Relay theft: key ways 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 relay theft

Car security

1 November 2018

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 highway for your daily commute.

But if you're the owner of a keyless vehicle and your car fob hideout 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.

Worryingly, this form of car theft shows no sign of slowing down. In 2017, 89,000 vehicles were stolen across England and Wales (marking a 56% increase on the previous year). Many industry experts have claimed that the increase in ownership of keyless entry cars is one of the major contributing reasons behind this rise.

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

What is relay theft?

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 relay theft occurs in the evening or night, when car owners’ were more likely to be focused on cooking, watching TV or sleeping rather than wondering about the safety of their car – with many likely not realising that their car had been stolen until the following day.

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

Store your keys in the fridge

Yes, you read correctly: rather than keeping your keyless fob in a drawer or hook in the hallway, storing it in the fridge can help increase your vehicle’s security. This is because the fridge blocks the signal between your key fob and car, preventing car hackers from intercepting it to gain unauthorised access to your vehicle.

However, if you’d rather not store your fob next to your lunch box and last night’s leftovers, investing in a Faraday wallet or a metal box could work just as effectively. Just remember to keep either option 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. Failing to do so could allow attackers 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 prime display to avoid attracting unwanted attention to your car. Make sure to store all your valuables in the glove box, or better still, clear your car of all valuable if it’s going to be left 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, so you can upgrade your level of protection accordingly.

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 relay theft. Always remain vigilant by parking your car in well-lit areas (if possible), clearing out any valuable items, and consider adding a tracking device so that you and the authorities have a better chance of closing in on criminals who have managed to gain access to your vehicle.

* 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.