How Do Thieves Steal Keyless Cars? (And How to Stop Them)

Modern cars most often use transponder-type key fobs, rather than physical ones. How do thieves steal new keyless cars, and how can you stop them?
How Do Thieves Steal Keyless Cars

These days, most thieves have moved beyond the hotwiring you might see in an action movie. Modern cars have a transponder chip in the ignition key that has to match the particular car to start it.

In the movies, it looks like it takes a couple of minutes for an experienced thief to smash a car window and hotwire a car. But experienced criminals are looking for opportunity, access, and an easy target.  

Once cars began using electronic keys, criminals learned an easier method over the old smash and grab; just steal the key. Thieves can steal keys left in mounted lock boxes at car dealerships. If they’re clever, they may be able to just snag the key off the wall. Criminals can also break into the boxes with a bolt cutter after hours.

“If a thief has the right knowledge and equipment, modern cars can be incredibly easy to steal, and stealing them is actually getting easier rather than harder. The very technology that was supposed to make cars more secure is actually making life easier for criminals.”

The Trouble With Transponder Keys

The Trouble With Transponder Keys

Today, thieves don’t have to overcome a lot of obstacles in the car itself. They can simply use the programmed signal from the car’s keyless entry fob. But how do they get that signal?

If the keys lack a signal-blocker shield (called an RFID blocker), thieves can use a transponder device, which you can pick up online on the cheap. That electronic device can capture the keyless entry code as it’s sent from the fob to the car. They can use that captured signal to open the car door with no alarm, start it, and drive away. It’s an attractive way for criminals to take advantage of modern technology and turn it against us.

This technique has now combined with something called “relay theft.” Relay thieves work in pairs. The thieves use a transmitter device. One thief stands by the car with the transmitter. The other goes near the dealership to try to pick up a signal from a key that’s hanging from the lockbox.

Stealing a car today is easier than it’s ever been. When coupled with the expertise of serious, experienced criminals, car dealerships have a lot to worry about. Fortunately, there are  a variety of methods to stop criminals in their tracks. 

Preventing Keyless Car Theft at Your Auto Dealership


Making your lot less attractive to thieves is and should always be a top priority. If you make it harder for criminals to steal car parts or the car itself, they will look for other, less attractive targets of opportunity. Some of the standard methods and tools for preventing theft at an auto dealership include:

  • Lighting

    Having car lots and the dealership fully illuminated is critical. This includes back lots and any secondary lots you may have for extra inventory.

  • Secondary storage

    Keep your most expensive vehicles (with pricey parts) inside.

  • Wheel locks

    may be a good investment for expensive cars that have to remain outside.

  • GPS units

    which may already be installed on some vehicles. For those that don’t add tracking mechanisms to your inventory.

  • Keep dealer plates and keys under lock and key

    Don’t use lock boxes on the cars themselves.

  • Secure the perimeter of your lots

    Fencing is a necessity these days. Seal off entrances after hours with trucks or a secure steel gate, so thieves can’t drive in flatbeds.

  • Develop security protocols

    for a lockdown and follow it every day to the letter.

  • Enforce a strict vehicle sign-out process

  • Park cars with the e-brakes on and the tires turned in one direction

    to make the car harder to tow away.

All of these security efforts will help secure the lot, but they aren’t fool proof. For a truly effective security strategy to work, we recommend combining it with  video surveillance and on-site or virtual security guards. Reliable modern video surveillance keeps a set of eyes on your lots at all times, protecting you against not just car theft but also vandalism and trespassers. But security cameras alone won’t deter car thieves. You need an integrated strategy that combines the best of technology with the best in human response. 

How Modern Security Cameras Protect a Car Lot

  • Integrate audio and visual deterrents to scare away criminals

  • Use artificial intelligence (AI) software to automate the behaviors of these cameras in a way that improves their response

  • Work well with virtual security guards that monitor all of the security cameras on site 24/7/365

  • Connect wirelessly to the internet

  • Offer automated notifications, sending you a text when there is any suspicious activity

  • Mobile solar-powered cameras can float around your facility for additional protection

These are just a few of the options available to protect your business. Pro-Vigil is the nation’s leading security provider for auto dealerships. We specialize in the most cutting-edge video surveillance tools and can help keep your investments safer. Chat with us and see how simple it can be to secure your lot.

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