Even though vehicle thefts are down by more than 50% nationally since 1991, luxury autos are still a hot target. Sophisticated auto thieves have found ways to outsmart many of the anti-theft technology and are specifically targeting luxury models.
Overall, national vehicle theft trends have been positive. The FBI predicts a 3.2% reduction in vehicle thefts when final 2013 statistics are released later this year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). If the FBI’s preliminary 2013 vehicle theft estimate holds, thefts will be under 700,000—a drop of more than 50% since 1991, the peak year for vehicle thefts, which totaled 1.66 million.
Luxury autos are still a hot item because many thieves believe they are worth the extra effort. Some of the most popular targets include the BMW X5 and Range Rovers. These cars come with all of the latest anti-theft systems, so how are the criminals doing it?
They are essentially hacking into the cars, stealing codes from transponders and tricking the anti-theft devices so they can open car doors and start the engines.
Modern ignition keys, for instance, usually contain transponder chips embedded in the plastic body of the key. The microchip stores a code that is sent to the vehicle when the key is inserted into the ignition. If they car does not recognize the code, it will not start. These keys, however, can be cloned.
Remote keyless systems and so-called smart keys also present a problem. Instead of using a traditional key, the owner carries a key fob that sends out a signal. The driver can then start the car without having to insert a key into the ignition as long as the vehicle senses that the key fob is close. Thieves, however, have figured out how to capture the signals being emitted from the key and trick the system into thinking that the key is nearby, thereby starting the car.
Thieves also are using a device that interrupts the signal sent from the key when drivers push the button to lock the car as they walk away. The device keeps the car from locking.
Some thieves are using a small electronic magnetic pulse device that sends out a signal that tricks the car into thinking it has been in an accident, which unlocks the car door.
Cars of all kinds are still being stolen the old-fashioned way. Motorists leave their cars running or park them with the keys left in the ignition. And thieves are still breaking into homes, stealing car keys and then stealing the cars.
But to combat the targeting of higher-end cars, owners of luxury models in particular need to be vigilant. Some steps to reduce the risk of auto theft include:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Lock your car as soon as you get out rather than when you are walking away. The further away you are, the greater chance a thief has to interrupt the signal.
- Don’t leave the car running and unattended, even for a few seconds.
- Be careful about whom you give your keys to, including valets and parking lot attendants. It is best to park and lock the car yourself.
- Park your car in the garage, and keep the garage door closed. Many people have garages filled with debris, and the car then sits in the driveway. Some will leave the garage door open with the keys in the car, but thieves have been known to back them right out of the garage and drive away.
- Be careful about where you keep your keys in the house. Do not hang them from a rack near the door where they can be easily stolen. Store them in a less conspicuous place.