PSA: A Tin Box Can Prevent Your Car from Getting Stolen

Metal can that can be used as a Faraday cage 7 photos
Photo: Eva Elijas on
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Car theft is on the rise, and nowadays thieves target expensive cars. Brand is irrelevant, as they all share a common denominator, keyless access, and keyless start-up. Some thieves have managed to get away with a car in less than 30 seconds, so keeping an eye on your ride from the window is not the best way to keep it safe.
But how bad is car theft lately? According to the UK's National Police Chief's Council, there has been a 3.1% increase in car thefts between May and June. According to the same institution, the bulk of the increase comes from keyless theft. This type of theft is done by organized gangs who know exactly what they are doing when it comes to unlocking and starting a car without its key.

How does keyless car theft work?

Once the crew identifies a target-vehicle, two members will be dropped-off by a third near its parked position. The pair then operates hand-held devices to trick the car into unlocking, as well as tricking the engine to start. All of this is done without noise (except for starting the engine, of course), which means that most owners will not notice the theft until they look out the window, the next day.

The vehicle's security systems are bypassed with the help of the described hand-held devices. Those are a pair of transmitters that communicate with each other. The goal of the thieves is to find the signal of the key fob in the house, usually placed near the entrance or in the kitchen, and then extend that signal all the way to the car.

Those two transmitters do that in a way that first makes the car's computers think that the key is outside the vehicle, and then that it has already been placed somewhere inside. From there, the key is not needed until the next start of the engine is demanded. The latter would be a problem for most, but these gangs of thieves are well organized, which means that the vehicle will be tucked away in a garage, waiting for it to be parted-out, eliminating the need for the key altogether.

How to prevent keyless car theft?

The UK's National Police Chief's Council suggests using a tin box to prevent keyless car thefts through this method. Their solution involves placing the key fob inside a metal container whenever it is not used. The idea is that you place your key fob into the metal box when you get home and use it as a Faraday cage to prevent any communication with the outside world.

An alternative method involves an anti-RFID pouch. The latter is like a zip-locked bag, but its goal is preventing the fob from communicating with the outside world. It comes with the added advantage of portability. In a pinch, one could also wrap the key fob in aluminum foil, but this method requires excellent wrapping skills and good-quality aluminum foil.

Alternatively, you can deactivate the keyless entry or keyless start function on your car. This method will bring an extra layer of protection, but will make you lose convenience in use, which is against the point of the technology in question.

Regardless of the method you use, check its effectiveness by placing your key fob inside the designated theft deterrent, taking the said object next to the vehicle and attempt to open the doors. If the car still unlocks itself, the chosen method is not effective enough.

How do you know if your car is vulnerable to keyless entry theft?

We propose a simple test to discover if the signal from your key fob is strong enough to reach your vehicle. Try to unlock it from a distance, and increase the distance between you and your vehicle until you can no longer see it responding to the signal. If your car activates its turn signals when locked or unlocked, this test is easy to perform. Otherwise, ask a trusted friend to try opening the door of your car while you are unlocking it from a distance.

Once you know the range of the key fob unhindered by walls, try opening it from your house or apartment building. Even if it does not react, you are not entirely safe, as the thieves use transmitters that amplify the range of the key fob and send the signal right next to the target-vehicle. Your best bet here would be living at a high floor in an apartment building, in which case they would have to use another method to attempt the theft of the vehicle. In the case of a house, their job is simple, as the vehicle is parked near the corresponding house.

This is how thieves operate when stealing a car through the method described above:

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About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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