Car theft remains a big problem in the UK and thanks to new keyless entry technology, the number of vehicles being stolen is on the rise ­– with a 48% increase in car thefts over the past five years. But what’s behind this car theft epidemic and could your car be a target?

In this guide, we’ll look at why car theft is creeping up and what you can do to prevent your car from being stolen if you have keyless entry. We’ll also get the professionals’ view on rising car theft and their best tips for keeping your car safe.

Why is Car Theft Rising in the UK?

Car theft is at its highest levels for almost a decade, with organised criminal gangs targeting high-value cars which they then ship overseas. This means that fewer and fewer stolen cars are ever recovered, and 9 in 10 cases of car theft now go unresolved by the police.

So, what’s going on? Well, there’s a growing market for stolen cars overseas which is playing a part, but the biggest development has been the new keyless entry systems.

Car thief stealing a car

Keyless entry systems have been around since the 1980s, but they’ve only recently hit the mainstream. Now, lots of new cars are fitted with keyless go, from high-end sports cars to affordable hatchbacks, like the Ford Fiesta.

Keyless entry is seen as a desirable feature to have on a car’s spec sheet, but it does have its downsides. Criminals have developed ways to hack into the technology to steal cars remotely, without having to rely on smash-and-grab tactics. This method of car theft is incredibly quick, with a recent video showing a Mercedes-Benz being stolen in under 23 seconds – and all without a single alarm going off.

While car manufacturers are developing ways to make keyless entry more secure, keyless-go cars that are already on the road are at risk. That’s why it’s crucial that you take steps to protect their car.

How do Thieves Steal Keyless Entry Cars?

Cases of keyless entry ‘relay theft’ are on the rise, but how do thieves get away with stealing a car without so much as smashing a window? Here to explain is Wasim Bux, Product Manager at car insurance specialists iGO4:

“These days, all thieves need to steal a keyless car is a signal amplifier and a relay transmitter, both of which can easily be purchased online. These tools effectively ‘trick’ your car’s security system into unlocking the vehicle and starting the ignition, allowing thieves to take off with your car in a matter of seconds.

Thief broken glass in car window

“Thieves will circle your home using the amplifier to try and pick up the signal from your keys, so you need to make sure that you keep them somewhere inaccessible, away from external walls. Whatever you do, don’t just leave them near the front door, as this is the first place that thieves will try to pick up the signal. The signal can’t pass through metal, so for extra peace of mind, I would recommend investing in an aluminium key signal blocking case and storing your keys in it whenever you’re at home.

“Lately, the industry has also seen an increase in thefts involving signal jammers. Cunning thieves will wait for you to pull up and then block the signal to prevent your car from locking, leaving them free to make off with it after you’ve gone.

“Fortunately, this sort of theft is fairly easy to prevent, you just need to check your car is definitely locked before you walk away. The tail lights should flash, and you should hear the sound of the locks closing. On some vehicles, the wing mirrors will also fold in automatically. If you don’t see or hear any of these signs, then thieves may be using signal jammers nearby, so park elsewhere and make sure you can lock the car before you leave it unattended.”

How to Prevent Thieves from Stealing Your Car

This might all sound scary, but while it’s impossible to totally prevent your car from being stolen, there are things you can do to protect it and make it more difficult for thieves if you have keyless entry.

Burglar prying car window open with crowbar

To give you the best chance of protecting your car from thieves, we spoke to Ken Munro, Security Researcher and Partner at Pen Test Partners, a security and penetration testing service. Here, Ken offers his best tips for safeguarding your keyless-entry car against theft:

  • Keep your keyless entry car keys well away from your car – It sounds blindingly obvious, but if your car is parked close to your house, don’t leave the keys near the front door. Keep them well away from the car, so this ‘amplification’ attack is harder.
  • Consider putting your keyless entry keys in a radio-frequency shielded box or pouch – Make this attack harder by stopping the radio signals getting from your keys by carrying them in a shielded pouch. If at home, keep the keys in a small metal box, ideally one that’s shielded from radio waves. Lead, copper or silver can work well!
  • Check with your dealer for software updates – If your car hasn’t been for a service recently (say the last three months or so) speak to your dealer. Unless your car can update its software by itself (Tesla, some BMWs and a few other manufacturers) then it may need a software update to fix security flaws. This may require a trip to the dealer, so speak to them.
  • Even if you don’t have a keyless entry car, don’t leave valuable stuff in it – The attacks work against non-keyless entry cars too. It’s just that it can be harder to start the engine, requiring different techniques and maybe some old-school hot-wiring.

Lastly, don’t overlook tried-and-trusted methods, like steering wheel locks. These won’t provide a complete guarantee against theft, but they’ll certainly provide an extra line of defence if thieves are able to hack your keys. You may also want to look into getting a tracker fitted, as this will give the police a better chance of recovering your car..

At Holts, we can’t stop thieves from stealing your car, but we can help you to care and maintain it during everyday driving. Our DIY car maintenance range is developed to keep your car moving, whether you’ve suffered a flat tyre or your engine won’t start. For more information or to browse our complete product range, visit the homepage today.