After the King’s speech on 7 November included a proposal to outlaw electronic devices that are used for keyless car thefts, Autocar has discovered that they are still being openly advertised for sale on the internet.
The proposed law will make it illegal to produce, modify, supply, import or possess such devices, with a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Police believe these are behind the majority of vehicle thefts in the UK, which rose by 25% from 104,435 in 2022 to 130,389 last year.
According to the latest data from Tracker Network UK, 93% of all the vehicles the firm has recovered had been stolen without their owners’ keys being used.
How are cars stolen without key fobs?
Relay theft is a popular method that requires one thief to capture the signal from the key fob close to the owner’s property and relay it to an accomplice standing by the car with a receiver, who then opens and steals it. Relay devices can be bought online for as little as £100.
However, Autocar has seen a website selling devices that give fuller control of a car – although they require connection to its ‘can bus’ (the wiring system that enables the car’s microcontrollers and processors to communicate with each other) and cost considerably more.
How do the devices work?
Steve Launchbury, a member of the vehicle crime and security division at Thatcham Research, a risk intelligence organisation funded by the UK’s insurance industry, explained that by connecting directly to the can bus, the device doesn’t need the key fob to be present or its signal relayed to open and start the vehicle. The device itself contains all of the data necessary to control the car.
However, access to the vehicle’s can bus isn’t always straightforward, he explained: “The trend we’re seeing is thieves cutting the outside skin of the vehicle to gain access to the can. We’re speaking to manufacturers about rerouting the harness, putting it inside trunking or segregating areas of it, so that full access by a device can’t be obtained.”