Despite their convenience, keyless cars have come under scrutiny for their security weaknesses. Many have been criticized the keyless entry systems for being easy to exploit. The systems, which allow drivers to open and start their vehicles without using their keys, have been targeted by thieves who have been able to breach the systems in a matter of seconds.
In a test conducted by CAR Magazine, a DS 3 Crossback and an Audi TT RS managed to be stolen in 10 seconds, while a Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE was taken in 30 seconds. In the UK, car theft rates have reached an eight-year high with more than 106,000 vehicles being stolen last year. This year, motor theft insurance claim payouts reached their highest level in seven years.
The VW Group, Audi's parent company, says it has worked with police and insurers to increase security measures, while the PSA Group, the parent company of DS, has set up a team of security experts working with police to "analyze theft methods." In addition, the group says that keyless entry systems on new cars can be deactivated by dealers at the owner's request.
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Stephen Savigar, 59, from Newport, South Wales, was traveling to Heathrow Airport with his wife and two friends when thieves broke into their car at a rest stop, stealing their valuables. "While we were inside thieves jammed my car's locking system," he says. "They stole my travel bag which had mine and my wife's passports inside, as well as our glasses and an iPad. It meant we were unable to fly. But we still dropped our friends to the airport and waved them off at the desk. My wife ended up passing out at the desk as we were in a terrible state."
In another incident, Andrew, a resident of North London, had his keyless Mercedes c220 stolen from outside his home last November. "The vehicle had keyless entry and my keys were not even near the front door," he says. "I was given the line by Mercedes that if I double tap my key when locking the vehicle it will be safe as the key does not transmit. For me that was standard practice, I had known about this function, the key was on the third floor at the back of my house.”
“I believe people are being misled when manufacturers say vehicles are even more safe. According to my insurance there had been more than 10 cars stolen with keyless entry in my postcode in London alone, in that month," he adds. The car still hasn’t been found and Mercedes has been unable to provide an explanation for the security flaw.
Thieves generally operate by targeting vehicles parked outside homes. Working in pairs, one thief will flash a device close to the car in order to activate the signal intended for the key, while the other thief near the home will hold another device that transmits that signal to the key, thereby overriding the system.
Usually, after a car is stolen, it will be stripped for parts, making it impossible to recover. Though automakers have tightened security by adding motion detection technology to new cars, it is of little consolation to owners with outdated technology.