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.....

Cars are getting smarter at an alarming pace. The ‘connected car’ of the future will become a reality far sooner than you think.

Cars are getting smarter at an alarming 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?

There has been an increase of more than 30% in the number of cars stolen in the recent years; more than 100,000 car thefts were reported in 2017-18, compared with just over 70,000 in 2014-15. And experts believe the rise is mainly due to criminals catching up with the latest car technology features.

“Technology advances in immobilisers, keys and car alarms had caused the number of vehicle thefts to decrease significantly from more than 300,000 in 2002, but sadly they have now increased after bottoming out in 2012-2013,” explained Mark Godfrey, a director with RAC Insurance.

“We fear thieves are becoming more and more well equipped with technology that’s capable of defeating car manufacturers’ anti-theft systems."

How do thieves steal cars without the keys?

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

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.

Brands targeted by gangs who steal new cars – often to order and sometimes for export – include Audi, BMW, Ford, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.

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

1. Check for recalls

1. Check for recalls

The first thing to do is to make sure you’re aware of any recalls that are outstanding for your car. Manufacturers take car security seriously and aim to make sure that all the software in your car is as safe as possible.

Software updates are common and can be performed by your local dealership or, in some cases, wirelessly over the internet.

2. Keep your keys safe at home

2. Keep your keys safe at home

When it comes to deterring the most sophisticated thieves, the police warn against leaving car keys in hallways or near to your front door, where their access codes could be captured; you could even put them in a metal box or safe overnight.

3. Lock the doors manually

3. Lock the doors manually

You can stop thieves from cloning your key’s wireless signal by locking your car doors manually with the key.

4. Reset passwords

4. Reset passwords

Many new cars can connect to the internet or be controlled by a smartphone app. If your car has this functionality, make sure you change the default password and never keep the car’s wireless access codes in the car.

5. Get a tracker

5. Get a tracker

If you own a valuable car, you might want to invest in a car tracker that will alert you if someone tries to move it.

The tracker’s combination of GPS and radio signals let you know your car’s exact location at all times, so you’ll know if it’s being driven by someone else, and if it’s stolen the police can recover it from thieves.

6. Fit a steering lock

6. Fit a steering lock

A steering wheel lock is an old-fashioned solution, and although it won’t provide 100% protection, it will put off opportunist thieves and slow down anyone attempting to steal your car.

7. Be careful with keys

7. Be careful with keys

Never leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, and never leave it with the engine running.

It sounds obvious, but it can be tempting to leave the keys in your car while you pay for petrol or to leave it unlocked with the engine running on your drive while its windows are demisting.

8. Park in a secure place

8. Park in a secure place

Keeping your car in a locked garage not only means that it’s out of sight, but also adds an extra layer of complexity that thieves need to overcome before being able to drive off.

9. Hide valuables

9. Hide valuables

Don’t leave anything of value in your car. Keep your car tidy and make sure you take valuables and items with personal information with you when you leave the car to make your car as unappealing as possible to opportunistic thieves.

What do to if the worst happens

What do to if the worst happens

If your car is stolen, the first call you need to make is to the police. They’ll ask you to run through all the details and will give you a crime reference number.

It’s important to call them as soon as you can to get the theft on record; you don’t want to find yourself liable for any speeding fines thieves might collect while driving off in your car, or for any unpaid petrol bills if they fill up and drive off without paying.

Your next call should be to your car insurance company. Give them your crime reference number and they’ll start the process of making an insurance claim.

You don’t need to contact the DVLA at this stage because the police will inform them that your car has been reported stolen. You will need to contact the DVLA when your insurance company pays out, however.

If you lease your car or have outstanding finance on it, call the finance company to let them know what has happened; keep them updated on the progress of your insurance claim and tell them if your car is recovered.

Finally, make sure you contact the DVLA to get a refund on the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) paid on your car. Remember to keep your crime reference number handy because you’ll need it for this as well.

Related cars