Over 1,150 children charged with vehicle theft in the last three years

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research – the UK’s independent automotive research centre and motor security experts – has exclusively given us his top 10 tips for owners to keep their motors secure.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, provides his 10 top tips to keep your motor secure

‘Although any increase in vehicle thefts will be a concern to car owners, we are still a long way off from the endemic car crime seen in the early 1990s – where upwards of 600,000 cars were stolen in a single year, with thieves mostly using equipment found in a toolbox,’ he explained.

‘Over the years car makers have added layers of security to successfully deter opportunistic thieves. Vehicle theft is now largely the preserve of sophisticated criminal gangs, using digital kit to navigate mechanical security.

‘Keyless entry systems have been problematic and can be exploited by thieves using a technique known as the “Relay Attack”. Many car makers do now offer countermeasures with new vehicles, such as motion-sensor enabled fobs. However, all new cars with keyless systems should have a solution to this long-standing vulnerability in place.

‘Drivers should go into the dealership with their eyes open to security and have a checklist of questions prepared around keyless entry, connected systems, apps, alarms and immobilisers.’ 

1. Always check the handles are locked after using a keyfob

When left unattended, make sure the vehicle is locked and windows are up. Listen for the locking noise and watch for the lights to flash or mirrors to fold. 

Physically check the vehicle is locked yourself – as criminals can sometimes block the locking signal from your key fob. The Electronic Control Unit within can be at greater risk to manipulation when the vehicle has been left unlocked. 

Ensure (where fitted) that double locking to doors and alarm are active (refer to owner manual).

2. Keep valuables out of sight from prying eyes

Out of sight, out of mind. Make sure valuables are removed from your vehicle or kept out of sight. This can include valuables such as bags, laptops, electronic equipment, documents and tools.

3. Do you have an alarm and immobiliser?

Ensure your vehicle has Thatcham Research-certified alarm and immobiliser systems fitted. Consider upgrading your vehicle security to include a certified aftermarket alarm with inclination sensor, immobiliser and tracking system. 

Some insurance policies require the fitment of a tracking device, so it’s important any associated subscriptions to monitoring services are maintained.

4. Invest in old-hat security systems as a next-level deterrent

Consider using a physical immobiliser such as steering wheel lock or gear clamp. These not only offer another layer of security but also act as a significant visual deterrent to thieves.

5. Think about where your car is kept when not in use, especially at night

When unattended, keep the vehicle somewhere secure and well-lit, preferably monitored by CCTV. Park the car in a way that makes it awkward for a thief to remove; parked facing close to your house (so that the thief will have to reverse out), or possibly blocking in by other cars. 

Store your vehicle in a garage overnight, if you have one. Lockable driveway gates also provide another physical and visual deterrent to thieves.

6. Make sure your keys are safe

In cold weather, do not leave the vehicle unattended and running with keys in the ignition. Store keys, including spares, out of sight from windows and doors. And consider where the spare key is kept and who may have access to it. 

If you have purchased your vehicle second hand with only one working key, visit an approved repair centre to get the missing key(s) deleted and to add a spare as soon as possible.

Be aware of the technology in your vehicle and your key fob’s functions. If it uses Passive Keyless Entry and Start (PKES) it may be susceptible to a theft method called the ‘Relay Attack’ and you should therefore consider storing key fobs as far away from the outer perimeter of the house as is possible. 

And check your owner’s manual to see if there is a PKES locking function that can be activated at night or when you’re not using the vehicle for long periods. 

For additional protection, consider using a signal blocking Faraday pouch for main and spare keys – test that it works by inserting your fob into the pouch, walking up to your car and seeing if the door will open. Make sure the pouch you buy is designed to store keys, not credit cards.

Many carmakers have now introduced motion-sensor enabled fobs, which go to sleep when idle and can’t fall victim to the Relay Attack. Speak to your dealership to see whether your vehicle has security enhancements available.

Always be aware that criminals may be able to clone the vehicle key at any time. Consider this when leaving with untrusted parties or services that you have not used before. 

Check that the company is a member of an accredited code of practice/professional standard such as The Motor Ombudsman or The British Parking Association’s Park Mark scheme. 

7. Make relevant checks so your motor doesn’t end up on bricks

Ensure your vehicle has locking wheel bolts, which secure the vehicle’s wheels.

8. Get yourself a dashcam that starts recording when there’s a security breach

Consider in-vehicle camera options that upload recorded data to the cloud or an app. If it only records to a memory stick, that will vanish with the car if stolen. Those that offer ‘parking mode’ can detect and record movement when parked. This offers supporting evidence for both your insurer and the Police.

9. Many modern cars now have security alert systems – but you need to link them to your smartphone

Does your vehicle offer connectivity? Does it offer theft alert notifications via a phone app? If so, ensure all theft alert notifications are active.

10. Wipe stored info from a car you’re selling 

Some vehicle apps and connected systems can provide access to the previous owner. If permissions remain active, ensure that all permissions and data linked to the previous owner are removed. 

And if you’re selling a car, make sure you wipe all stored information before handing over the keys to a new owner. Connected cars can store all kinds of personal information and still be connected to your devices – these can all be used to identify when your car or property might be vulnerable. 

Refer to the owner’s manual to remove all stored data.

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