Hundreds of modern keyless cars — models that unlock and start automatically when the key is close by — are at risk of being stolen, according to a new report.
The Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan, Qashai and Ford Focus are more vulnerable than others, consumer group Which? said.
Thieves use cheap electronic equipment and can steal a keyless vehicle in just 18 seconds, the report said.
Keyless car theft – how does it work?
Owners of such vehicles just need their keys on their person or in their bag for the car to start automatically.
Hackers can carry out "relay attacks" using relay boxes – one near the car and the other near where the keys are kept – to lengthen the signal produced by the car key.
This fools the car into thinking the key is close by. Thieves can then open and start the car, and drive it away.
The German General Automatic Club (ADAC) carried out tests on 237 models and 230 could be easily unlocked and stolen in this way.
As many as 99% of the cars tested had some form of security flaw and only three – all from Jaguar Land Rover – were not susceptible at all.
What does the industry body say?
Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said: “The industry takes vehicle crime extremely seriously and any claims otherwise are categorically untrue.
"New cars are more secure than ever, and the latest technology has helped bring down theft dramatically with, on average, less than 0.3% of the cars on our roads stolen."
"Criminals will always look for new ways to steal cars; it’s an ongoing battle and manufacturers continue to invest billions in ever-more-sophisticated security features – ahead of any regulation," he added.
"However, technology can only do so much and we continue to call for action to stop the open sale of equipment with no legal purpose that helps criminals steal cars.”
What can car owners do?
The advice from Which? is to keep your key fob in a metal box or put it a long way from the car. What's more, drivers should never leave valuables visible in the vehicle.