Relay car theft is a type of vehicle theft where criminals steal cars that have keyless entry/start systems. The criminals use two devices: one to receive the signal from the key fob inside the house, and another to relay it to the car outside. This tricks the car into thinking the key fob is nearby, and allows the thieves to unlock and start the car without breaking in.
Relay car theft is also known as keyless theft or relay attack. It works on cars that have keyless entry systems, which allow the driver to open and start the car without using a button or turning a key so long as the fob is nearby. Thieves are exploiting this technology by using sophisticated devices that can hack into the car’s computer and mimic the key fob’s signal. Some of these devices can pick up a signal from over 100 meters away.
Relay car theft is a growing problem in many countries, especially in the UK, where it accounts for most of the increase in car thefts in recent years. According to figures from security company Tracker, 96% of motorists are at risk of having their car stolen by criminals using this technique. The most at-risk cars are those that use keyless fobs, as well as ‘connected cars’ that use internet to access maps, travel info, and music.
There are several ways to prevent relay car theft, or at least reduce the risk of becoming a victim. Here are some of the most common and effective methods:
- Keep your keys away from your door or windows, where they can be easily detected by the thieves’ devices. Store them in a safe place, preferably far from the car.
- Keep your keys in a metal box or a Faraday pouch, which blocks the signal from being transmitted. You can buy a Faraday pouch online for around $10. Alternatively, you can use a microwave oven or a refrigerator as a makeshift Faraday cage, but make sure they are unplugged and not in use.
- Turn off your key fob overnight, if possible. Some key fobs have a feature that allows you to disable the signal when not in use. Check your car manual or contact your manufacturer to find out how to do this.
- Use a steering wheel lock, a wheel clamp, or a car alarm to deter the thieves from taking your car. These physical countermeasures can make your car less attractive to the criminals, or at least slow them down and draw attention.
- Park your car in a garage or a well-lit area, where it is less exposed and more visible. If you have a driveway, park your car close to your house and block it with another vehicle or a gate.
- Get your keys re-programmed, if you bought your car second-hand. You might not have been given all sets of car keys, and some of them could be in the hands of the previous owner or a potential thief. You can get your keys re-programmed either directly through the car manufacturer or with an auto locksmith.
- Fit a tracking device or a ‘ghost immobiliser’ to your car. A tracking device can help you locate your car if it is stolen, and a ‘ghost immobiliser’ can prevent key cloning, signal jamming, and device spoofing. These are more expensive options, but they can offer extra protection and peace of mind.
- Make sure you have car insurance that covers keyless car theft. Some insurers might not cover this type of theft, or might charge you more for it. Check your policy details and compare different options to find the best deal for you.