Modern Car Theft Methods Explained

Keyless Theft – How is it being done?

If your car comes with a smart key and push-to-start button it can be a super easy target for a professional car thief. Here I look at some of the modern methods used to compromise your vehicles factory security and explain how it is done.

Remote Jamming/Blocking

Remote Blocking/Jamming leaves the car unlocked

This method involves transmitting a frequency that is in the same range as your cars remote so that it blocks the signal and prevents it from locking.

It does not require any sophisticated equipment and can be done with a simple car alarm remote! Ever press your remote and found it didn’t work? Then tried again and it did work!

Prevention

Check to see if your car has actually locked or watch for the hazard lights to flash confirmation. If not you could be leaving your car open to content theft and a possible OBD-II Attack! (See below)

Don’t assume your car has locked because you hit the remote button!

Roll Jam Attack

This is an advanced version of Remote Jamming. It blocks the vehicle from receiving the code whilst recording it. The owner then presses the remote again and the first stolen remote code is used to lock the car. The second code is then stored to unlock the car in the future!

The video below explains the details. I’ve clipped it between the 37.40 and 51.11 as it’s the most relevant part, but the whole thing is worth watching if you have the time.


Amplifier/Relay Attack

This method is used on vehicles that come with a smart key. It allows the thief to unlock and start your car by tricking it into thinking the smart key is in range.

Again I’ve cropped the video to the most relevant part which starts at 33.42 minutes in but again, the whole thing is worth watching:


OBD-II Remote Cloning

Programming a smart key via the OBD-II plug can be done in a couple of minutes with the right tools. The thief can then drive your car away!

Every car manufactured after 1996 has an OBD-II plug.

The “On Board Diagnostic” plug is there to help technicians read vehicle fault codes and electrical settings. It is also used by the Dealership and Automotive Locksmiths to code a new remote to the car using an OBDII scan tool.

These tools have become much more affordable in recent years and are easy to purchase.

An OBD BLOCK is an effective tidy way to prevent your OBDII connector from being hacked:

OBD BLOCK from Author

Traditional Remote Key V Smart Key

Remember any vehicle is easy to take if your keys get stolen, this remains the easiest way for a thief to take your vehicle.

Fact: Over 70% of cars are stolen with the keys!

A remote with a traditional key is much less vulnerable than a smart key for the following reasons:

  • It only transmits when the button is pressed so is not compromised by an Amplifier/Relay Attack.
  • The transponder immobiliser is not compromised by a Remote Blocking or a Roll Jam attack, but can still be vulnerable to an OBD-II key programmer.
  • It still requires a cut key, placed in the ignition barrel and turned, or for the steering lock to be broken and the vehicle to be hot-wired!

I’m currently testing a new product that protects your vehicle from theft from the above methods.

More details coming soon…

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Car Alarm/Immobiliser Removal

Car Alarm and Immobiliser removal is one of my specialties. Whilst I would rather install quality systems, there are a huge number of crap unreliable car alarms out there, many of which I have reviewed and suggest should be avoided at all costs. If you have one of these then it is only a matter of time before it will fail and you’ll need it removed or replaced.

How many bad car alarm installers are out there?

From what I’ve seen there are not many competent installers around. It seems to be an “out of sight out of mind” mentality with most, working on the assumption that you’ll never see their shoddy wiring attempt hidden behind the dash. More often then not the cars wiring loom gets butchered!

Part of my job is often patching up the mess at a later date. Below is a typical messy install which needs putting right:

before the immobiliser removal

The mess left by the car stereo installer!

Repair Car Wiring

The same car after the immobiliser removal and fixing up the wiring!

Awful Vehicle Security

The most common brands I remove are AVS, Mongoose, and Meridian. They are a magnet for incompetent installers so be warned! If you want to know who to avoid I’d suggest the AVS and Mongoose list of “approved installers” would be a good place to start!

Car Alarm/Immobiliser Removal

AVS = Awful Vehicle Security

9 times out of 10 I find the alarm module is poorly placed behind the driver’s side dash held in place with little more than a Zip Tie. These are often a hazard as they could potentially fall down on the pedals or get suck in the steering column!

Remove Mongoose Car Alarm

Another Mongoose alarm that has failed and needs removing

How Much does it cost to remove an alarm/Immobiliser?

