Seven things no one tells you before your keyless car is stolen

·7-min read
'There was no broken glass on the driveway, nothing to indicate our car had been stolen and we even wondered if we’d parked it somewhere else and forgotten' - iStockphoto/metamorworks
'There was no broken glass on the driveway, nothing to indicate our car had been stolen and we even wondered if we’d parked it somewhere else and forgotten' - iStockphoto/metamorworks

You are 50 times more likely to have your car stolen, it was reported this week, if you have a keyless ignition than if you have the good old-fashioned type where you stick a bit of metal into the steering column and twist. Keyless cars may make up just one per cent of the cars on the road but they now account for a whopping 48 per cent of thefts.

Keyless systems are still a bit of a status symbol. They mostly appear on cars at the fancier end of the market – Jaguars, Range Rovers and even Teslas. They’re convenient, they’re a bit swishy, and you’re probably paying a bit over the odds for them.

Certainly, the thousands of people every year who open their front doors to find their beloved motor gone will feel like they've paid a lot over the odds. Their expensive cars are not only more attractive to thieves than more modest wagons: they’re also, it turns out, a great deal easier to steal. Pay through the nose, to mix a metaphor, and it bites you in the bum.

I feel these people’s pain – because I am one of them. Two weekends ago, my wife opened our front door in the quiet part of North London where we live and found our three-year-old Land Rover Discovery Sport gone. Vanished. Not there.

There was no broken glass on the driveway, nothing to indicate it had been stolen and we even wondered if we’d parked it somewhere else and forgotten. But, no – as our neighbours’ CCTV confirmed, we’d been the victim of keyless theft. In the corner of the footage of their driveway, at 4:43 that morning, a blurry figure in a tracksuit could be seen climbing into the driver’s side door of our car bold as you like – and within 10 seconds or so had reversed the car off the drive and zoomed away.

We are not, even in our circle of acquaintance, the only ones. A friend who lives a few streets over lost his Jag a month ago. Another parent at the kids’ primary school had a Disco Sport like ours vanish from outside his house. The writer Giles Coren, about the same time my car vanished, had his Jaguar iPace stolen (the second time in three months).

You feel grim and you feel foolish. You knew keyless theft was a thing, but you somehow didn’t imagine it would happen to you. And you also, probably rightly, imagine that having a fancy car stolen won’t command all that much of a premium in the sympathy market. Serves you right, many people will think, for having a show-off car.

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We hadn’t been splashy enough to install a tracking system installed, mind you – though, as I gather, most thieves will set about disabling those pretty quickly. By pure luck, though, we’d signed up for an insurer that installed a telematic device in the car to monitor how it’s driven (if you race everywhere at 120 mph, is the general idea, they will hike up your premiums). That adds up to a GPS system, and somehow the villains didn’t find and disable it.

So on Wednesday, after much back and-forth, I got a phone call from the Metropolitan Police. Our car had turned up, not visibly damaged but wearing new number plates, on a side-street in Ilford. My heroic sister-in-law (because to add to our woes my wife had tested positive for Covid so we’re under house-arrest) jumped in a cab to go and get it. Long story short, the doors opened but the engine wouldn’t start – either disabled or cloned to a new key by the robbers. Mind you, the inside of the car now reeked so badly of cannabis that, as the attending officer said wryly, the sister-in-law would not have been well advised to drive it home even had it started.

It was carted off to the police pound where, at the time of writing, it remains. While I await its return (fingers crossed), here's what the experience has taught me...

1. Having your car stolen is a complete pain in the a---

Who knew, eh? It’s not a psychic violation on the same level as a burglary, but it’s a colossal drain on your time, your good cheer and your no-claims bonus. If you can possibly avoid it happening in the first place, I strongly recommend doing so.

2. Don’t imagine you’re safe just because you store your keys in a tin box, or away from the front door

That might thwart “relay theft”, where thieves boost the signal from your key fob to the car; but they have other ways of cloning the keys. My own keys were nowhere near the front door, and Giles Coren’s keys were in a Faraday pouch – but somehow those cars went walkabout.

3. Car thieves are clever – but not all that clever

They don’t always find the tracker. As I’m told, they will accordingly tend to park your car – assuming it’s not so fancy it’s on a container to the UAE that night – on the street for a few days to make sure nobody comes to pick it up. So find it and pick it up sharpish if you can.

4. You need to stay on the insurance company’s case

This will mean a great deal of time listening to Seventies soft-rock classics. You will navigate many automated menus. You will, sometimes, be inexplicably cut off after holding for nearly an hour. But 48 hours after the theft that, at my insistence, the insurers got in touch with their tracking company.

That wasn't the end of the story. The company that manages repairs thought that the insurers would recover the car, while the insurers thought the repair company was going to do it, which is why my car’s still in the pound. You’d think they’d have a flawless process, given they must do this several times a week. They don’t.

5. You need to stay on the police’s case

They were brilliant, in our case, when they found the car and when individual officers were in touch. But, again, expect centralised phone numbers that don’t work at the weekend, hard-to-fill web contact forms, and bureaucratic oopsies (“My file says your car has been recovered. Is that right?”). And, yes, nearly an hour on hold when you can get through at all.

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Luxury car theft, perhaps rightly, isn’t their absolute number one priority. The Met told us keyless theft is so easy and common that as a matter of policy they don’t even bother doing forensics on cars that have been stolen that way.

6. Your car, if you get it back, will be interestingly altered

When my neighbour’s stolen car was recovered, the transmission was shot, it “smelt like Cypress Hill’s dressing room” and contained, a little alarmingly, no fewer than six machetes.

My own had half the electrics ripped out, the same funky pong of weed (I’m not sure how the thieves imagine this would improve the resale value, but there we are) and contained a hammer, a crash-helmet and a freshly shoplifted jacket.

7. I’m going analogue

The moment I heard my beloved car had been found, I invested in a stout crook-lock of the old-fashioned sort. If and when my car is returned to me, it’s going to have a bright yellow metal bar locked firmly through the steering wheel at all times. And that will not have a keyless system.

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