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Keyless car theft – is your car most at risk?

Keyless car dashboard.

Did you know that a car's stolen every five minutes in Britain? According to Home Office figures cited by This is Money, thefts have skyrocketed by 50% in the last five years alone, with 111,999 cars stolen in 2017-18 compared to 75,308 in 2013-14.

Keyless cars at risk

The rise in car thefts has been linked to organised gangs using advanced technology to remotely steal cars with keyless systems. And unfortunately, many of the UK's most popular car models are at risk.

German General Automobile Club (ADAC) data analysed by Which? and reported by the Guardian unearthed security flaws in 99% of the models it tested. It assessed 237 keyless cars to discover just seven faced no risk of being unlocked and started.

The Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai and Ford Focus – four of the top five models sold in the UK – are among those susceptible to being stolen. Thieves can drive away in these cars in seconds using 'cheap electronic equipment bought online,' Which? said.

Types of hacks

There are a number of major car hacks criminals can carry out using new technology. This is Money lists some of them:

  • Relay hack keyless entry. A 'relay box' is used to boost the signal from your car keys even when they're away from car, causing it to unlock.
  • Keyless jamming. A device is used to block the car key locking signal, meaning the car stays unlocked.
  • Tyre pressure monitor systems. There have been cases where hackers tamper with sensors inside tyres, allowing them to track the car and adjust the readings. The driver pulls over to check a 'flat' tyre and criminals make their move.
  • Controller Area Network disabled safety features. If hackers get access to the car's internal network through Wi-Fi vulnerabilities or phone connections, they can shut down features like air bags, anti-lock brakes and door locks.

Because of these risks, three in five people in a study carried out last year said they wouldn't buy a keyless car.

Tips to stay safe

If you drive a keyless car, or you're thinking about getting one, here are some ways to stay safe:

  • Manually check doors are locked before leaving your car.
  • Keep keys far away from windows and doors, so criminals can't amplify the signal.
  • Store keys in a container that will block the signal, like a metal tin.
  • Use additional safety measures like a steering lock.
  • Park your car in open, public areas (like a car park) during the day and use your driveway or garage at night.

The impact on car insurance

While you might think keyless cars mean higher premiums because they're at more risk of being stolen, this may not always be the case.

Keyless systems are only found in modern cars, and many of these will have built-in safety features like lane departure warnings, automatic handbrakes and crash avoidance systems. These features improve the safety of the car and can bring down premiums.

Of course, your premium's calculated on a range of factors like driving history, where you live and where you keep your car overnight.

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