Typically between $100.00 to $160.00 including my call out fee. It really depends on where you are and how long it takes to clean the mess up!

If I’m replacing it with a new system then it is normally free of change.

Contact me here if you need my services…

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Mitsubishi Lancer Upgrade Alarm

Mitsubishi Lancer Alarm Options:

The final incarnation of Mitsubishi Lancer ran from 2007 until it ceased production in 2017. It came with a key-less entry and immobiliser as standard.

Note that the Japanese import models were branded as a Mitsubishi Galant Fortic, but are effectively the same car.

With the exception of late the model EVO X, the Lancer did not come with an alarm, therefore, I highly recommend the Cobra AK4615 CAN-BUS upgrade alarm if you want to beef up the security. The AK4615 works flawlessly with the factory remote and has the option of an ADR card if you want to protect against key-less theft!

Mitsubishi Lancer Alarm

Mitsubishi Lancer 2007-2017

Smart Key

If you have a keyless ignition I recommend adding an ADR card to the Cobra AK4615 to protect against OBDII hacking and Relay attacks.

Lancer Remote Locking

Lancer Smart Key Proximity locking

Window Closure and Mirror fold comes as standard

The Lancer comes with remote mirror fold and window closure which can be activated with an extended 2nd press of the factory remote control. The Video below shows how the alarm works as well as the window closure in action:

Here are some photos of what the alarm looks like installed:

Mitsubishi alarm sensors

Cobra Ultrasonic Sensors Installed in the Lancer

Mitsubishi Lancer Alarm LED

Cobra LED Over-ride switch fitted in the Lancer

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Tool Protection and Ute Security

How secure are the tools in the back of your ute?

Ute Alarms

Most Utes sold in New Zealand do not come with an alarm system. The ones that do fail to cover the load area where your valuable tools are often stored.

So what options are there to protect against theft?

Because your Ute has remote locking does not make it safe to assume that it has an alarm. If you do have an alarm understand how it works and find out which zones it actually covers.

I’ve listed most of the popular Ute’s at the bottom of the page with a link to each make and model. There you’ll find a detailed description of what each vehicle comes with and what options there are.

Picking the right sensors

There are a number of optional alarm sensors which help protect the load area, some can be added to a factory alarm, others will need an upgrade alarm system installed. Below are the optional sensors:

Canopy Protection

PIR Movement Sensor installed in Ute Canopy

If you have a canopy in which you keep tools in then I highly recommend a PIR movement sensor which will detect if a break-in occurs.

Hard Lid Protection

Ute Hard Lid Protected with a magnetic reed switch

Reed Switches are great for detecting if a hatch has been opened. More details here…

Tailgate Locks

Leaving the back of your Ute Tray open is never a good idea and because most Utes do not come with remote locking leaving the tailgate open is a risk. I can add a tailgate lock to most Utes.

Vehicle List

Below is a list of the most common Utes in New Zealand. Click on the link to get a detailed overview of what each one comes with and what upgrades I recommend.




Toyota Land Cruiser


Find our about the Security advice for Vans here…

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Trade Vans & Tool Theft Prevention

Tool Theft from vans

Tool Theft Prevention

How safe are the tools in the back of your van?

Tool theft prevention is a must for any self-respecting tradesman. I’d hate to think how much it would cost to replace the equipment I keep in my van or how much time and hassle would be involved sourcing new ones should I lose them.

Sure I’ve got insurance but many of my tools come from overseas and it would take some time before I would be able to resume work.

Tool theft can be devastating for a business owner

What security does your van have?

Whilst nearly all new vans come with a factory immobiliser most are lacking an alarm. The ones that do have an alarm tend to be very basic without load area movement sensors so remain vulnerable to break-ins. Do not assume that the manufacturer’s system will protect your tools. Having keyless entry does not mean that your van has an alarm!

Get an alarm with movement sensors

I highly recommend an alarm system with Ultrasonic Internal movement sensors and an additional PIR sensor for vans that have a solid partition between the cabin and the load area.
Do not rely on the factory door switches alone as these will not trigger the alarm if a door is peeled open, or access is gained via a window.

Below is a list of the most common vans in New Zealand. Click on the link to get a detailed overview of what each van comes with and what upgrades I recommend.





