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Keyless van theft on the rise

  • So-called 'relay attacks' on vans are increasing
  • Percentage of vans stolen this way doubles in three years
  • Protect your keys – and your livelihood

Written by CJ Hubbard Published: 16 April 2020 Updated: 16 April 2020

Keyless van theft is on the rise
Keyless van theft is on the rise

A staggering 92% of the vans recovered by vehicle tracking firm Tracker in 2019 were stolen without the using the keys.

This reflects the rise in the adoption of keyless entry and keyless start systems in the light commercial vehicle (LCV) sector, and is up from 44% in 2016.

You can do the maths, but that percentage has more than doubled in just three years.

How is keyless van theft happening?

Tracker puts the blame firmly on keyless go systems.

According to the firm’s police liaison head, Clive Wain, ‘Keyless entry technology has now been widely adopted in the LCV market, and this is evident in the fact that last year, the majority of LCVs were being stolen without the owner’s keys.’

He adds: ‘Today’s tech-savvy criminals are commonly using relay-attack tools that can activate a key fob remotely, fooling the system into unlocking the doors and starting the engine.’

If you think of your keyless locks and ignition system as operating on a similar principle to your Wi-Fi, the criminals are effectively using a signal booster to extend the range of the key from inside your house (or wherever) to the van, allowing them to not only open the vehicle but start it and then drive it away.

Tracker goes on to point out that the theft of the van has wider business implications, including the inability to get to jobs, the loss of all the gear and tools that may have been inside, and an increase in the cost of subsequent insurance – but we suspect all you van operators are probably already acutely aware of these issues.

What can be done to stop this kind of van theft?

The very latest keyless entry system have keys that go idle when not being used, which is intended to stop this kind of range-extending attack. Since this is relatively new to cars this isn’t likely to be on many vans, though.

A better method may be to get a signal blocking pouch or wallet to put the keys in – but you’ll need to do your research to make sure you find one that actually works.

An aftermarket immobilisation system that doesn’t rely on keyless operation may be worth considering, too.

What’s the most stolen van?

According to Tracker, the ‘most popular stolen van’ in 2019 was the Ford Transit, accounting for nearly £500,000-worth of recoveries.

It’s not clear whether ‘Transit’ includes the Transit Custom, but that seems likely, as it is by far the UK’s bestselling van.

Any other advice?

Take the tools out of the van overnight? But you knew that already… and it’s not as if there’s anything to stop a relay attack happening while you’re on a job or work site anyway.

Also read:

>> Van theft up 45% in four years

>> The most reliable vans

>> New vans coming soon