A new investigation carried out by What Car? has found that some modern cars can be stolen in seconds because of a weakness in their keyless entry and start systems.
What Car? tested seven different models in total, all fitted with keyless entry and start technology. Its security experts were able to get into a DS3 Crossback in five seconds and drive it away five seconds later, while the Land Rover Discovery Sport could be stolen in just 30 seconds.
Thieves can use a scanning device to pick up the code from a keyfob while it’s inside your home or in your bag even if you’re not near the car – they just need to get within five to six metres of the key. Once captured, this code can be relayed to another device being held close to the car’s door by a second thief. As soon as they repeat the code, the car thinks the owner is nearby and unlocks the doors. Then if the code is repeated again the second thief will be able to push the car’s starter button and activate the engine.
Some car makers have introduced new security measures to combat the theft of cars with keyless entry systems. Manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz have introduced motion sensor technology to some or all of their cars’ keyfobs. This detects when a key hasn’t moved for a specified time and deactivates it so that it no longer emits a code. As soon as the key is moved it emits a code again.
Jaguar Land Rover has taken a different approach, fitting some of its models with ultra-wide band radio technology that transmits over a wide range of frequencies at once so thieves can’t pick up the signal.
Tesla has also introduced its own security upgrade to new and many secondhand cars. A software update adds a PIN number to the infotainment system, which has to be entered to allow the car to be driven.
What Car?’s security experts couldn’t steal any vehicle with their keyfobs deactivated. However, this technology is not yet widely available.
What Car? editor, Steve Huntingford said that it is “outrageous” that some car makers have introduced keyless entry and start systems without making them “anywhere near as secure as the traditional alternatives they’ve replaced”.
He added: “It is great news that a small number of brands are taking the problem of car theft seriously, but more needs to be done to improve security, particularly of desirable used models.”
More than 106,000 cars were stolen via keyless theft last year in England and Wales alone.