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Car theft: According to ADAC, many car keys are unsafe

Car theft: According to ADAC, many car keys are unsafe

Only a few cars are still protected against manipulation using keyless go systems. “The problem is known, but many manufacturers have not provided a remedy for years,” warns the ADAC. And advises that it is better to avoid the uncertain equipment detail when buying a car.

The crime happens in seconds. Silently. And it leaves no trace. As if by magic, the car parked on the side of the road opens – even though the key is dry and safe in the vehicle owner’s apartment. The thief just needs to get in and press the start button. The car starts, the car is gone.

Gone are the days when car thieves used brute force to get their hands on the object of desire. In order to steal even high-priced cars today, you often don’t have to break a window or use tools on the doors. Cars with keyless comfort locking systems are significantly easier to steal than vehicles with normal radio keys, warns the ADAC.

The keyless go principle – “keyless access” – is actually a good idea for more convenience: the key, which is full of electronics, notices when the car user approaches the vehicle and automatically opens the doors. The actual key can be in the form of a small plastic key. The device can even stay in your trouser or coat pocket. That’s the theory. In practice, many systems can be tricked. To do this, you need two people and a small device that can be used to control the electronic signals that go back and forth between the car and the key “Skilled people can assemble such devices for less than 100 euros using parts from the electronics market,” says Melanie Mikulla, press spokeswoman for the ADAC in Munich.

A thief then only has to stay near the key and use his device to extend the signals to the accomplice’s location on the car. The keyless system “thinks” that the rightful owner of the car is approaching it – and unlocks the doors and ignition. Free travel. If the thieves don’t turn off the engine when refueling, they can cover long distances without any problems, even up to… Abroad.

The key vulnerability has been known since 2011

This vulnerability has been known since 2011. Too few manufacturers have responded so far. The ADAC has repeatedly tested which models with electronic keyless systems can be manipulated by thieves. The result is sobering: of more than 600 cars tested, almost 13 years after the problem was discovered, only around eight percent are better protected against theft. You can find the complete ADAC list of tested models. The pioneer for better protection was the manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, which has been equipping its models with advanced key technology since 2018.

The best solution at the moment is the use of “ultra-wide-band” technology in computer chips. By calculating signal transit times, to put it simply, it is possible to determine exactly where the dish and car are located. Signal extenders no longer work.

“It’s surprising that manufacturers of premium products don’t use this technology more often,” says Melanie Mikulla from ADAC. “Volkswagen, for example, uses the technology in a more price-sensitive vehicle like the Golf 8. The costs should therefore not be so high that this technology could not be installed in many more models.”

Car thieves use Game Boy to steal cars

Alternatively, some manufacturers use a motion sensor in the key. If the key stops moving for a certain period of time, the signal is switched off. “It is important that the sensor switches off early so that the desired protective effect occurs,” says Mikulla. Her association advises car buyers, if in doubt, to forgo keyless go and the extra comfort altogether – for more safety.

Car theft: Partial insurance also pays for key manipulation

How many car thefts are committed using the keyless trick is not statistically recorded. One thing is certain: According to the German Insurance Association, more than 12,000 cars with comprehensive insurance were stolen in 2022. The insurers paid almost 249 million euros for this. In addition, in 2021 alone there were around 54,000 cases in which navigation devices, airbags or car radios were stolen from the car – for which more than 97 million euros were paid out by insurance companies in 2021.

And in an emergency? Will the insurance cover it if the car is stolen using a cracked remote control key? Yes! In the event of theft, partial vehicle insurance pays out – regardless of how the car was broken into. If not the entire car is missing, but only parts such as the navigation system, this is also regulated by partial comprehensive insurance. However, anything that is not permanently installed in the car – such as a cell phone – is not covered.

So far, people who are concerned about the security of their car have resorted to the strangest tricks: They wrap the keyless key at home in aluminum foil, metal cans or even cooking pots to shield it – or put it in the refrigerator to prevent radio signals from reaching the outside world allow. These methods are not safe. But the temperatures in the refrigerator tend to make the battery in the key run flat…

Source: Stern

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