Keyless car theft a concerning reality
Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA)

Anyone watching Carte Blanche last month with a keyless car, would have been stunned to see just how easy it is for sophisticated cyber criminals to exploit their car’s keyless entry system.

This has sharply placed the focus on a new gimmick where brazen car thieves are making off with high-end keyless cars in seconds.  In 2022, the Insurance Crime Bureau saw a significant increase in the theft of newer model Sports Utility Vehicles (amongst others), that have keyless entry and ignition technology. It is a relatively new trend in South Africa but catching on quickly with up to 5/6 luxury keyless cars being stolen daily.

The frightening reality is that it is a crime so perfectly executed it’s almost impossible to spot, as thieves are making off with high-end vehicles while their owners blissfully go about their business.

Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says MIWA workshops have received queries from concerned motorists. He says motorists by now have become more au fait with jamming attacks and are used to double checking their car is locked before leaving but this new tactic, also called relay theft, is so much more sophisticated and leaves all models with keyless entry and start systems vulnerable.

So, how exactly does Keyless Car theft happen? Ranft says the criminals work in teams of up to six people to actually ‘hijack’ a vehicle’s key signal. The owner believes the car to be safe once he has checked that it is locked. The theft requires a minimum of two people with two suitcases/folders that act as a scanner/amplifier and data receiver/transmitter. They communicate with the car’s key and intercept the vehicle’s opening signal and are able to start the engine. It only takes 30 seconds as shown in the Carte Blanche insert. The criminals then often use a jammer to prevent the car’s tracker signal from being picked up. They buy themselves time until a new key can be programmed which takes just 30 minutes.

Ranft says it is definitely a trend motorists need to be aware of.   For those looking for a  simple solution you can revert to old-time techniques with a steering wheel lock or gear stick lock or you can keep your key in a metal tin or something called a Faraday pouch or a ‘fob guard‘, which is made from materials that block its signal.

Ranft says there is also another easier way with an electronic keyfob. When you leave the car it automatically secures the keyfob and as a result the key signal cannot be intercepted. ‘It is also easy to deactivate. You just need to double tap the keyfob in your pocket or bag to open the door and start the engine. Installation is also simple.  It has the form of a clip which easily and quickly can be put on the keyfob battery without interfering with the car’s electrical system.

These can be fitted directly or with the assistance of a qualified technician.

“Criminals have become so sophisticated these days that it is almost impossible for car manufacturers to keep up with these new trends. Fortunately, there are some solutions available and motorists with keyless systems just need to be extra vigilant,” concludes Ranft.