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Can thieves use keyless technology to break into cars?

Thieves once relied on mechanisms and hotwiring to steal cars, now they contend with a completely new set of obstacles. Digital technology has transformed every aspect of the auto industry and cars are increasingly coming with keyless technology as standard. But does this make them more or less secure?

Car theft rose by nearly a third last year in what is becoming an increasingly worrying time for vehicle owners. While keyless cars represent a minority of these right now, the methods used by thieves to gain access to such models are a hot topic of debate.

What is keyless technology?

Cars have traditionally been locked/unlocked and started using physical keys made from metal. Now, digital technology in the form of fobs, cards and smartphone apps is replacing them in newer models, limiting the need for physical activation.

Once entry is gained, a car must detect the digital key inside to allow the driver to push to start the engine. It’s an incredibly useful technology which accompanies many other features such as remote climate control and assisted parking.

How can thieves use keyless technology against you?

A variety of methods can be used to gain access to a keyless car. Signal relaying is a trick used by thieves to harness the signal from a genuine fob inside your house to unlock the car outside.

Signal jamming, on the other hand, is where a device jams the signal that should be received by a car to lock it, leaving it open for thieves to open the door freely. This can catch unsuspecting owners off guard if they aren’t paying attention.

Other less common methods include key programming, code programming and app hacking. Even as security technology develops, hackers aren’t too far behind when it comes to their capabilities.

What can owners do to protect their cars?

Protecting your vehicle from keyless theft can be done with some simple steps, although you can never guarantee its safety. Your insurance policy will likely change in accordance with the level of risk and it’s always a smart idea to cover yourself financially with other measures such as gap insurance for premium makes like BMW or Range Rover.

First of all, you should be careful to ensure that your car is locking properly whenever you activate the system. Listen for the locking sound and make sure you see the lights flash. If you’re worried about signal relaying at home, you can invest in signal-blocking boxes and specialised carriers for when you’re out and about.

Going old school is still effective – a wheel lock can deter thieves significantly and CCTV or video doorbell systems can alert you to any suspicious activity.