The Sneaky Way Thieves Are Targeting Your Car-Key Fob

Updated: Apr. 01, 2022

Keyless ignition systems have become so convenient. But as with so many technological advancements comes the inevitable plague... hackers.

Modern Car remote control keyPavel Shlykov/Shutterstock

How did we ever live without keyless-start cars? From not having to fumble with a key ring to get in and start the car to all the little-known uses for your car-key fob, keyless ignition systems are becoming more and more attractive to consumers. And that’s a good thing, as they’ll soon be universal. Edmunds reports more than half of cars sold in the last year had a keyless ignition system. But as with so many technological advancements comes the inevitable plague… hackers. And that car-key fob may be their latest target.

When you unlock your car from a distance, the key fob sends an electronic code to your vehicle. According to Jim Milan of Auto Accessories Garage, thieves can actually steal the code as it’s being sent to your car.  “Under normal circumstances, when you are not close to your car, the radial signal the car uses to activate the key is too weak for proper signal communication and the keyless entry feature will not work,” Milan said. “However, when thieves use a special signal amplifier between your car and the key, the car will think the key is next to it and will unlock.”

So how can you protect your key fob from thieves? Store it inside a metal container, says Laura Gonzales of Autonation. The signal from a fob can pass through doors, windows, and walls, but metal can stop the signal. Some suggest storing your key in the refrigerator or microwave when you get home. If you feel like you’ll forget your keys next the frozen peas or, worse, accidentally zap it, Mark Cann, founder of Completely Keyless, says you can also just store the fob far away from where your vehicle is parked so its signals can’t be intercepted. A signal-blocking wallet or pouch would also work. Or wrap your key fob in tin foil—wrapped snugly, it could prevent the signal from getting out.

Want to further lower your chances of car theft? It helps not to own any of these models, which are the cars most likely to get stolen. And it helps to think like a thief; these are the things car thieves look for when they’re out to steal a car.