posted 3 years ago

Key-Less Thieves Now Target Mid-Level Cars

Car thieves now targeting mid-level motors with a key-less entry system.

Key-Less Cars Vulnerable To Theft

Thefts of cars with a key-less system “are rocketing” as the technology becomes increasingly available, the Sunday Times reports. Theft has risen in London, Greater Manchester and Humberside – and key-less technology could account for a meaningful percentage. Typically, a car with key-less technology recognises when its key fob is within close proximity. This enables it to automatically unlock as the owner approaches. There is no need to press a button on the fob. The motorist then starts the engine by pressing a button on the dashboard rather than turning the key in the ignition. The key can be stored (say) in the glovebox or in the owner's pocket. This technology first launched on prestigious vehicles, but has now filtered through to the middle of the market.

How A Key-Less Vehicle Is Stolen

The problem is that criminals have found a weakness. A typical theft involves breaking one of the windows. The thief then has access to the diagnostic port a mechanic needs to retrieve fault codes. It is found beneath the steering wheel. This port enables the criminal to programme a blank key that – as far as the car is concerned – is legitimate. This key bypasses security features such as the immobiliser so the engine starts. The equipment can be purchased online and typically comes from China and eastern Europe.

Which Key-Less Vehicles Have Been Targeted?

Any key-less entry car could be targeted in this manner. However, The Sunday times says “in the early days” – before the technology  hit the middle of the market – criminals “confined their efforts to pricey models in particular Range Rovers”. It says that Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW owners suffered too. More recently, Ford models found favour with crooks. Richard Coles, who runs the web forum for Ford owners, told The Sunday Times that: “It’s an epidemic at the moment”. He added: “Not a week has gone by in the past six months that we haven’t had a member’s car stolen”.

How The Industry Is Tackling Key-Less Vehicle Theft

Motor manufacturers blame the problem on rules imposed by the European Commission. This requires them to fit a diagnostic port that enables third-party access to a vehicle's workings. The purpose of the rule is to ensure manufacturers cannot create a monopoly on servicing and repairs. Furthermore, the industry is now creating more secure systems to minimise the risk. Ford, for example, will soon stop a thief turning off the alarm via the diagnostic port and programming a fob once it has activated. Ford says: “We will be releasing an additional physical layer of security”.