What is keyless car entry?

Last updated May 25 2021

Keyless car entry is an innovative car lock system that communicates with the vehicle within a specific range, removing the need for a physical key to unlock the doors. When the fob is near the car, whether in your hand, pocket, or bag, the car will sense you’re close and unlock the doors.

This article explains how keyless car entry works and suggests what you can do to mitigate any security concerns you have about your keyless car entry.

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How does keyless car entry work?

Keyless fobs contain identity chips that detect radio signals broadcast by their car. These signals can only travel short distances – typically less than five metres.

When you put your hand on the door handle of a keyless car (sometimes you’ll press a button), the car emits a radio signal, triggering your fobs response by sending out a code. When the car recognises the code, the doors unlock.

Keyless boot opening

There are also keyless boot opening systems with sensors on the back bumper. These are excellent when you have your hands full as you can place your foot beneath the bumper, which opens the boot automatically.

Keyless car theft

While keyless car entry is a convenient feature, it comes with some potential security concerns. The main one is that, theoretically, thieves can override a keyless entry system with the correct tech and start a car without the ignition key.

According to one source, keyless car theft (also known as relay theft) made up 96% of all car thefts between January and July 2020, an increase of 92% against the same period a year earlier, highlighting the importance of extra safety precautions.

Against the backdrop of rising car crime, Thatcham Research launched a security rating to help consumers understand the theft risk of new cars. The ratings are based on security assessments by Thatcham’s technicians and apply to cars released in 2019 and 2020 - you can check your car’s security rating here.

However, while Thatcham commends the security efforts made by car manufacturers, it states that many new models remain vulnerable to theft.

What can I do to protect my car?

There are several preventative measures you can employ to reduce the likelihood of car theft, including:

  • Parking your car in well-lit, populated areas and conceal any valuables from display, or remove them altogether
  • Store your electronic key entry system in a metal container or Faraday bag to block its signal
  • Deactivate your keyless entry system overnight – your car manual will include instructions detailing this process
  • When you’re at home, keep your car keys (including any spares) away from doors and windows

Keyless car entry drawbacks

Aside from the security concerns we’ve covered, keyless cars don’t automatically cut the engine and lock the vehicle if the fob goes out of range. On the one hand, this mechanism ensures you won’t end up stranded if the car battery dies. However, it also means that you could drop off a passenger who has the key with them and drive away. As soon as you turn the engine off or are out of range, you won’t be able to start the car again.