How to prevent keyless car theft

Published on 21.07.2021

Keyless system security

Passive keyless systems (i.e. those that work automatically without user intervention) first emerged in the early 2000s and replace the physical key to your car.

Such systems mean that you no longer need a key to lock or unlock your car, since a receiver detects the radio signal that is continuously emitted by the keyless unit that unlocks the car when you move your hand close to the door handle, provided that the signal is strong enough. Conversely, if the signal is weak or non-existent, the car remains locked, or locks itself automatically after a few seconds. Finally, if a keyless unit is detected, it is also possible to start the engine (without inserting the key) by simply pressing the start button. Nowadays, almost all new vehicles are fitted with passive keyless entry systems, or can have them added as an inexpensive optional extra. 

A popular method among thieves

Unfortunately, this very practical system has one major flaw in that it is extremely easy to fool! In fact, all it takes to open your vehicle without forcing entry is 2 people with a receiver/amplifier and a transmitter,
with one of the thieves positioning themselves near the keyless unit (your electronic key) with the receiver while the other, with the transmitter, positions themselves next to the car in question. This allows the radio signal to be reproduced over a distance of over 100m! It is therefore possible to open your vehicle when the keyless unit is left lying around near the front door of your home. Worse still, the engine can also often be started, and the vehicle will run until it next comes to a stop. This is a problem that concerns all makes of vehicle,
and this type of theft is all the more traumatic for the owner as they will have to prove that it has taken place. Of course, since the method does not involve any forced entry, there is a real risk that they will be suspected of faking the crime!

What are the solutions?

Manufacturers are aware of the situation and have been called upon to find a solution, but they have been slow to respond, to say the least. Currently, only a handful of brands such as Land Rover, Jaguar and, to a lesser extent, VW offer a secure system using the UWB (ultra-wide band) technology, which makes it possible to calculate the exact position of the keyless unit, meaning that simply amplifying the radio signal is no longer sufficient to open the vehicle.
The ACL recommends taking the following precautions to prevent such thefts:

  • if possible, park your vehicle in a locked space at night
  • do not keep the ‘keyless key’ near a door or window in your home
  • store your keyless unit in an anti-RFID protective sleeve
  • in the case of motorcycles fitted with keyless systems, you might want to add a brake disc lock

Anti-RFID protective sleeves

Anti-RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) boxes or sleeves shield the item(s) inside against radio waves, meaning that once your keyless unit is inside, it is no longer possible for the signal to propagate. If you do buy such protection, check that the product is designed for car keyless systems (which emit strong signals) and not just for contactless cards (which do not emit a signal directly).  For those interested, this type of protection is available to buy from the ACL shop.



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