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How easy is it to steal my car? Relay crime and what you need to know

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You may think that, with all the modern technology available, that car theft is something that only those with older models need to be aware of. After all, the smart computers and advanced entry systems mean that only you can enter your car and start it. Right?

Unfortunately not. As technology has evolved, so have criminals, who are adapting to the changes in the world just as fast as those who make the cars. And when you take into account how cars tend to prioritise comfort and convenience more than anything else, then your car might be more at risk than you think.

One of the biggest targets is keyless entry. While not having a lock makes it nigh on impossible to break in traditionally, hacking into your car can be frighteningly simple. This is called ‘relay crime’. Here’s all you need to know and how you can combat it.

Relay Crime

Keyless entry is one of the more useful technologies to be introduced in recent years. Instead of having to fumble through your bag or purse to find your key, just having it on you is enough to tell the car that you are the owner and to let you in. But this convenience can be exploited.

Relay crime is when a criminal or hacker gains access to the car’s onboard computer through the same system designed to detect your car keys. It normally takes two to commit the crime. Using a device that can be bought online for a surprisingly low amount, the hacker searches for a car in the area with keyless entry. This will normally be at night when your car is parked outside the house.

They then use the same device to start bombarding the car’s computer with input. When it finds the right code to gain entry, the car normally starts sending a signal to the key, which it should respond to if present. The second criminal will move close to your house and, using a transmitter, broadcast this signal to your key inside your home. This signal is then relayed back and forth until the car has been tricked that a key is present.

Then it’s only a matter of the criminal opening the door, getting behind the wheel and starting the engine. Because keyless cars also tend to have a keyless start/stop, it’s quick and easy to drive away. So what saves you a few seconds when it comes to your car also makes it much easier for a criminal to do the same. 

The video below shows real footage of thieves stealing a vehicle from a person's driveway using a relay box.

What Can Be Done to Stop It?

Combating clever criminals is something on the minds of car manufacturers across the planet. No one wants to be known as the company that makes it simple for thieves to steal their models. They will be examining the technology used in their cars but also by thieves to see what exploits are being used. They will often work with reformed criminals or hackers themselves, getting expertise from the criminal element to find ways of strengthening their defences.

One of the most recent innovations is to have the keyless entry only work if the car detects that the key is moving. So if you are walking to your car, then you are safe. But if you are in your home with your key on a side counter somewhere, then entry should be prevented. However, there’s no telling how quickly criminals will be able to start mimicking this movement to override this failsafe.

What you must do is ensure that your car’s onboard computer is regularly updated with the latest software and security updates. It’s no use having a car company release an update that protects your car if you don’t install it!

Keep Your Keys in a Faraday Cage

Another way to prevent your car being broken into this way is by keeping your key inside a device known as a ‘Faraday Cage’. This will prevent any and all signals going in and out from your car key. So no matter what the criminal tries to do, they won’t be able to relay the car to the key.

There are also more and more signal blockers becoming available on the market. Some car manufacturers are even including them with the car, perhaps highlighting just how prevalent the crime can be.

Old School Methods

Of course, one of the easiest methods to use is to park your car in a locked garage. If you have a driveway, it might be worth getting some gates installed. One thing that we don’t consider these days is that, with so many electric and hybrid cars available, they don’t make noise at low speeds, so you won’t hear them being driven away. Adding a barrier between the car and the road is one more problem for a thief to overcome, often enough to have them scurrying off to try somewhere else.

Security lights are another method. Just being illuminated and exposed while a criminal carries out their work can be enough to put them off. Some lights now are also connected to smart doorbells, that can be set to alert you if an intruder is somewhere around your house. You can connect these to an alarm system or a security company, who will be able to act to prevent theft.

Or, if you don’t mind annoying the neighbours, you can install another car alarm inside your car. This could be one that requires a code input to disable. Just make sure the car is not too sensitive. Not only will you irritate people, but there’s always the danger of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ if the alarm blares too often.

Failing that, an old school steering wheel lock might be able to do the trick just as effectively. After all, getting inside without a key is one thing. Removing a sturdy steering lock is an entirely different prospect!

Looking to Upgrade Your Vehicle?

Maybe it’s time for you to take advantage of keyless entry by upgrading to a smarter new car. Now that you know how to prevent theft, you can get a car with all the mod cons you desire at a decent price. Apply online today and find your way, legally, into a great new car.

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