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Car theft: why old tech beats new tech

2014-12-15 09:06


EVERY ONE A TARGET: Top-end cars such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes are falling prey to thieves with high-tech computer gear. Remember the Krooklok? Image: Shutterstock

A worrying trend – according to the UK's Daily Mail - is the sudden rise in car theft this past year or two in Britain. With surging unemployment and idle hands experienced here in South Africa, it seems its all too easy to steal your keyless BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Range Rover.

You may well ask how, given all the sophisticated and supposedly tamper/foolproof technology around, are these ‘top-end’ vehicles so vulnerable to car thieves


Ironically, in recent years, vehicles in general have been getting much harder to steal. It wasn’t so long ago that a criminal could get into most cars by simply sliding a coat hanger inside a door window and pulling up the button; others used half of a tennis ball to ‘blow’ air into the driver’s door lock create a vacuum and voilá, the doors would open as if by magic.

Once inside the car, back then, it was easy enough to ‘hot-wire’ the ignition. There was even a word for it: ‘twocking’, or taking a car without the owner’s permission.

As we head into 2015, most ignition keys contain a smart chip to make them hard – or,  so it was thought – near impossible to clone. Turning the key wasn’t enough to start the vehicle – the car had to detect and read the chip in the fob before the engine would start.


A natural progression towards even better car security meant the car’s computer was brought into play (usually found under the bonnet) and took control of the door locks, as well as monitoring the engine, brakes and lights.

“This was where the trouble started,” AA spokesman Ian Crowder to the Mail.

For determined and enterprising criminals, ie: stealing a particular car to order as is often the case in South Africa, it didn’t take long for the criminal element to exploit advanced electronic technology and a R360 gizmo is all that’s needed.

Your rather expensive Audi, Range Rover or BMW (among others) comes with some really sophisticated technology; the keyless ignition fob is programmed at factory level with a unique 40-digit code.

Place said fob inside the car (in a cup holder, for instance, or just keep it in your pocket) and if the code matches the one in the car’s memory: hey presto, the vehicle will run. This is where the fun starts because the car’s computer has the potential to re-program a blank key fob with a new code… not that hard to buy or obtain – even from legitimate sources.


I’m not going to go into too much detail but it simply entails the blank fob, the above-mentioned illegal hand-held gizmo and access access to the car’s diagnostic port. This takes only a few seconds to create a ‘new’ fob that can be used to drive away the car – whether it’s yours or not!

Thieves still have to get into the car, of course, but how many of us leave our cars unlocked state once the vehicle is ‘safe and sound’ inside your motorhuis?

Interestingly, in the UK, its BMW and Mercedes-Benz – two major users of keyless ignitions – that are the third and fourth most-stolen cars after Ford and Vauxhall (the latter Opel in SA).

It’s not all doom and gloom because, Crowder told Wheels24 readers: “You can have all the technology in the world but when a thief is faced with an old-fashioned steering-wheel lock – the type that also wraps around the brake or clutch pedal – he’d rather find something easier to nick elsewhere.”

There you have it: the chance to buy the perfect Christmas present for hubby: “Get him a good old-fashioned crook lock, the type that most of us used in the ’80s and ’90s”.

You really can’t beat the old ideas, hey?

Read the original article here.

Read more on:    south africa  |  car theft

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