Car security: how to keep your car safe

Car thefts are rising and thieves are using high-tech equipment to steal them, but there’s plenty you can do to deter the criminals...

Car security: how to keep your car safe

Car thefts increased to a total of 101,198 in 2021, according to the latest data from the Home Office – marginally more than the 99,541 vehicles taken in the previous year. A large proportion of thefts are of new and high-end models that ought to be protected by sophisticated electronic equipment.

With cars getting smarter at an astonishing pace, the ‘connected car’ of the future will become a reality far sooner than you might think. In fact, a lot of the technology is already available in some form or another. For example, even many entry-level cars now come with Bluetooth and keyless entry. All this clever technology isn't necessarily very secure, though.

A report by the German General Automobile Club suggests that some of the best-selling new cars in the UK – including the Ford Fiesta, Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Golf – can be stolen using what's called a 'relay attack'. Thieves relay the signal from your car keys through a transmitter and use that to unlock the car. In fact, when the club tested 237 keyless cars, it found that 230 of them could be easily accessed using a relay attack. 

In response, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has said that the industry is taking vehicle crime "extremely seriously".

Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: "New cars are more secure than ever, and the latest technology has helped bring down theft dramatically with, on average, less than 0.3% of the cars on our roads stolen. Criminals will always look for new ways to steal cars. It’s an ongoing battle and why manufacturers continue to invest billions in ever more sophisticated security features."

So, how does a relay attack work and what can you do to prevent it? Below and over the next few pages, we'll explain all.

Car security: how to keep your car safe

How do thieves steal cars without the keys?

Relay theft usually involves two people working together using transmitters that can be bought online for around £100. These boxes capture the signals emitted by certain key fobs.

One person waves a relay box around outside the car owner’s front door to grab the signal from a key that could have been left on a hallway table. This is passed on to the second person, who stands next to the car with another relay box, which receives the signal and uses it to unlock the car. The thieves can then simply drive the car away.

Thieves can also use even cheaper gadgets to steal cars. With an interceptor costing just £30, a thief can stand near your car while you lock it and record the code sent out by the key. The equipment then calculates the unlocking code for your car and allows them to gain access to it and drive off.

The good news is there are some measures you can take to minimise the risk of your car getting hacked.

Next: Car security – top tips to protect your car >

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