Thefts of keyless cars have made national news in recent years, with thieves using high-tech equipment to effectively hack car entry systems. Now, though, figures from a leading vehicle tracker company show the number of keyless car thefts hit an all-time high in 2019.

According to Tracker, 92 percent of the cars it recovered last year were taken without the keys, up from 88 percent in 2018. More strikingly, it’s a huge increase on the 66 percent taken without the keys in 2016.

The news follows a long period of concerns surrounding the vulnerabilities of keyless entry systems. The issue made headlines last year, after the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said problems with the technology were partly to blame for a rise in car thefts.

Then, in August, What Car? magazine said it had found some cars could be stolen in as little as 10 seconds by thieves exploiting weaknesses in their keyless entry systems. Now Tracker says the so-called ‘relay attacks’ are being used more frequently by criminals.

“Our data has revealed that keyless car theft continues to rise, with 9 out of 10 of the stolen cars we recovered in 2019 taken this way,” said Clive Wain, head of police liaison at Tracker. “Thieves exploit keyless technology by using sophisticated equipment, which can hijack the car key’s signal from inside an owner’s home and remotely fool the system into unlocking the doors and start the engine. This is commonly known as a relay attack.”

2018 Range Rover Sport P400e

Tracker’s data also revealed the cars most likely to be stolen, with the Range Rover Sport (above) taking the dubious honour at the top of the pile. It usurped last year’s chart-topper, the BMW X5, which slipped to second place in 2019.

Other vehicles that proved popular with crooks included the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Land Rover Discovery and BMW 3 Series. In fact, every car in Tracker’s top 10 most stolen and recovered vehicles was a product of either BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Land Rover.

The company says these cars are targeted by organised criminals who are stealing cars “to order”. The firm says these cars are often shipped to foreign countries - often in the Middle East or north Africa.

Thief tries hacking car security system with tablet

To prevent thieves taking keyless vehicles, Wain suggested using more “traditional” deterrents, including crook locks, to keep criminals at bay.

“To help prevent car owners falling victim to keyless car theft, traditional visual deterrents, such as crook locks and wheel clamps can help deter thieves and are a good investment to make,” he said. “However, in the event of a car being stolen, vehicle tracking technology will not only help police close the net on thieves but see a stolen vehicle returned to its rightful owner.”

Car alarm theft prevention system