Protecting yourself from the rise of keyless motor theft

2018 was the worst year for motor thefts in a decade and was largely driven by sudden increases in both keyless and more traditional types of theft.


What is keyless theft?


Keyless thefts affect newer vehicles that use keyless fobs for entry and ignition.


What makes keyless theft such a significant risk is that thieves do not need to be holding the fob itself. Instead, they can use a signal receiver to pick up the radio waves (so long as they are within range of the real fob), beam them to a receiver near the car, then activate the signal from the receiver. This creates a copy of the fob close enough to the car to unlock it and start the engine.


Leading motor insurer, NIG, has seen a particularly sharp increase in the number of four-wheel drives being stolen by this form of theft. While the most recent models of Land Rovers and Range Rovers have proven resilient to keyless theft in independent tests, the London Evening Standard published a video showing how older 4×4 vehicles could be stolen in under 30 seconds.


Where is this happening? 


NIG’s data suggests the problem is UK wide but also highlights London and the South East as particular hotspots. Romford, for example, is now the number one area for motor theft nationally. The data also suggests that weekends are the most common time for thefts to occur.


How to protect against keyless thefts


  • Drivers should switch off keyless fobs at night and speak to their dealers about software upgrades to ensure fobs are up to date with security standards
  • Keys should be stored as far away as possible from household entry points
  • Drivers should invest in a shielding device for their fobs, such as a Faraday Bag which blocks signals too and from the fob and prevents duplication. These can be bought for as little as £10.


More traditional forms of theft don’t necessarily just affect older vehicles – instead this term simply refers to crimes that rely on forced entry or other physical means to break into the vehicle.


NIG has recognised a particularly sharp increase in the number of van owners reporting ‘peel and steal’ claims. ‘Peeling and stealing’ is where the door or side walls of a van are hacked away with cutters or a sharp instrument, granting a thief access to the van. This form of theft has been around for a long time but continues to be effective, even against newer van models.


How to protect against traditional theft?


We advise all vehicle owners to take the following steps:


  • Remove expensive tools and other valuable items from vehicles overnight, especially in the case of vans
  • Keep vehicles parked in a locked garage or well-lit residential area and try and make side or rear van doors as inaccessible as possible by parking them against walls etc.
  • Go ‘back to basics’ and invest in a steering wheel lock