The rise of keyless car theft

Like all technology, keyless convenience has its drawbacks – most significantly on the security of your car. As the popularity of keyless cars rise, so too does the amount of keyless car crime.

By Remy Maisel

When keyless cars first arrived on the scene, it was easy to see how they may become popular. No more frustrating searches for keys buried at the bottom of your bag.

Once only a feature of high-end cars, today more and more affordable family models are adopting the automatic fob systems that allow you to get into your car without emptying out your pockets. Some cars don’t even require the push of a button to start. 

Keyless car crime is on the rise 1. It can take just 18 seconds to steal a keyless entry car 2.

How does keyless car theft work?

Keyless car entry uses a radio signal to link the car and key fob. These signals are short range - intended to unlock the doors only if you’re standing next to the car and start it if the fob is inside. But thieves have discovered innovative ways to intercept this signal.

In what’s called a ‘relay attack’, criminals trick cars into believing they have the key fob, which is usually still inside the victim’s home 3.  One stands close to the car while the other stands near the home and, using inexpensive relay devices purchased online, they can extend the range of the radio signal to fool the car into thinking the real key is within range.

Just like that, they can unlock your car and drive away – without smashing a window or forcing a lock.

Four of the 5 best-selling cars in the UK have keyless versions that are vulnerable to relay attacks: the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashgai, and Ford Focus 2

How can I protect myself from keyless car theft?

  • Keeping the fob out of sight isn’t enough. Store it as far away from the external walls as possible. Leaving your key fob by a window, door or close to an external wall is risky, as some relay devices can pick up a signal from more than 100 metres away 4 
  • According to the Association of British Insurers, relay devices cannot receive signals through metal. A Faraday wallet, which is lined with metallic material, is a good place to store your keys in. But a metal tin, or even your microwave if you’re at home, would do as well 5.  Just don’t forget that’s where you’ve left them!
  • Some keys can be locked so that they don't transmit a signal – a good feature to use overnight. Check your manual to see if you have this feature 
  • You may also want to consider an old-fashioned steering-wheel lock

Am I covered by my motor insurance?

If your car is stolen in a relay attack, you’ll be covered by most comprehensive motor insurance policies, including our own

Where some car owners may struggle is with valuables stolen from inside keyless cars. 

Asked about this type of claim, Steve Ashford, Head of Underwriting at Aviva, said ‘Historically we’ve required evidence of ‘forcible entry’ to replace stolen valuables, which can be difficult for the customer to obtain. We recognised that this wasn’t fair for customers and that the nature of vehicle theft and theft from vehicles has changed, so we changed our processes to take this into account.’ 

We will pay claims for theft of belongings taken from cars after keyless break-ins, even if there are no signs of attack – just report the crime to the police and provide the crime reference number when making a claim. You may also need to provide some standard proof of ownership. 

Looking for Car Insurance?

Visit our Car Insurance page to see full details of the cover we offer.