Stealing ‘Keyless’ Cars Is Alarmingly Easy

Stealing ‘Keyless’ Cars Is Alarmingly Easy
Image: Getty Images

It’s no secret that keyless entry systems don’t fully protect you against car theft. That hasn’t prevented automakers from building such cars — or consumers from buying them. This video showing how easy it is to steal several different keyless cars might start changing some minds.

The video comes from What Car? on YouTube, which describes how easy it can be to steal some keyless start cars, whereas it can be impossible with others:

Basically, with keyless starts, your key emits a code that can be picked up by the car. That code is also pretty easily picked up by scanning devices, which can then replicate the code and direct it back to the car.

And, voilà: a potential thief now has entry to your vehicle.

The video goes through several ways to protect your car from potential theft: deactivating your key fob, keep keys away from doors and windows, or just buying a wheel lock so that, even if someone gets into your car, they can’t take it anywhere.

What Car? really gets into the nitty-gritty with this article, though. It actually tested out a bunch of different cars to see how difficult it would be to steal them. And the results are honestly pretty fascinating.

Among the test group was the Audi TT Roadster, the 2018 BMW X3, the DS3 Crossback Ultra Prestige, the Ford Fiesta, a Land Rover Discovery, a Land Rover Discovery Sport, and a Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Some of those had standard keys while others had keyless options, with the intention being to see if it’s any easier to steal a standard car as opposed to a keyless one.

The worst of the bunch was the DS 3 Crossback Ultra Prestige, which could be stolen in a mere 10 seconds. Keyless entry is standard, and, according to What Car?, the doors popped open after five seconds. From there, it was only only another further five before they could drive away with it.

Many cars had something called “smart keys” or “advanced keys.” Basically, that meant that they key could be deactivated and thus prevent those cars from being stolen. The Audi, BMW, Ford Fiesta and Mercedes all had that feature in common. There was no way for thieves to enter the car without an activated key fob. (That said, once the fob was activated, thieves could still pretty easily drive off with your hard-earned daily driver.)

One of the most interesting results was actually the Land Rover Discovery. It was actually possible to use a lock picker to get into the car. However, once inside, the thieves weren’t able to start the car:

The car was fitted with ultra-wide-band radio technology, which transmits over a wide range of frequencies at once to stop thieves from being able to pick up the signal

In every single case where the thieves were able to drive away with the car, they were able to do so in under one minute.

At the end of the day, the keyless cars were easier to steal than those that had a standard key. Picking the lock often set off noisy alarms that alerted surrounding people that something was going wrong, whereas with keyless cars, there was no warning to owners that their car was being taken.

You can check out the full results on What Car?’s website to see how easy it is to steal a car when the world goes totally digital. It might be time to start making wheel locks a standard part of car ownership, huh?

This story originally appeared on Jalopnik. It has been updated since its original publication.


  • This is what stops me from getting a car with keyless entry. It’s great in theory and have driven cars that have them and are so cool to have but this is a major flaw. It can happen on a $20,000 car and it can happen on a $200,000 car. Not only that but also cases of wireless interference like the people who would stop outside a store and their keyless stop working and couldnt work out why until discovering it was something to do with the store’s security system emitting on the same channel as the fob.

  • How do thieves steal your car?
    If you had to guess, what do you think the most common method of stealing a car is? A study done on the most common car theft methods in the UK indicated that the number one method is to steal your car keys while burglarising your house. Here’s a breakdown of car theft methods by percentages:

    Keys stolen in a burglary (37%)
    Thieves will often break into houses for the sole purpose of stealing car keys, which many people conveniently leave in plain sight on a table not far from the front door. This not only lets thieves steal your vehicle, it also gives them a handy place to store additional stolen items from your home. If you must leave car keys in your house, hide them well.

    Keys left in the car (18%)
    An opportunistic thief only needs a few seconds to jump behind the wheel and drive off in your car, so don’t give them the chance. If you’re not in the car, make sure your keys are in a safe place.

    Forced ignition/hot-wiring (14%)
    20 years ago, hot-wiring cars was a favoured method for car thieves (and Hollywood scriptwriters). These days it doesn’t happen quite as often because of the sophisticated immobilisers present in newer vehicles. However, older model cars (without immobilisers fitted) are still susceptible.

    Other – using car keys (12%)
    This category covers all the other situations where keys are used to steal a car. For instance, thieves might learn the VIN and registration of a particular car they want to steal , and approach an unscrupulous dealer to order a key made.

    Taking the car without consent (7%)
    This is when someone the driver knows (friend, family member, work colleague etc.) uses the car without the owner’s knowledge or permission. A classic example is the teenager who sneaks off in their parent’s car, crashes it and then tries to hide their dubious deeds by reporting it stolen.

    Keys stolen in a robbery (5%)
    This is a scary one – when you’re confronted and threatened by a criminal who demands your car keys. This can happen while you’re in the car (carjacking), just getting into or out of your vehicle, or even at your home with a weapon or threats of violence involved. When in doubt, hand over your keys and save your life.

    Forgery/fraud (5%)
    This usually occurs when a ‘buyer’ hands over a forged bank draft or other bogus payment to a car dealer, often late on a Friday so they can make their getaway over the weekend before the dealer gets to the bank on Monday to discover the payment is worthless.

    Car stolen by being pushed or towed (2%)
    Sometimes, thieves will use a tow truck to steal your car. Your parked vehicle may even be broken into (to release the park brake) and physically pushed to a less visible location (often a nearby garage) and later sold for parts.

  • I just bought a metal box and I store my keys in there.

    The car can no longer see the keys, nor can someone pickup the signal and clone the key or use a repeater.

    This does mean I chew though the kay batteries more frequently because unlike the car which stops looking for the key after a period to save the car battery the fob isn’t that smart.

    • That doesn’t make sense to me. I presume you have to have the keys out of the box when you are in the car, or can you put them back in the box after starting it? The rest of the time the key in the box would be ‘looking for’ the car no more than if it was just too far away. What brand of car is it ? Some cars charge up the fob battery using induction when you put them in the ignition.

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