Law enforcement officials say key fobs are causing car thefts to skyrocket

Electronic keyless ignition systems partly developed as a way to prevent thefts are ironically making it easier for thieves to drive off in the car of their choice without damaging it. How? People keep leaving their fobs in the car, and police officers across the nation are reminding motorists not to do that as they fight back against a surge in thefts.

Car-jackings are on the rise in America, and the New York Times added that car thefts are on their way up as well. In the 1980s, stealing a car often required breaking one of its windows, hot-wiring it (usually by cutting a few wires), breaking the steering lock, and hoping it wasn’t equipped with an alarm. It was a risky, time-consuming endeavor. The key fob eliminates all of these steps; if it’s in the car, thieves can nonchalantly hop in and drive off.

Law enforcement officials partly blame the rise in thefts on motorists who leave a key fob in the cabin. Some hide it in the glovebox, while others don’t even bother putting it out of sight and leave it in the center console. If it’s in the car, anyone can open the door using the handle, push the ignition button, engage first or drive, and zoom off without drawing unnecessary attention. And, new-generation technology has allowed new-generation criminals to step onto the stage, so cars are sometimes taken by bored teenagers who want to take them for a joy ride.

Police in Los Angeles told the New York Times that, in an unexpected spin on the concept of car-sharing, some thieves are merely borrowing a stranger’s car without permission to drive from point A to point B, with no intention of chopping it up or parting it out. It’s cheaper than hailing an Uber. These cars are often found several miles away from where they were taken without major damage. Across the country, in New York City, delivery drivers who leave their car running while they drop off food have been targeted. In those situations, keeping the fob in your pocket doesn’t prevent someone from driving off in the car; it just makes it more difficult to start after the engine is stopped. 

The numbers are telling. 6,858 cars were stolen in New York City in 2020, up from 3,988 in 2019, and over 3,450 of them were taken while they were running. “This is a very stupid problem to have. The technology that was created specifically to eliminate car thefts, such as key fobs, is now being used against us,” a police officer from Hartford, Conn., said during a news conference. In Hartford, 1,449 stolen cars were recovered in 2020.

Thankfully, making sure you find your car where you parked it doesn’t require making a tremendous effort. Don’t bother buying a steering wheel lock or fitting an aftermarket alarm; simply keep the key fob with you at all times.

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