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Dude Where’s My Car? – Relay Theft

Relay theft, the new way bad guys are breaking into new vehicles, is a big reason many people are waking up in the morning and saying, dude where’s my car? Unlike the movie, the unsuspecting victims of relay theft remembered where they parked their car, it just isn’t there when they look for it.

What is relay theft and how does it work?

A typically car jacking, at least in the old days, would typically involve a smashed window, the vehicle being left unlocked, or some other method. Relay theft is different. It does not damage the vehicle, it does not require the knowledge to hot wire or jump start a vehicle and it doesn’t mean you left your car unlocked, at least intentionally.

Key fobs used to unlock vehicles are constantly broadcasting a signal and when in range with the vehicle are able to communicate with the specific vehicle to lock, unlock or perform some other action. In older vehicles with more traditional key fobs the user is required to press a button to perform an action such as unlocking the car. However, in new vehicle models the key fob just has to be in range in order to unlock and even start the vehicle. These new keys have provided an easy way for thieves to steal your vehicle known as relay theft.

The thief uses a device that transmits a signal from the key fob to another device close to the vehicle. The thief will typically hold the first device close to the front door of the victims home in hopes that that gives them a good enough proximity to the actual key fob. If a signal is picked up the device will transmit the signal to the second device, which the thief has placed near the vehicle. If it works properly then the locking system will respond and unlock the vehicle. The thief is then able to start the car and drive away without the key. For a visual of relay theft check out the video below (this is performed with 2 thieves who each has a device).

Won’t the vehicle shut off once it is out of range of the key fob?

So the thief has stolen your vehicle and is driving away. But won’t the vehicle shutdown once it gets far enough away? Unfortunately the answer is no. The vehicles are designed to remain on and running as a safety precaution. Manufactures designed them to stay on if you lose the key fob signal so that your vehicle doesn’t just shutdown while you’re in the middle of the road. This vulnerability allows the thief to drive the vehicle until they shut it off themselves or it runs out of fuel. In a lot of the cases the vehicles have been recovered after the thief shuts it down, but parts and items are typically stolen and not recovered.

How can you protect your vehicle?

There are several things that vehicle owners can do to help reduce the risk of their vehicle being stolen.

  • Move the keys away from the front door or away from an area where the signal can easily be picked up.
  • Purchase a faraday cage, which is an enclosure designed to block electromagnetic fields. This is the same technology some manufacturers are using for wallets and other storing devices as it stops the signal from being picked up.
  • Install a GPS tracking system in your vehicle so if it is stolen it can be more easily traced.
  • Store your vehicle in a garage or car port that is more difficult to break into.
  • Make sure you have comprehensive protection on your car insurance policy. In the event your vehicle is stolen you will want to make sure you have comprehensive coverage, which covers your vehicle from theft.

The manufactures of these key fobs are working on their own security measures and improving the security systems of their vehicles. However, there is no solution at this time for new vehicles so it is important to be aware of the risks.

Technology is a great way to help make our lives better but in some cases it can make us and our things vulnerable. Be aware of the risks your new gadgets and technologies may come with and do your best to adequately protect yourself. If you are worried about the risks surrounding your vehicle contact a McDougall Insurance Broker today!

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