Security advice for Work Utes found here…

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Honda Civic Type R Upgrade Alarm

Honda Civic Alarm Installation

Two weeks I got my hands on a very tidy 2010 Honda Civic Type R FD2

(The FD2 is the Asia Pacific sedan version of the Civic).

There are not many in NZ and it was the first one I have worked on. It was booked in for a Cobra AK4615 CAN-BUS alarm, I was hoping that it would be the same as the European FN2 Hatchback model electrically to make for an easier installation. Sadly it was not so and I had to learn the car and wire it up the old fashioned way!

Not that it’s really a problem, it just takes more time and becomes one of those jobs that not many people can do well these days.

Finding out how the car works and locating all the required wires needs much more skill and knowledge than simply following an instruction manual for a 6 wire CAN-BUS alarm installation!

Honda Civic Type R FD2 2006-2011 Cobra AK4615 works in PLIP mode

Below: Photo of the Euro hatch version of the Type R which is the model covered by the Cobra AK4615 in CAN-BUS configuration.

Cobra AK4615 works as a CAN-BUS alarm with the FN2 Type R Euro Spec

Here are some shots of the car after the installation

Cobra LED Control Panel next to the push to start button

Honda Civic Alarm Ultrasonic Sensors

Ultrasonic Sensors fitted in the Civic

The car only came with one Honda remote so I supplied a Cobra Remote to go with the plain transponder key. This is far more cost effective than purchasing a second Honda remote key.

Honda Civic Alarm in a Type R

AK4615 works with both the Factory Honda Remote as well as the Cobra Padlock Remote

The Cobra AK4615 also works with the standard version of the Honda Civic

Gen 8 Honda Civic

Gen 9 Honda Civic

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Subaru Impreza Upgrade Alarm

The 3rd generation Subaru Impreza was released in 2007. It addressed most of the security vulnerabilities of the previous generation car.

All models now come with a factory immobiliser and the pillar-less windows are gone. Some models even have a basic alarm.

It’s worth noting that Subaru did not offer an immobiliser on any model until March 2003. Even then this only applied to models sold in New Zealand. More details of which can be found here…

Subaru Impreza Security

Subaru Impreza Security

Generation 3 Subaru Impreza 2007-2011 (WRX >2014)

Upgrade Alarms

The CAN-BUS system on the Impreza is interesting as locking and unlocking it with the switch on the driver’s door generates the same data as a remote lock/unlock.

This is a problem for most aftermarket CAN-BUS alarms as they can be tricked into arming/disarming, which is also an issue with most Nissan’s and some Mazda’s as explained here…

The good news is that the Cobra AK4615 has this covered so has a switch inhibit built into the alarm to prevent the vulnerability. Whereas nearly every other brand of alarm I’ve looked at is compromised by this so be warned!

The Cobra AK4615 in action on the Impreza:

Some photos of the details:

Impreza Alarm Sensors

Ultrasonic Sensors painted black to match the STi trim

Push to start Subaru Security with Cobra LED in the traditional key location

I recommend an ADR card for models with the smart key and push to start to protect against key cloning.

How to change the Remote Battery on the Smart Key

First, remove the key blade section of the remote, then use a small flat blade screwdriver and prize open as shown in the photo below.

Subaru Smart Key

How to open your Subaru Smart Key

Inside you’ll find a CR1632 battery.

Subaru Remote Battery

Smart key takes a CR1632 Battery

Gen 2 Impreza Security

WRX alarm options

Late Model Generation 2 Impreza

Subaru Factory Security

As of March 2003 all NZ new Subaru models come with Datadot Security and an Immobiliser

Own a Gen 2 Impreza made after March 2003? If so the Cobra AK4615 can be made to work in PLIP configuration from the factory remote.

Should you have a Jap import or an older model including the Gen 1, then I’d suggest an insurance standard immobiliser as a minimum level of protection.

This blog post explains if your Subaru has an immobiliser or not…

Ultrasonic Sensors are highly recommended for cars with pillarless windows. If it’s a WRX then I highly recommend the Cobra AK4138.

March 2003-2007 NZ New Impreza came with a remote and immobiliser

Gen 2 Impreza with ultrasonic sensors installed

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Fraudulent Alarm Installations!

2nd hand car alarm story

If there’s one thing worse then having your car or possessions stolen, it has to be getting ripped off by the person you pay to protect it for you.

