Motorists with keyless cars are leaving their vehicles open to theft, insurance experts are warning.
After a pandemic fall, car theft is now on the rise again - up by almost a quarter nationally - and it is owners with keyless entry systems that experts say are becoming among the most exposed.
A keyless entry car allows its owner to unlock doors and start the engine without handling the physical key as the car automatically senses when the fob is nearby. The keys - or fob - work by constantly emitting a signal searching for the car in order to unlock it
But AA Insurance services says half of drivers with the clever and convenient technology do nothing to protect their cars from something known as relay theft - when criminals manipulate that signal in order to steal the vehicle.
How does relay theft work?
Relay theft usually works when two thieves work together to steal a car. One will hold a transmitter and stand next to the car while the other stands close to the property where the fob is indoors, holding an amplifier.
The amplifier boosts the signal from the key and sends it to the transmitter, which essentially acts as a ghost key and tricks the car into thinking the real key is nearby. This then opens the car and allows it to be driven away without causing any damage.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show vehicle theft rose 22% in the 2021/22 financial year compared to the year before, with criminals increasingly adopting this method to steal a car as more and more people purchase vehicles which don't use a traditional car key.
The increasing cost of used cars and the lack of available parts, slowing down the production of new vehicles, is also said to be making vehicle theft more lucrative for criminals, according to the recent ONS study.
Pockets or purses, often known as Faraday pouches, which have a wire mesh lining that can block signals being transmitted from fobs are among the most popular ways to protect the keys suggests the AA, while some drivers also use metal boxes or safe boxes to protect their cars from theft.
Other methods also include wrapping the car key in foil when not in use, particularly at night, or keeping them in the microwave.
Gus Park, managing director of AA Insurance Services, said: "The key has always been the most vulnerable part of the car when it comes to security, but many are unaware how important it is to protect it.
"Car thieves have gone high-tech and relay theft has been on the rise for some time, yet drivers are still unaware of the risks surrounding keyless entry cars. Keyless entry is becoming more common too with more manufacturers offering the tech on lower specification cars.
"Drivers should do all they can to protect their keys. While a minority store their keys in the microwave it is not recommended and there are simpler ways of safeguarding your vehicle.
"For as little as a tenner, people can reduce the risk of theft by keeping their keys in a Faraday pouch. Depending on the spare key, drivers may need two as this may also be a keyless entry key. They should also be stored well away from the front door and kept out of sight."