How to prevent keyless vehicle theft


Authored by QBE Motor Risk Manager Kenny Rutt

A vehicle is stolen every five minutes in the UK.

Theft of motor vehicles and their parts is an increasing concern, being fuelled to an extent by demand for used cars and vans and supply chain shortages of replacement parts. Steering wheel theft has risen significantly, up 133% in the last year, no doubt so thieves can sell on the air bags inside. Gear sticks and other car parts are also being targeted, and catalytic converter theft is still on the rise, accounting for 20% of vehicle theft claims in the last year. 

Home Office data shows a vehicle is stolen every five minutes in the UK. Between March 2021 - March 2022 there were 108,542 reported vehicle thefts.

It isn’t just high-end luxury vehicles being targeted. The Ford Fiesta tops the list of the most stolen cars in the UK, although unsurprising given it is the most common car on UK roads. Mercedes-Benz Sprinters and Ford Transits are popular with van thieves.

Keyless theft

As vehicle technology evolves, the rise in keyless entry has given thieves new opportunities. Keyless vehicle thefts were up 19% in the last year as thieves evolve their techniques to bypass the extra security measures vehicle manufacturers are introducing.

A keyless vehicle has an entry system which allows you to get in and drive it away without having to physically take the key out of your pocket. These systems work by using short range radio waves, with a key on your person transmitting a signal that’s picked up by a receiver in the vehicle, which recognises and verifies that the signal is the correct one for that vehicle. It’s worth noting though that not all keyless systems will both open the doors and start the engine - some systems still require a key turned manually in the ignition.

Keyless theft, also known as relay theft, will normally require two thieves working as a team with one holding a relay amplifier and one holding a relay transmitter. Thieves typically target cars and vans parked on a driveway or close to a property, with equipment allowing them to determine whether the vehicle has keyless entry. Once this is established the relay amplifier will attempt to pick up the signal given from the key inside the property, with the relay transmitter being placed near the car to transfer the signal and replicate the key being near the vehicle. Once the signal is detected the vehicle will be fooled into thinking the owner of the vehicle is nearby with the key, allowing it to be opened and driven away.  

How to prevent keyless vehicle theft

The first step to preventing keyless theft is to keep the key as far away from the vehicle as possible when parked at home or work, preferably placed away from windows and doors. Parking on the street or further away from the property may also confuse thieves as to who the vehicle belongs to and could therefore act as a deterrent.

Buy a Faraday pouch

A Faraday pouch or box uses a metallic lining to block radio signals. After locking the vehicle, storing keys inside a Faraday device can prevent the signal being detected by thieves.

Faraday pouches, boxes and tins are readily available and inexpensive. As with anything, some work better than others, so read reviews and before relying on it make sure it works by putting the key inside and testing it near the locked vehicle to see if you can open the door without the key. As a quick makeshift solution, placing the keys in a closed metal biscuit tin can also often have a similar effect.

Physical security

A thief will more than likely be deterred if they know they can’t easily drive the car away. Visual and physical security measures to prevent theft can therefore include:

  • Investing in a good quality steering wheel lock.
  • Using wheel clamps that lock around the vehicle wheels and a pedal box over the foot pedals.
  • Fitting a lockable post into the driveway.
  • If you have two or more vehicles and one doesn’t have keyless entry, use this vehicle to block in the keyless one so it can’t be driven away.

Install a tracking device

If the worst does happen, a professionally fitted tracking device can help the tracking provider and/or police to find and recover the vehicle. Some insurance companies may mandate having a tracking device fitted, especially on more expensive cars. Demonstrating that you are managing risk in this way may also lead to your insurer looking favourably on the cost of your insurance premium.

Disable the keyless system

If your concern over keyless entry is too great and you would rather do without the convenience, then in some vehicles it’s possible to disable the system via the infotainment screen or with a combination of key fob button presses. Your owner’s manual or vehicle dealer should be able to guide you through how to turn the keyless system off.

The bottom line is to be vigilant and don’t make it easy for thieves to strike.

How vehicle manufacturers are responding

Vehicle manufacturers are responding with preventative measures aimed at curbing keyless vehicle theft. For example, some key fobs now come with a built-in motion sensor that deactivates the signal when the key is resting, such as out of the pocket and hung up overnight.

Other manufacturers are using ultra-wide band radio technology which can help stop thieves being able to isolate the signal to a particular car or van. Faraday pouches are being issued with some new vehicles. And, as noted above, some manufacturers have introduced a disable feature to allow drivers to switch off the keyless entry if they choose.

Risk management services for QBE customers

QBE helps businesses build resilience through risk management and insurance.

With almost a century of insuring commercial vehicles, 50 years’ experience in insuring bus and coach fleets, and 30 years as the UK leader in minibus insurance, QBE is fully committed to the motor sector and proactively helping customers to manage risk and drive down claims. This approach has made QBE a name to trust in commercial motor insurance.

QBE customers can access self-assessment questionnaires and a library of risk management material, along with a panel of approved partners who offer training, e-learning and other services at specially reduced rates. You can find more information in our Motor risk management service offerings brochure and find out more about how QBE helps businesses to manage risk here.

Need to claim? Report it early

Finally, remember that if you have an incident and need to make an insurance claim, it’s important that you report it as soon as possible, ideally the same day. Reporting a claim early can save time and help you to receive any claim payments faster, as well as allowing us to help mitigate the cost of third-party claims.



About QBE

QBE European Operations is part of QBE Insurance Group, one of the world’s leading international insurers and reinsurers and Standard & Poor’s A+ rated. Listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, QBE’s gross written premium for the year ended 31 December 2018 was US$13.7 billion.

As a business insurance specialist, QBE European Operations offers a range of insurance products from the standard suite of property, casualty and motor to the specialist financial lines, marine and energy. All are tailored to the individual needs of our small, medium and large client base.

We understand the crucial role that effective risk management plays in all organisations and work hard to understand our clients’ businesses so that we offer insurance solutions that meet their needs – from complex programmes to simpler e-trading solutions – and support them in minimising their risk exposures. Our expert risk management and rehabilitation practitioners focus on helping clients improve their risk management so that they may benefit from a reduction in claims frequency and costs.

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