Keyless car theft: how to protect your car from being hacked and lock thieves out

Get in gear with AXA’s tips on how to protect your car against keyless car theft

Car security

11 October 2021

When you arrive home after a long day, it's likely that one of the first things you'll do is ditch your car keys in a safe spot so you can find them easily before hitting the road for your daily commute.

But if you're the owner of a keyless vehicle and your car fob is located near your front door, you're among 96% of motorists that are vulnerable to being victims of key hacking - a high-tech technique that allows thieves to gain access to, and take off with, your vehicle in a matter of minutes.

This type of hacking is referred to as as keyless car theft, or relay theft, and unfortunately it shows no signs of slowing down. The National Police Chief’s Council reported that between May and June 2021 there was a 3.1% increase in car thefts. Of this increase, keyless car thefts played a large part. If you have a more traditional transponder fob, you may still find yourself at risk. The only difference is that the thieves would have to hotwire your car to take it away. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. With thefts on the rise, there is plenty you can do to help keep your car safe and secure.

Here, we share some easy steps you can take to help better safeguard your set of wheels against keyless car theft and hopefully keep opportunistic car hackers locked out.

What is keyless car theft?

Keyless car theft, or relay theft, is when two thieves work together to access your car by interrupting the signal emitted between your key and vehicle. If you’re the owner of a keyless entry car and have your car parked on the driveway, keeping your key near your front door can be particularly risky.

Once they find out the location of your fob, hackers can utilise relay boxes to disrupt and amplify the signal to trick your car into unlocking – all without having to enter your home.

Most of these thefts occurs in the evening or night, when car owners are likely to be focused on cooking, watching TV or sleeping.

Thankfully, there are easy steps you can take1 to help steel your car against key hacker theft so you can concentrate on relaxing while at home.

Keep your keys safe

Keeping your keyless fob in a drawer or hook in the hallway offers little protection against keyless car theft. You’re best off putting your keys somewhere that can block the signal between your key fob and car. This will help prevent hackers from getting access to your vehicle.

You may have seen some of the more “out there” suggestions for storage, such as the fridge or microwave. While these do block the signal between your keys and car, they’re not the perfect solution. After all, you may end up causing damage to your keys if you forget that you put them in the microwave. Instead, we recommend investing in a Faraday pouch or box. They’re a small, inexpensive option, and you won’t run the risk of accidentally damaging your keys. Just remember to keep it far away from doors and windows as their signal-blocking capacities can vary.

Switch off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use

To help protect against attackers exploiting weaknesses in your car’s open wireless connections, always turn your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi off when you’re not using them. Hackers can use this to connect to your car’s entertainment system, take control of certain parts of the vehicle, or even access its controller network and valuable personal data.

Keep your car’s software up to date

If your car’s software is outdated, this could make it more susceptible to bugs that hackers can use to take control of your car or steal valuable data. Get into the habit of checking for updates for your car’s software and get your garage or manufacturer to update as and when required.

Always double check

Don’t just rely on pressing your key fob and waiting for the familiar click or flashing lights to signal your car is securely locked. Take time to check that each of the doors are locked rather than just relying on visual cues.

Protect high-tech with low-tech

Just because physical deterrents like steering locks seem old-fashioned doesn’t make them any less effective. In fact, they can prevent thieves from driving off with your car in the unlucky event that they manage to unlock it.

Keep track

Although investing in a tracking device won’t stop your car from being stolen, having one could potentially increase your chances of locating and returning your car to you after it’s been stolen.

Don’t put valuables on display

This might seem obvious but never leave valuable items, such as car radios, phones or wallets, on display in your car. Make sure to store all your valuables in the glove box, or better still, clear your car of all valuables overnight.

Check your insurance

It’s always worth double-checking exactly what your car insurance does and doesn’t cover you for if the worst happens.

Whether it’s checking for regular software updates or fitting tried-and-tested steering locks, there are plenty of easy steps you can take to help bolster your car’s security against keyless car theft.

1 all advice in accordance with Auto Express guidelines.

Keep your car moving – no matter what

Keeping your car secure can be a challenge. With AXA car insurance, it’s easy to get cover tailored to your needs, keeping you road ready from A to B.