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We recently started selling an anti-theft device designed to protect your vehicle’s Onboard Diagnostic port (OBD) by a company called Sherlock. As a result, I have been captivated by all the conversations with new customers who unfortunately had their vehicles recently stolen from their driveways.

A few managed to recover their vehicles, but most did not. All of them, however, had a story to tell and many wanted to share security-camera footage. In one instance, the thief of a 2018 Ram truck came prepared with a key fob specifically made for his vehicle. As the owner was still in possession of his two factory keys, police believe he and his vehicle were targeted days earlier. He must have been followed home so the thief could obtain the vehicle identification number (VIN) and address. Another physical key was cut using that VIN. Late one night, the thief returned, walked right up and easily opened the door with that new key.

The key was an un-authorized copy so while it opened the driver’s door, the factory alarm did not recognize it and the anti-theft horn started to sound. The thief quickly popped the hood, made his way to the front, opened the hood and with a practised hand, reached down and easily ripped the wiring out, disabling the horn in 10 seconds. He then leisurely returned to the driver’s seat and hooked up an electronic tool to the vehicle’s OBD port. About 6 minutes later, the truck started and he eased out of the driveway. Many customers I talked to and have similar video footage.

If you lost both factory keys or fobs, you must have your vehicle towed to the dealer. Two new keys would be ordered, and a technician would use the factory electronic scan tool to mate those two new keys to your vehicle, erasing the old key information. This is done through the OBD port and is the path being exploited. They are using a readily available aftermarket electronic scan tool and adding a new key as the dealer would. These aftermarket tools and key code VIN information are typically sourced from other continents.

That’s not to say that vehicles aren’t stolen by other means. Key FOB relaying and amplification is another method of vehicle theft that is also in practice, however the above method is the most common.

What can you do to prevent your vehicle from being stolen?

Until the technology changes and manufacturers get a step ahead again, all you can do is slow the theft event down. The tried-and-true, decades-old steering wheel lock The Club is still a great first defense and serves as a visual cue that more time will be required in the driver’s seat. Yes, they can be defeated, but it adds a few precious minutes.

Next up is to protect your OBD port by locking it with an antitheft device such as the one by Sherlock. Installing GPS trackers won’t stop the theft, but will help with a speedier recovery. One customer told me how he woke to an empty driveway and quickly located his vehicle using a GPS tracker, recovering the vehicle himself because he grew tired of waiting for police. This is not recommended.

A frequency shielding bag or pouch that your key FOB is placed in will prevent the FOB signal from being amplified and copied. Keep in mind that auto manufacturers have learned to combat this style of theft by incorporating a motion sensor in the key FOB. Essentially, when the FOB is motionless for an extended period, it will go to sleep and will stop transmitting any information. New vehicles will soon all have keys with this sleep feature, which will hopefully mitigate this method of theft.

No vehicle is completely safe. If thieves want it badly enough, they will get it. However, by extending their potential exposure time from a 6–8-minute window to the 12–15, the risk of getting caught goes up dramatically and they will usually move on to an easier target.

Sherlock is not sponsoring this; I do however believe they offer a product to consider if you are concerned, because the OBD port will likely always be a vulnerable access point.


Your automotive questions answered

I have to admit I’m disappointed you would not take the side of a person’s free choice to drive whatever speed they want. Is 260 kilometres per hour too much? Of course. Can you do 150 easily (and safely) on many parts of the highway system – of course. This isn’t the 1970s anymore. I drive and ride a motorcycle (a BMW k1200s) that is capable of more than 300 kilometres per hour. Do I ever do that? Of course, not. Have I hit 270 on an empty stretch I know well on Highway 407? Perhaps. The technical infrastructure of our roads can easily handle 160-180 – in the right conditions. Regards, Gerry B.

If I remember correctly, the article you refer to was about an owner of a Mercedes-Benz who was disappointed his vehicle had a built-in speed limiter. He wanted his local dealer to somehow disable this limiter.

I think you might get a fair amount of flak for your stance. While I agree that the speed limit on our highways could be higher, I’m sorry, I disagree with your 160-180-kilometre-per-hour thought. Every day I commute to work and am startled by the poor decisions drivers repeatedly make. Bad decisions, that would only be amplified at that speed.

Come up with a way to remove or educate a sea of poor driving techniques first, and then talk to me about a generous speed limit bump.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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