Car prowlers are essentially filling orders for high-end buyers overseas, street racers here on our own turf, and chop shops looking for parts. They are fast learners who are always looking for a faster, better way to steal your vehicle, and, unfortunately, technology is helping them get away with it.
A recent CBC article says that vehicle theft through the use of easily available electronic tools is on the rise across the country. National director of investigative services at the Insurance Bureau of Canada Bryan Gast told CBC that the biggest trend he’s seeing this year is what is called a “relay attack.” Thieves have figured out a way to intercept signals from key fobs that have been left near doors to homes and then clone them right away. They can then easily access your vehicle and drive it away, all within a manner of minutes. They essentially “override” your vehicle’s electronic immobilizer, which many people don’t even know they have.
Electronic immobilizers work by figuring out if the person who is behind the wheel of the vehicle is its rightful owner. If it’s not, the vehicle won’t start. The recognition process occurs within seconds and is completely unnoticeable.
A transponder in your key fob plus a receiver in the vehicle itself can speak to each other using their own code. When a key is about to turn or an ignition about to be engaged, the vehicle sends a signal to the fob to ask permission to start up. The key replies with a code, and if it is correct, the ignition will engage.
Electronic immobilizers have made a huge difference in helping to bring down the rates of car theft, but they are not infallible. This Kasperkey.com article says that some immobilizers are not encrypted well (if at all), and others can be duplicated using coding from a similar key. Cyber security experts and car manufacturers are working together to address these issues, however, and are making progress. In the meantime, keep your keys away from your doors. In the CBC article, Gast suggests storing keys inside a metallic box that can block radio frequencies. He also suggests that people be cautious when using their key fobs in public, such as locking the doors using the switch on the door rather than the fob.
Relay attacks are more likely to occur in suburban areas where you and passers-by may not notice someone standing in your doorway for a few moments. If you must park your car in an unsecure area such as your driveway or the road, consider combining the technology of your key fob with the old-fashioned integrity of a manual steering wheel lock.
Immobilizers helped bring car theft down drastically
A car is stolen in Canada every six minutes, but we’re a lot better off than we were two decades ago. Overall, rates of vehicle theft have been falling steadily in the country since its highest point in the year 2003, when there were 551 vehicles stolen per 100,000 residents. In 2019, that number had dropped by more than half to 232. Although trending downwards, in 2019 Alberta topped the list for highest number of thefts by population, with 23,535 vehicles taken from their rightful owners. Ontario counted just slightly more, with 23,992 vehicle thefts and a population more than three times that of Alberta’s.
Immobilizers may not be perfect, but many experts attribute the drastic drop in vehicle theft to their introduction. By 2006, the majority of vehicles in the U.S. and Canada were equipped with electronic immobilizers, and rates of car theft in both countries take a steep slope downward after then. It’s also evident in the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s most stolen vehicles list for 2020, which ended up with no real surprises for Alberta. For several years, the list has consisted largely of Ford F-series trucks. In 2020, five out of the top seven most stolen vehicles in Alberta were the Ford F-series of truck of the years 2006, 2007, 2004, 2005, and 2003. Ford did not equip any F-250 to F-550 super duty trucks with engine immobilizer keys until model years 2008 and up.
Be as proactive as possible and ask us at Lane’s
Your Calgary auto insurance rates may rise if your car is stolen, so it’s in your best interests to be proactive about protecting yourself against vehicle theft. Lane’s Insurance is a leading Alberta-based brokerage, offering highly competitive rates and many other essential protections throughout the province. Contact us at our Calgary, Banff, Edmonton and greater Alberta offices.