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Car security: how to keep your car safe

Thieves are using high-tech equipment to steal cars and valuables left in them, but there’s plenty you can do to deter them...

Car security: how to keep your car safe
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Claire Evans
28 Jan 2019 11:00

Cars are getting smarter at an astonishing pace. The ‘connected car’ of the future will become a reality far sooner than you think. In fact, a lot of this technology is already available in some form or another. For example, even many entry-level cars now come with Bluetooth and keyless entry. Is all this clever technology secure, though?

A new report suggests that some of the best-selling new cars in the UK, including the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Qashqai, can be stolen using what's called a 'relay attack', where thieves relay the signal from your car keys through a transmitter and use that to unlock the car. In fact, when the German General Automobile 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?

One of the latest ways thieves can steal a car without taking the keys is relay theft.

This usually involves two people working together using relay 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’s standing 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.

Other thieves 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 cleverly 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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