Auto theft costs Canadians more than $1.2 billion every year1
Theft of motor vehicles and their parts is an increasing concern, being fuelled to an extent by increasing demand for used cars and supply chain shortages for replacement parts. Police estimate that a high percentage of stolen vehicles are tied to organized crime and destined to be shipped overseas, many to West Africa2.
While all high-end vehicles are targets including pick-up trucks, luxury SUVs, and luxury cars, it isn’t just high-end vehicles being targeted3. Based on an investigation by Marketplace, Honda's CR-V, and Toyota's Highlander are amongst the most popular vehicle models being stolen in Canada4. The Honda Civic and Honda Accord also made the list of Top 10 Stolen Vehicles in Canada in 20215.
As vehicle technology evolves, the rise in the number of keyless vehicles has given thieves new opportunities.
A keyless vehicle has an entry system which allows you to get in and drive away without taking a physical key out of your pocket. These systems work by using short range radio waves, with a key on your person transmitting a signal to a receiver in the vehicle, with the receiver recognizing and verifying that the signal is valid. It’s worth noting though that not all keyless systems will both open the doors and start the engine - some systems still require a key to be manually turned in the ignition.
Keyless theft, also known as relay theft, will often require two thieves working as a team with one holding a relay amplifier and the other a relay transmitter. Thieves typically target vehicles which are parked on a driveway or close to a property, with equipment allowing them to determine whether the vehicle has keyless entry. Once this is established, the relay amplifier will attempt to pick up the signal from the key inside the property, with the relay transmitter being placed near the vehicle to transfer the signal and replicate the key being near the vehicle. Once the signal is detected, the vehicle will respond as if the owner is nearby with the key, allowing it to be opened and driven away. What makes this type of vehicle theft most concerning is that thieves recently caught using this method were using a $200 signal amplifier6.
The first step to preventing keyless theft is to keep the key as far away from the vehicle as possible, preferably placed away from windows and doors. Parking on the street or further away from the property may also confuse thieves as to who the vehicle belongs to and consequently where the key may reside.
A Faraday pouch or box uses a metallic lining to block radio signals. After locking the vehicle, storing keys inside a Faraday device can prevent the signal being detected by thieves.
Faraday pouches, boxes and tins are readily available and inexpensive. As with anything, some work better than others, so read user reviews before buying. After you’ve purchased one, make sure it works by putting the key inside the pouch and see if you can open your locked vehicle as you normally would. As a quick makeshift solution, placing the keys in a closed metal biscuit tin can also often have a similar effect.
If you can, park your car in a closed garage. If this is not possible, thieves are more likely to be deterred from stealing your vehicle if they can’t easily drive it away. Visual and physical security measures to prevent theft could include:
If the worst does happen, a professionally fitted tracking device can help the tracking provider and/or police to find and recover the vehicle. Some insurance companies may mandate having a tracking device fitted, especially on more expensive cars.
If your concern over keyless entry is too great and you would rather do without the convenience, within some vehicles it’s possible to disable the system via the vehicle’s infotainment screen or with a combination of key fob button presses. Where it’s possible, your owner’s manual or vehicle dealer should be able to guide you through how to turn off the keyless system.
The bottom line is to be vigilant and don’t make it easy for thieves to strike.
Vehicle manufacturers are responding with preventative measures aimed at curbing keyless vehicle theft. For example, some key fobs now come with a built-in motion sensor that deactivates the signal when the key is resting, such as when it’s out of the pocket and hung up.
Other manufacturers are using ultra-wide band radio technology which can stop thieves from being able to isolate the signal to a particular vehicle. Faraday pouches are being issued with some new vehicles. And, as noted above, some manufacturers have introduced a disable feature to allow drivers to switch off the keyless entry access if they choose.
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