LEAF security

With Keyless Entry and Start, Are Electric Cars Easier To Steal?

Keyless entry is a very cool feature available on pretty much all electric cars. It allows owners to unlock their car and start it without having to remove the ‘key’ from their pocket.

But does this system make it easier for someone to steal the car? After all, all you need to do is get in the car and press the start button without the nearby owner knowing, right? And with more manufacturers starting to use keyless entry and start on their internal combustion cars, is this going to become a real problem for buyers?

Not really, as YouTuber KmanAuto (who also happens to own a Model S) proved with a video on his channel where he demonstrates how close the Model S’s keyless fob needs to be to the car for it to work.

In his tests, the fob needs to be within ‘about two feet’ of the car to activate the car’s presentable door handles. At this distance, sitting in the driver’s seat and pressing the brake pedal would also turn the car on and allow someone to drive off. However if that ‘someone’ – some car stealing low-life, one would presume – were to stop the car and get out, the Model S turns off and won’t turn back on.

Tesla Model S 'Key'

Tesla Model S ‘Key’

Married with the in-built GPS and mobile phone antenna, even if some ninja car-thief were able to sneak past an owner stood less than 2 feet from the car and drive away – the car would be very easy to track down.

The Transport Evolved team can confirm this behaviour is mirrored in other cars they have tested with keyless entry and start*. While the range for unlocking the car through a button push is usually in the range of 5 – 20 metres, the range for automatically unlocking the doors is far less as can be seen in the video above.

Nissan Leaf 'Key'

Nissan Leaf ‘Key’

When it comes to actually starting the car the range is shorter still, usually requiring someone to be pretty much in the driver seat for it to work. While this obviously isn’t the case for the Model S, we know from experience the Nissan Leaf won’t start if the key is located in the passenger’s pocket rather than the driver’s.

It is even possible to make the ‘ninja car-thief situation’ even less likely on some cars. In the Nissan Leaf, for example, the car can be set to only unlock the door the key fob is nearest. But at the end of the day, a lot of security comes down to making your car look harder to break into than the one it is sitting next to. A Model S with no handles sticking out looks a whole lot harder to steal than anything else.

*Although Nikki can testify that the Gordon-Bloomfield Chevrolet Volt, with its own keyless entry system, can accidentally lock its own keys inside if those keys are placed in the rear of the load bay area, just out of range of the key fob transmitter…


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  • GCO

    I don’t think that the author of this video knows anything about so-called passive key fobs (passive in the sense that they don’t require user interaction; they do emit signals), let alone how (in)secure they are.nnSome actual research on the topic highlights some glaring vulnerability:nhttp://www.syssec.ethz.ch/research/spot#carrelaynnNot that I understand his concerns in the first place, as I reckon that such a vehicle is more likely to get stolen by being towed/loaded on a truck, or having its key taken from its owner anyway.nnThat Model S driver also asserts that tracking of the vehicle is extraordinarily difficult to defeat. It’s anything but: a 20$ GPS jammer will do…

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