Keyless Car Crime Drives 20% Hike in UK Motor Theft Claims in 1st Quarter

May 28, 2019

The cost of UK motor theft claims paid by insurers in the first quarter rose by more 20% from the same period last year, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

The ABI report revealed that the number of Q1 motor theft claims paid by insurers were at their highest for any quarter since 2012, with a payment made to a car crime victim every 8 minutes.

Rising vehicle crime in the UK is being driven in part by keyless car crime, with hi-tech criminals being able to bypass keyless technology in as little as 20 seconds, said the ABI, quoting figures from the Master Locksmiths Association.

Findings from the ABI’s latest quarterly motor insurance claims report include:

  • Insurers settled 16,000 claims for the theft of or from a vehicle, which was up from the 14,000 reported for the same period last year.
  • The cost of theft payouts, at £108 million ($137 million), was up 22% on the same period last year, and works out at over £1.2 million ($1.5 million) paid to policyholders every day. In the last four years the overall cost of motor theft claims has doubled.
Vehicle Repair Costs

The report also shows that the cost of vehicle repairs, to both the vehicles of policyholders and those of third parties during the quarter, was £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion). This was the highest quarterly figure since the ABI started collecting this data back in 2013.

The ABI said that higher repair bills reflect ever more sophisticated vehicle design and technology, which in most cases costs more to repair when damaged.

For example, the ABI said, the cost of a headlamp for one popular model has risen by over 400% from £163 ($207) for the 2012-17 model range to £840 ($1,067) for the most recent model.

Further, average replacement windscreen costs for another popular model have risen from £147 ($187) between 2008-9 to £468 ($594) for models registered after 2015, said the ABI, quoting replacement parts figures from Thatcham Research.

Despite the cost pressures from increased theft and more expensive vehicle repairs, the average price paid for motor insurance currently stands at its lowest — £466 — in two years, according to the ABI’s premium tracker.

The ABI said this is likely to reflect some insurers passing on expected cost benefits in anticipation of the introduction of the Civil Liability Act reforms, which will deliver a fairer compensation system for claimants, and continued competitive premiums for motorists.

Also, new vehicle registrations in March saw a rise in new cars purchased, typically by more mature, lower risk drivers.

“The continued growth in car crime must be reversed. Car security has come on leaps and bounds but needs to keep pace with the ingenuity of car criminals,” said Laurenz Gerger, ABI’s motor insurance policy adviser in a statement.

“The rising number of theft claims being paid by insurers in part reflects the vulnerability of some cars to keyless relay theft,” Gerger added. “Action by motor manufacturers to tackle this high-tech vulnerability, allied with owners taking some simple, inexpensive precautions will help put the brakes on this unwelcome trend.”

Keyless Car Theft Explained

Passive keyless entry systems, which allow drivers to open and start their cars without removing the key fob from their pocket, can be exploited using a technique called the “relay attack,” explained the ABI.

Usually operating in pairs, one criminal will hold a device up against the car, to capture the signal it sends out to the key. It then “boosts” this signal to another device by the front wall of the house, which relays the signal to the key inside, the ABI said. This fools the car and key into thinking they are within the 2-meter range of operation, allowing the car to be unlocked and started. Once started, the engine will not restart without the key present.

Recent testing by Thatcham Research. gave 6 of the 11 vehicles launched this year a “poor” rating as the keyless entry/start system they have as an option has no security measures to prevent theft by criminals using the relay attack technique.

The ABI provided three steps to reduce the risk of keyless car thefts:

  • Park your car in a well-lit area
  • Keep car keys well away from external doors or windows
  • Turn off the signal overnight or keep the keys in a signal-block pouch.

Source: Association of British Insurers


UK Insurers Pay Record £1 Million ($1.3 Million) Each Day for Vehicle Thefts: ABI

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