Don't let car thieves use your key fob against you

When the weather turns cold, drivers need to take extra steps to prevent vehicle theft — especially if they are driving an all-wheel drive Ford F-350 manufactured before 2007.

That's the most common vehicle stolen across Canada, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which released its annual list of most stolen vehicles on Tuesday.

Along with the list, the bureau has issued some recommendations to protect yourself from the car thieves, who are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Bryan Gast, national director of investigative services for the bureau, said the reason thieves are targeting vehicles built before 2007 is that's the year Canada introduced legislation to make onboard anti-theft immobilizers mandatory.

"I think that's one of the biggest things to note.… Nine out of 10 on the top 10 (most stolen) are currently under 2007," he said on the Calgary Eyeopener. "So that made a significant difference."

Gast said there are still a lot of pre-2007 Ford F-350s out on the roads, and that they're a common target.

And that holds true for Alberta.

"If you look specifically at Alberta's list for 2018, it's very similar to the national average," he said in reference to the fact that Ford trucks hold eight of the 10 spots. "A good portion of the top 10 are large pickup trucks, all pre-2007. So very similar, actually consistent with the national average, which may be an indicator of why the national average is so high — because there are so many of those types of vehicles in Alberta."

The only other car that made the list in Alberta was the Honda Civic (also pre-2007).

The IBC report shows that Alberta had a six per cent increase in vehicle theft.

When it comes to protecting yourself from auto theft, Gast says thieves are becoming more sophisticated these days, especially when it comes to using your vehicle's technology against you. 

While a car with a key fob can't be hot-wired, key fobs come with other risks.

"There's technology out there to intercept the signal from a key fob, so there are precautions you can take to protect that signal," he said.

"One is not store your key fob at the front door. Unfortunately, there are devices that can capture that signal and they can clone another key fob, and ultimately steal your vehicle without ever entering your house to steal your key fob, or even breaking glass. They've simply made their own key fob and they can drive away with your vehicle."

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Gast said that key fob interception has been widely used in parking lots, as people walk away from their vehicles. He recommends not using the remote locking option on the fob, especially not clicking it a couple of times from a distance. By the time you come back out, thieves have had the chance to clone your signal and steal your vehicle.

And then there are the risky winter-weather habits.

"Unfortunately, the cold weather is approaching. We're finding that people — if it's old-school type vehicle, leaving the keys in the ignition, starting it early, or even if it's a newer vehicle, starting it and not using the key fob auto start for how it's intended." 

Gast said if you want to warm up your vehicle, use the remote starter, and that way, even if somebody breaks in, they still can't drive away without your key fob.

He adds that some people like to leave the key fob in the vehicle while warming it, so that extra features like the heated seats and steering wheel kick in.

Gast does not recommend leaving your vehicle running with the key fob inside, no matter how nice it is to slide into a heated seat. 

"It is taking some of those precautions, especially as the cold weather is approaching," he said, adding that he calls it a "multilayered approach" to protecting yourself.

Additional protection can come in the form of aftermarket alarms, wheel locks, wheel boots, storing your fob inside a box and parking in well-lit areas.

Here's the complete list of most-stolen vehicles in Alberta:

  1. 2007 Ford F-350 SD 4WD.
  2. 2006 Ford F-350 SD 4WD.
  3. 2006 Ford F-250 SD 4WD.
  4. 2004 Ford F-250 SD 4WD.
  5. 2005 Ford F-350 SD 4WD.
  6. 2005 Ford F-250 SD 4WD.
  7. 2000 Honda Civic Si 2DR Coupe.
  8. 1999 Honda Civic 2DR Hatchback.
  9. 2004 Ford F-350 SD 4WD.
  10. 2007 Ford F-250 SD 4WD.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.