Cars appear to be more secure than ever before these days, but car crime has actually risen in the past few years as thieves devise hi-tech new methods to steal cars. A total of 85,000 cars were stolen in 2016 and electronic hacking is now a common type of car crime, exposing weaknesses in keyless technology developed to boost convenience, using it to gain access illegally and sometimes even drive away.
In this article, we’ll look at what you can do to keep your car secure, regardless of whether it’s an expensive new luxury model with keyless technology or an older supermini with standard door locks.
By following these straightforward tips, it’s less likely your car or valuables will be taken, saving you the stress, hassle and cost a break-in or theft can bring. We’ve broken them down into passive and active security measures, so try as many of these as fit with your situation, budget and vehicle.
Active security measures for your car
Active methods of protecting your car are all based on changing your habits slightly to make life harder for criminals. Happily, most of these are completely free or cost only a few pounds, and within a few days they’ll become second nature.
Parking securely in public car parks
Try to avoid parking your car in isolated or dark areas of a car park or street. Try to park under a light or even within the view of a security camera. In public car parks, it can also be a good idea to park near a shop entrance or walkway, where there’s a stream of people who may spot any suspicious activity.
It might sound like a small thing, but also try to park facing the wall or a row of bollards. The need to reverse before making off could be the difference between an opportunistic thief jumping in your car or targeting another vehicle.
It’s important to take any valuables or portable devices (mobile phones, sat-nav units etc) with you. A tidy car can even show you’re a more careful owner who’s less likely to leave vulnerable items inside. Also, make a habit of carrying a cloth in your glovebox or door pocket, so you can quickly wipe away tell-tale windscreen marks from a suction-cup sat-nav or phone holder.
Parking at home
While the above precautions can apply at home, too, there are some even better ways of avoiding becoming a target here. Always park facing towards your house or garage and away from the street, turn your wheels towards a curb, wall or grass and waggle the steering wheel from side to side before getting out to ensure the steering lock engages.
Next, once you head inside, make sure not to leave the keys close to the front door. This is because thieves use a technique called ‘letterbox fishing’ to hook your keys using a thin piece of wire. A letterbox guard can also help prevent this.
Taking your key fob further inside the house is also an important measure for keyless car theft protection, because organised criminals can find and amplify the wireless signal from a key fob left near your front door or a window and relay it to the car.
By ‘hacking’ the signal, it’s possible to gain entry to the vehicle and sometimes even clone the key and drive off. Keep keyless fobs away from doors and windows and consider keeping them inside a metal tin or a specially designed pouch that uses the Faraday effect to block wireless signals.
It’s also worth contacting your car’s manufacturer to check if its keyless system is vulnerable to an attack like this and if any software updates can be installed at your local dealership to improve security.
Lastly, never start a car and go back inside the house on cold, frosty mornings to let the windows clear. Leaving a car unattended with the engine running isn’t only very risky, your insurance provider is unlikely to pay out in the event of theft, too.
Active car security products
As immobilisers have seen criminals increasingly turn to stealing the car keys themselves or hacking remote key fobs, motorists are flocking back to physical security devices. Products like steering-wheel locks that were popular back in the 1990s are low-tech, but a steering lock like the Stoplock Pro – our current test winner – can be a strong deterrent for car thieves.
Not only are criminals more likely to simply move on to another vehicle, persistent criminals will need time and tools to remove a steering lock, and they’re likely to create a lot of noise in the process. The Stoplock Pro also costs much less than most insurance claims, at around £50.
Most cars are now sold with alloy wheels, and ensuring locking wheel nuts are present should ensure they stay fitted to the vehicle.
Passive car security
When you buy a car, it’s important to check if it’s fitted with an alarm and immobiliser. While the former will alert you and passers-by to a break-in, an immobiliser should ensure that your car can only be started with the keys it was supplied with.
If an alarm and immobiliser are fitted, you’ll want to ensure the system has been awarded the ‘Thatcham Quality Assurance’ mark, as these devices not only offer good protection, they’re recognised by the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Thatcham is a UK body that benchmarks security and safety systems and assigns one of the seven categories listed on its website to devices that pass its rigorous testing.