This morning I got a phone call from a gentleman who had a 2005 Subaru Legacy. He had paid $523.25 for an alarm that he felt was not working correctly.

I suggested that he should take it back to the installer. It was under a year old and therefore still under warranty with them. He said he found them very hard to deal with and was intimidated by them, so I reluctantly agreed to give it the once-over.

Over $500.00 for a 2nd hand car alarm

Edited invoice to hide installers and customers details.

What I found was shocking, he thought he had a Cyclops P775 alarm/immobiliser. He is what I found:

Under the Bonnet

Secondhand Remac siren (Remac went out of business years ago!)

Under the bonnet was a super old siren made by Remac who are no longer in business, my guess is that the siren is well over 15 years old. There was no bonnet switch fitted either.

Behind the Dash

2nd hand car alarm

A Dynatron alarm module dated 2006

No effort to hide the alarm (not that many installers actually bother) and an alarm dated 2006. The unit is clearly second hand and is missing a screw in the case.

Inside the alarm module

Super old circuit board and missing immobiliser connections

2nd Hand Car Alarm!

Upon opening the alarm module I found that there was no glass break sensor connected and only one immobiliser cut (note the red ring highlighting the terminals. I also noted a super old circuit board which was so old that it had no provision for the transponder module. I think the internals pre-date 2006 but I’ll have to do some homework to confirm.

Super lazy effort fitting the LED!

I’ve suggested that the customer should go back to the company that “Supplied and installed” his alarm and demand a full refund. If they refuse then I’ve recommended taking them to the small claims court.

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Keyless Car Theft & Remote Hacking

Keyless Car Theft

Smart Proximity Key

Smart Keys or proximity remotes offer the convenience of being able to lock/unlock and start your vehicle without having to touch the key.

The downside to this easy to use system is that they are far more vulnerable to hacking than your traditional remote and key.

Since Immobilisers became standard equipment back in the mid-1990’s (OK maybe 2000’s and later for some models in NZ) the easiest way to steal a vehicle has been by taking the keys. Now, however, the key does not even need to be taken to gain access to a vehicle and it’s becoming a big problem.

What is a Relay Attack?

A Relay Attack normally requires two people. Typically one person stands by your vehicle, whilst the other stands near the front door of your house with a device that can pick up the signal from your key fob.

The fob signal is then relayed to the vehicle and it unlocks like it would when the fob is in range!

The video below shows a car being stolen whilst parked in the owners drive.

What can be done to protect against this?

  • Don’t leave your car keys by the front door or a window. Consider putting them inside a Faraday bag when not in use. You can get one for under $10.00 on Ali Express
  • Always make sure your car is locked (Check that the doors lock with the remote or look for the hazard lights to flash or you are giving someone easy access your vehicle).
  • Some people have suggested using an old-fashioned steering lock, but let’s face it, you’d rather have a normal key and remote than faff around which makes your smart key somewhat pointless!
  • Consider the Cobra AK4615 CAN-BUS upgrade alarm with ADR card

Note: Vehicles that do not have smart keys are not vulnerable to a relay attack, despite some of the misleading news stories coming from so-called journalists!

Wrapping car keys in tinfoil?

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Mitsubishi Outlander Upgrade Alarm

The Mitsubishi Outlander is now in its third generation. It comes with keyless entry and factory immobiliser as a standard but lacks an alarm.

My recommendation is the Cobra AK4615 CAN-BUS upgrade alarm which works flawlessly with the Outlander.

It works with all models including the Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle).

Mitsubishi Outlander Alarm Options

Mitsubishi Outlander GEN 3 2013 >

Here are some photos of what the alarm looks like installed:

Movement Sensors fitted in the Outlander

Cobra Ultrasonic Sensors in the Outlander

Here is how they look when back in the car:

LED Over-ride in the Outlander

Cobra LED over-ride switch in the Outlander

Gen 2 Outlander 2006-2012

If you have the Older GEN 2 Outlander then the AK4615 is also a great option as shown below:

Mitsubishi Outlander Alarm Ultrasonic Sensors

Outlander GEN 2 Ultrasonic Sensors

Cobra LED in GEN 2 Outlander

GEN 1 Outlander (Airtrek 2001-2008)

The Airtrek can also use the Cobra AK4615 in PLIP mode or a remote alarm.

Mitsubishi Outlander Alarm

The alarm works using the factory remote controls or Smart Key

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