Cars and security: What to look for when buying | AA Cars

You might think car theft is in the past. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact in 2019 alone, more than 100,000 cars were stolen, according to the Office of National Statistics. In other words, on average 300 cars were taken each day. 

These figures have been fuelled by a rise in ‘keyless’ theft. Many new cars are now fitted with technology allowing you to unlock or start the car without a traditional key. This has meant new opportunities for crooks to easily take cars. In fact, a test by What Car? last year found that some of these cars can be broken into in just 10 seconds. 

Understandably, this rise in theft has made many sceptical about the security of new cars – but there are ways of making sure you vehicle is secure. Here’s what to look out for when buying.

Conventional locks

Before we get onto cars with keyless entry and/or start, let’s look at cars with more conventional locks. While remote locking is pretty commonplace, there are still plenty of cars on the market that are opened by putting the key in the lock. 

Before buying any car, you should check that the locking system works. Make sure that both keys work, and are correctly matched up to the car. The batteries in remote keys don’t always last long, especially if they’re not used frequently, so if the button doesn’t work first time, you might not need to worry too much. However, you should ask the dealer to change them for you before buying. If this doesn’t work, it could be a problem with a fuse or broken wire in the car, something that could prove a bit more challenging to mend, and could risk your car’s security if not fixed. 

Make sure an immobiliser and alarm is fitted

Cheaper cars are usually the culprits here, but you should still always check with the dealer to make sure they’re fitted.

Locking wheel nuts is another thing to think about – particularly on cars with more expensive alloy wheels. Not every vehicle comes with them, so it’s always worth having a look to see if they’re fitted fitted. If they are, check that the locking wheel nut is there – it’s often found under the boot floor, in the glovebox or in the toolkit. This is the ‘key’ to unlocking the wheels. 

So what about keyless locks?

Many new cars are now available with keyless entry and start. On the positive side, cars with this tech can be opened up much more easily – as long as the keys are in close proximity to the car, it will open, so there’s no need to dig through your bag to find them.

However, while manufacturers and firms are working hard to limit the potential security hazards, there are still threats to security. Don’t be put off by keyless tech, though – there are many steps you can take to help prevent a possible theft. 

Look at security ratings

Thatcham Research works with insurers and manufacturers to calculate insurance groups for cars, lower insurance repairs and maximise safety. 

Due to the spate of keyless car theft, it’s also started testing security with a new ‘Consumer Security Rating’. It was only established in 2019, and therefore has only tested the most modern cars – but if you’re looking for a newer car, you can look up its rating here.

Vehicles are rated Unacceptable, Poor, Basic or Superior for their all-round security, while Thatcham also conducts a ‘Relay Attack’ – the most common way that keyless cars are stolen. 

Ask the dealer if the fob can be turned off

Thieves can steal keyless cars due to a special device that can ‘communicate’ with the car – it works by picking up signals from the remote key fob. 

However, many of these can be turned off or be programmed to turn off after use – meaning the fob can’t interact with any equipment thieves are trying to use. You should ask your dealer to see if one of these motion sensor keys is available, as it improves security dramatically. 

Take practical steps to improve security

If you’ve bought a keyless car, you can take practical steps to limit the chance of it being stolen.

Traditional steering locks might seem like a backward step, but are a great deterrent to thieves. They’ve made a comeback in recent years, with firms such as Halfords seeing a sharp rise in numbers sold.

Another popular option is a Faraday pouch or bag. These block signals from your keys, so once your key is inside, thieves won’t be able to connect to the fob. Faraday bags certainly help in stopping keyless theft, though they aren’t always reliable. Pouches start from as little as £5, but it’s worth shopping around and paying more for a higher-quality one – you don’t want to scrimp on quality when it comes to vehicle security. 

Don’t risk your own safety

Although having your car stolen is awful, don’t risk your own safety to stop it being taken. Many thefts are thought to be carried out by criminal networks, who you don’t want to cross.

While you should take practical security steps (such as locks, Faraday pouches, etc), and store keys away from the letterbox and out of sight, if someone breaks into your house to try and get the keys, it’s best that they find them quickly – this way, they’ll be less likely to roam your property looking for them.

As valuable as cars may be, they’re just not worth risking your safety, especially when you have insurance. Cars can be replaced – your own health can’t. 


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