A What Car? investigation has found significant failings in some manufacturer’s theft-prevention systems
Felix Page Autocar writer
8 August 2019

Major security shortcomings in some of Britain's most popular cars have been revealed by Autocar's sibling brand What Car?. Certain models are at risk of being stolen in a matter of seconds.

Three cars scored particularly poorly in What Car?’s keyless technology investigation. The worst performing was the new DS 3 Crossback, in top-spec Ultra Prestige guise, which could be entered and started in as little as 10 seconds using key code grabbing technology. 

The Audi TT RS Roadster could be driven away in the same timeframe, but only if its keyless entry system was active and anti-theft motion sensor technology had not disabled the keyfob. With these preventative measures in place, the car could not be entered or driven. 

The 2018 Land Rover Discovery Sport test car performed better, although could still be stolen in 30 seconds because it was not equipped with Jaguar Land Rover’s new ultra-wide-band radio technology, which prevents replication of the key’s radar signal by transmitting on a wide range of frequencies. This system is available on current models. 

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Best performing in the tests were BMW’s X3 SUV and the Ford Fiesta. It took What Car?’s security experts 40 seconds to gain entry to each vehicle, and another 20 to drive them away.

Some brands, including BMW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz, have rolled out motion detector technology which effectively shuts down a key’s radar signal when it is not in use. This makes it more difficult for thieves to use a scanner to lock onto the signal and gain entry to the vehicle. 

Of the seven models tested by What Car?’s security experts, none could be stolen when their keyfobs had been deactivated, although this functionality has not been universally adopted by manufacturers. 

What Car? editor Steve Huntingford said: “It is outrageous that some car makers have introduced keyless entry and start systems without making them anywhere near as secure as the traditional alternatives they’ve replaced.

“It is great news that a small number of brands are taking the problem of car theft seriously, but more needs to be done to improve security, particularly of used models.”

Reacting to the results of the survey, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “Vehicle manufacturers are continually investing and developing new security features – including motion sensing key fobs and other technologies - to try and stay one step ahead of criminals, which is an ongoing and extremely costly battle.

"There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and brands will have their own individual strategies to combat vehicle theft with lead-times to engineer, test and source new counter-measures varying across the industry. Ultimately, however, technology can only do so much and this is why industry continues to call for action to prevent the open sale of devices used by criminals to steal cars.”

Earlier this year, security expert Thatcham Research detailed a new five-tier vehicle security rating system, ranging from ‘unacceptable’ to ‘superior’, depending on a car’s vulnerability to theft. The new system was designed in response to a spike in driveway car thefts, made easier by modern keyless entry technology. 

In May, vehicle security firm Tracker revealed the top 10 most stolen vehicles in the UK, with premium SUVs like the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport shown to be among the most vulnerable. 

The group recommends owners of sought-after models to keep their car keys well away from household entry points, and to invest in a Faraday shielding pouch to block signals between car and key.

The full results of What Car?’s security investigation can be found below:

Audi TT RS Roadster

Advanced Key inactiveGet into car - Not possibleDrive away - Not possible

Advanced Key active Get into car - 5 seconds Drive away - 5 seconds 

BMW X3

Digital Smart key inactiveGet into car - Not possibleDrive Away - Not possible

Digital Smart key active

Get into car - 40 secondsDrive away - 20 seconds

DS3 Crossback

Standard key

Get into car - 5 seconds Drive away - 5 seconds

Ford Fiesta

Sleeping key fob inactiveGet into car - Not possibleDrive away - Not possible

Sleeping key fob activeGet into car - 40 secondsDrive away - 20 seconds

Land Rover Discovery

Standard KeyGet into car - 20 secondsDrive away - Not possible

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Standard keyGet into car - 10 secondsDrive away - 20 seconds

Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Keyless-Go key fob inactive Get into car - Not possible Drive away - Not possible

Keyless-Go key fob active Get into car - 30 seconds Drive away - 20 seconds

Read more

Cars vulnerable to keyless theft highlighted by new ratings​

The most stolen cars in the UK​

New cyber security standard to help prevent car hacking​

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Comments
18

8 August 2019

I got around the worry of my car being stolen by insuring it. Apparently if your car is stolen insurance companies will give you money to buy a replacement.

Having your car stolen is a pretty unlikely event and in the event it is stolen it's not actually the end of the world, they are easily replaced. I'd rather have a car stolen than lose something of sentimental value or have a loved one injured in a crime.

8 August 2019
SamVimes1972 wrote:

I got around the worry of my car being stolen by insuring it. Apparently if your car is stolen insurance companies will give you money to buy a replacement.

Having your car stolen is a pretty unlikely event and in the event it is stolen it's not actually the end of the world, they are easily replaced. I'd rather have a car stolen than lose something of sentimental value or have a loved one injured in a crime.

What a rosy world, if only insurance companies were charities and didn't charge premiums when you claim...............

Or will the car makers pick up the increased insurance costs after your car's stolen in under a minute from your driveway?

8 August 2019
SamVimes1972 wrote:

I got around the worry of my car being stolen by insuring it. Apparently if your car is stolen insurance companies will give you money to buy a replacement.

Having your car stolen is a pretty unlikely event and in the event it is stolen it's not actually the end of the world, they are easily replaced. I'd rather have a car stolen than lose something of sentimental value or have a loved one injured in a crime.

They may be insured and have little sentimental value but that still doesn't stop it being a hassle when it happens. Try fighting off 16 speeding fines, 12 congestion zone charges, 2 NCP car parking non payment demands and fill and run investigation from a garage after you've had a car stolen, none of that is insured. 12 months later and we still haven't got it all sorted.

8 August 2019

Why would you make your keyfob security 'inactive'?

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

8 August 2019
xxxx wrote:

Why would you make your keyfob security 'inactive'?

Presumably so that thieves cannot use their various transmitters/code grabbers to access your vehicle. With some manufacturers this can be done quite simply once you've locked your vehicle and gone in the house, others use motion sensors to de-activate it automatically.

As usual Mike Hawes shows how detached he is from the real world. Does he really think that taking devices used by criminals away from open sale will prevent them getting hold of them?

8 August 2019

Once you've bought the car it is no longer the responsibility of the car company if it gets stolen is it. This is a ridiculous saga and I'm not even going to suggest reverting to a key even though that is what my car currently uses as a security device along with an alarm.

8 August 2019

Interesting that the least secure cars all appear to be from North American or European brands (the latter especially German and British)  but none from Japan or Korea which either have better security systems or no-one is attempting to break in to a Toyota, Nissan, Kia etc

8 August 2019
Saucerer wrote:

Interesting that the least secure cars all appear to be from North American or European brands (the latter especially German and British)  but none from Japan or Korea which either have better security systems or no-one is attempting to break in to a Toyota, Nissan, Kia etc

The worst car was French. They only tested 2 non british/german cars and one of them was the worst.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

8 August 2019

If you go to what car and read the article, it says they asked 30 manufacturers to provide their most secure cars. Most didn't even reply. Suzuki and Kia sent non keyless cars which were more secure

Dear Autocar website designers,

I understand your need to bring revenue in with advertising. However, can you do it in a way that makes your site usable please?

Thanks

8 August 2019

...and spend the entire article wondering what Peter thinks of it all???

Honestly speaking

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