Additionally, you could invest in a lockable driveway post or if you have a garage at home, use it as much as possible.

5Buy a tracker

If you have a high-value car consider getting a tracking device fitted, like the Spytrack Nano or Trackershop Enforcer 4.

Do Faraday pouches work?

Keyless pouches - also called Faraday pouches - are designed to block the signal produced by your keyless fob when they are within the pouch, so the signal cannot be grabbed while the key is stowed.

However, their effectiveness is not guaranteed. Security experts Thatcham Research suggest that, if you decide to purchase a keyless pouch, you should test it before using it on a regular basis.

You can do this by putting the key inside the pouch and then trying to open and start your car as you normally would. If the car won’t open you can be confident that the pouch is working.

Top 10: Best signal blocking pouches for 2019

Monojoy -key -signal -blocker -2

MONOJOY keyless car key signal blocker pouch

The 20cm x 10cm Monojoy pouch is a great, cheap bit of kit for anyone who's worried about waking up to find their car stolen. Even if you don't have keyless start, those who can gain entry can steal anything you leave inside your car. And with this purchase, you get two pouches. It's pretty small, meaning our Audi key fob fits inside, but there are bigger pouches out there if you want to store multiple key fobs.

Power -pouch

POWR RFID Signal Blocking Pouches

After a while, most small signal blocking bags begin to look the same. So it's generally down to how well the bags are reviewed and priced. Despite looking like the Monojoy signal blocking pouch, and offering two pouches, the POWR bags are in this list because they're slightly cheaper and they're rated 4.8 out of 5 stars from over 670 Amazon reviews.

POWR claims to have also extensively tested the durability of the pouch to make sure none of the seams will unravel, which is a complaint we've heard about the Monojoy pouches. The POWR Signal Blocking Pouches contain a single section, ensuring that every item within the closed pouch is completely protected too. Power also offers a three-month money back guarantee for returned products. And it's a UK based company with UK Customer Services.

Monojoy -large -bag

MONOJOY Large Faraday Bag

Another option from Monojoy is this signal blocker pouch with signal blocking material stitched inside to prevent thieves amplifying your key fob signal and opening car. The bag also blocks calls, SMS, Wi-Fi and 4G (if you so desire to block those things).

The interior silver layer blocks signals while the outer layer is a 680 denier waterproof oxford clot. There's also a small fabric loop on the bag in case you want to hang it up as you would do with a set of keys. The pouch is 21cm x 12cm, which means it can fit multiple types of smartphones as well as multiple key fobs.

>> See the full top 10

What else will prevent keyless theft?

Car manufacturers are aware of the issues surrounding keyless theft and are working on solutions. Some of the latest models on sale have an added layer of security within the system so that the conventional grabbing method that thieves use will not work.

Opening and starting vehicles with smartphones instead of conventional keys is already possible and is likely to become more commonplace, which should make replay theft obsolete - although criminals will always seek to exploit weaknesses in any security system.

Manufacturers are also investigating software updates designed to prevent keyless theft, so it is important to ensure that your car has the latest updates. Your handbook will tell you how to check this or you can consult with your dealer.

Ultimately no single security system is foolproof, so increasing the amount of security around your car is a sensible move and reduces the likelihood of theft.

Can you turn keyless entry off?

Some keyless entry systems can be turned off, but it depends on the make and model of your particular vehicle. The best place to start is with your vehicle handbook, as some models allow you to do this yourself through the menu systems or by pressing the key’s buttons in a particular order.

It may be necessary for you to contact your dealer in order to have the keyless function switched off if this is possible. Be sure that you understand what functions will be disabled along with the keyless operation, as it will likely require another trip to the dealership if you want to have it restored.

How else can you keep your car secure?

If you want to increase the level of security protection on your car there are a number of options.

Mechanical devices offer a physical barrier against thieves but also offer a visual deterrent, so although they can be cumbersome, steering wheel locking devices such as Diskloks or wheel clamps can be effective and inexpensive.

There is a multitude of electronic devices you can add for increased security over and above the alarm and immobiliser systems that are fitted to almost all cars.

A separate immobiliser circuit can be added to your vehicle for a reasonable cost, activated by a hidden switch that would be very difficult to find or by a separate fob that must make physical contact with the vehicle to start it.

There is also a wide range of tracking devices which can make it much easier to locate your vehicle if it is stolen, or even notify you immediately if the vehicle has moved without your permission.

It is also crucial to ensure your car is secure when parked at home, as many relay thefts occur overnight when the car and the keys are in closest proximity. If you have a garage, make sure it is secure and use it as often as you can - your car is most likely more valuable than whatever else might be stored in there.

If you only have a driveway consider getting a locking post installed or more sturdy gates to put off potential thieves. Making the house and your keys secure will also reduce the likelihood of theft. Consider getting a burglar alarm, security lights and CCTV fitted if you don’t already have them and ensure the basics of securely-locked doors and windows are followed by all your family.

Ask HJ

My car has keyless start but not keyless entry - should I be worried about theft?

I am buying a Volvo XC40 with keyless start but without keyless entry. Should I be concerned about security and buy a Faraday bag or is this more so for keyless entry protection.
It's fair to assume that keyless entry theft is more common on cars that have both keyless entry and keyless ignition. If a thief can't get into your car using a relay device, they're likely to be deterred by the idea of breaking into the car to try to steal it. However, if someone was keen to steal your XC40, they could just break in the old fashion way and then drive it off if they have a relay device or the key fob is in range. A faraday bag should eliminate the possibility of this happening, but it's really up to you considering the sound of someone breaking into your car, plus the alarm, should do a good enough job of getting your attention.
Answered by Georgia Petrie
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