Direct Line magazine

Is your car at risk of relay theft?

Updated on: 25 March 2024

A thief tries the handle on a car door.

Cars are getting smarter. Unfortunately, so are thieves.

Relay theft (also known as keyless theft) is a method of stealing cars by tricking their keyless entry systems.

Relay theft requires specialist equipment and is usually carried out by organised criminal gangs.

Some desirable makes and models of cars have made headlines after being targeted repeatedly. Owners have seen premiums skyrocket, and manufacturers have been forced to invest in better technology.

But despite its high-tech origins, we can fight relay theft by taking a few simple steps.

How does relay theft work?

Relay, or keyless theft, usually requires two or more thieves who trick your car into thinking the keys are physically present.

One thief will stand close to your house with a device that boosts the signal from your car keys. This signal is then relayed to the second thief, who is next to your car and has a second device that can use the signal to unlock your vehicle.

Using this technique, thieves can gain full access to your car in less than two minutes. 

Is your car at risk of relay theft?

Any car that uses keyless entry (or a 'smart key') is at risk of relay theft.

The 2023 annual Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that car theft was up by 48% from the previous year.

Thieves often single out newer, high-value vehicles in the knowledge that these cars are likely to have keyless entry, keyless ignition or both.

Ultimately, no make or model is totally safe, and all drivers can take basic steps to better safeguard their vehicles.

Anything that causes thieves time or hassle will work in your favour.

What can you do to make your car more secure?

Here are a few simple, low-tech steps to minimise the risk of relay theft:

1. Keep keys away from doors and windows

Don't make it easy for thieves. Although leaving your keys in the hallway may be convenient, it's also easy for thieves to pick up the signal. The further away the keys are from your vehicle, the harder it is for criminals to pick up the signal and unlock your car. And that goes for any spare keys, too.

2. Keep your keys in a metal box or container

This can prevent the signal from reaching the relay thieves. To be extra secure, you could buy a Faraday pouch. This is made from material specifically designed to block these types of signals. Make sure you have enough space for all your spare keys.

3. Lock it down

Steering wheel, pedal and gear locks are inexpensive, easy to install and off-putting to criminals, even those using advanced methods like relay attacks. Read more about anti-theft locking devices.

4. Turn off your key fob overnight

Some key fobs let you turn them off or put them into sleep mode. Check your car's manual to find out if it's possible for your make and model.

Park smart

If you don't have a private garage or off-street parking, try to park in a well-lit, populated area whenever possible. Thieves will always target vehicles left in areas where they have little chance of being seen, so parking in side roads or areas away from street lights could put your vehicle at risk.

You may also decide to fight technology with technology. Alongside standard features like alarms and immobilisers, consider investing in a tracking device, dashcam or a CCTV system fitted near your car. Doorcams are also a useful weapon in the fight against car thieves. Tools like these can deter thieves or help track down your vehicle should it be taken.

Ultimately, anything that causes thieves time or hassle will work in your favour.

Be vigilant

The tried-and-tested methods for keeping your car secure are still relevant. Report any suspicious activity to local police or neighbourhood watch associations. And make sure your car is locked and alarmed when not in use.

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