Stolen in seconds: keyless new cars that fail security tests

Investigating keyless car theft

Car thefts in England and Wales are at an eight-year high, with 106,000 cars stolen in 2018 and even higher figures for 2019 so far. The cause, in many cases, is keyless car entry – and new tests reveal just how easy many popular cars are to steal. 

Thieves can use electronic signal relay devices to steal a car with keyless entry, often from outside the owner’s home. The system is fooled into unlocking the doors and starting the engine, allowing them to drive away. 

What Car? magazine has tested some new keyless-equipped cars, from the high-performance Audi TT RS Roadster to the new DS 3 Crossback. The results, as detailed below, are concerning.

How quickly can modern cars be stolen?

Investigating keyless car theft

The Audi TT RS could be ‘broken into’ in just five seconds and on the road after another five. The same was the case with the DS 3.

The Land Rover Discovery Sport was the next-worst performer, with entry taking 10 seconds and driving the car away taking 20. The full-size Land Rover Discovery allowed entry in 20 seconds, although driving away wasn’t possible.

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback wasn’t quite as easy to break into, with entry taking 30 seconds and movement taking another 20.

The best performers in the What Car? test were the Ford Fiesta and the BMW X3, both taking 40 seconds to get into and 20 seconds to drive away.

Fighting keyless theft 

Investigating keyless car theft

Some car manufacturers are fighting back. Audi, BMW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz have introduced motion-detection technology that switches off the signal emitted from the key when it isn’t moving.

The What Car? team of laboratory ‘thieves’ couldn’t open the doors of cars with this deactivation system fitted, although it isn’t widely available yet. Also, for those walking around with keys in pockets or handbags, the risk remains.

Investigating keyless car theft

Jaguar Land Rover plans a different approach. Instead of shutting the signal off, its new key has ultra-wide band signal technology. Thieves at present shouldn’t be able to lock on to the constantly varying signal.

One question is whether a recall or model-wide upgrade is warranted. For now, we also have a useful guide on how you can fight keyless theft. Click on the link below to learn more.

Investigating keyless car theft

“It is outrageous that some car makers have introduced keyless entry and start systems without making them anywhere near as secure as the traditional alternatives they’ve replaced,” said Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car?

“It is great news that a small number of brands are taking the problem of car theft seriously, but more needs to be done to improve security, particularly of desirable used models.”

‘No one size fits all’

In response, Mike Hawes, chief executive of  automotive trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that vehicle manufacturers “are continually investing and developing new security features – including motion sensing key fobs and other technologies – to try and stay one step ahead of criminals, which is an ongoing and extremely costly battle.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and brands will have their own individual strategies to combat vehicle theft with lead-times to engineer, test and source new countermeasures varying across the industry.

“Ultimately, however, technology can only do so much and this is why industry continues to call for action to prevent the open sale of devices used by criminals to steal cars.”