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The issue of rising car thefts of vehicles with keyless, push-button systems is a hot topic right now. I also wanted to offer a bit more of an in-depth perspective, given my day job.

My research led me to Mark Haywood, the detective in charge of the Peel Region Commercial Auto Crime Bureau for some clarification. We discussed the two most common methods of theft he’s seeing.

The first is the use of a device called a relay box. A relay box intercepts and stores your key fob’s radio frequency transmission. which can then be used later to emulate your vehicle key. For the sake of clarification, when you start your car and temporarily exit it with the key fob still in your pocket, your vehicle instantaneously recognizes that the key is out of range and provides a warning to the driver. This demonstrates the approximate range that the vehicle’s engine start/stop immobilizer information is being broadcast from your key fob. This is not to be confused with the longer range of door unlock/lock information. In order for a thief to capture this radio frequency information with their relay box, they have to get close to your key fob. This distance will be uncomfortably close – think two or three metres. According to Detective Haywood, despite this being the more publicized method, he isn’t seeing many vehicles being stolen in this manner. It requires equipment that is not readily available and a sophisticated thief that can capture your key-fob information somewhere out in the public and then successfully follow you home. In fact, the level of coordination needed means that the finding someone capable of the latter is actually rarer than obtaining the former.

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The more common manner of theft, at least in his region, is the reprogramming of a dummy key fob through the vehicle’s Onboard Diagnostic Connector (OBD2) data port. This is the access point that technicians use to diagnose your vehicle and program factory keys. Let’s assume for a moment that you have lost both keys to your vehicle and have it towed into your local dealer. The dealer will have the ability to easily sell you two new keys or fobs and overwrite the old, lost key information. This is the vulnerability that is being exploited.

A thief manually breaks into a vehicle the old-fashioned way to access its OBD2 port. They will have in their possession a readily accessible aftermarket tool and will attempt to reprogram multiple blank key fobs that they have sourced through some online avenue. These aftermarket reprogramming tools typically have limited access to the key-reprogram features unless you are a certified locksmith with applicable locksmith codes. Unfortunately, these locksmith codes can also be sourced nefariously through the Internet.

Key reprogramming can be a lengthy process, and Detective Haywood has seen surveillance footage of several thefts where a thief returned multiple times in a night, getting spooked in between theft attempts.

His solution is to go old-school: Park in the garage or block in your car with with a less desirable car. You can also use the time-tested Club steering-wheel lock or obtain an aftermarket OBD port cover that will lock access to your vehicle’s OBD2 connector. Essentially, anything you can do to cause a would-be thief to have to spend more time will deter them, encouraging them to move on to an easier target. Most thieves are of the smash-and-grab variety, not the sophisticated, suave types seen in the movies.

I also have one last warning for vehicle owners with remote car-starters installed. Your vehicle has the same vulnerabilities to theft as listed above, but with the added bonus of another easier path. Generally, your vehicle’s immobilizer has been bypassed when your remote starter was installed.


Your automotive questions, answered

My 1990 five-speed manual Toyota Corolla needed a new clutch to sell to a teenager who wanted to learn to drive. It’s a one-owner car with a good body. However, after the new clutch was fitted by my mechanic friend, he said he washed down the engine. Yes, you guessed it, it now won’t start. I guess he’s trying to dry it out. What do you suggest doing so my vehicle doesn’t end up in the scrap yard?

Regards, Louise

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If I were ever to write a screenplay about the aftermath of an apocalyptic event or plague (one where the main character is searching for other survivors), the only vehicle that I could imagine them driving is a late-80s to early-90s Toyota Corolla. These are end-of-the-world cars. I’m sure they will be the only vehicles left reliably still running.

To your question, I can only imagine two possible scenarios. If the engine has not started at all since the clutch was installed, then it may not have anything to do with the wash. A ground strap or connector is likely not fitted properly, preventing the onboard computer from powering up.

If it has run post-clutch-install, then there has to be moisture within an electrical connector or component. For a car of this vintage, the most common scenario is when moisture penetrates into the distributor cap or down the spark-plug tubes in the cylinder head. This is a pretty simple car by today’s standards and shouldn’t be any great feat to figure out.

Hi Lou,

I recently purchased a 2020 Toyota Highlander with 235/65R18 tires on 8jx18 rims. Bolt pattern is 5x114.3. This equates to a tire diameter of 30 inches, a width of 9.3 inches and a circumference of 94.3 inches. Toyota doesn’t give the offset, but some online sources quote 35 mm. The centre bore is noted online as 60.1 mm.

I have a set of steelies with winter tires from my old Murano. They are P245/70R17, which measures out at 30.5 inches, a width of 9.6 inches and a circumference of 95.8 inches. The bolt pattern is also 5x114.3, but the centre bore is 66.1 mm (larger than the Toyota). I would love to get another season or two out of my winter tires and rims rather than invest in another new set. Dealers are not so inclined to assist. Is there a way of knowing if my winter tires and rims will fit safely and without any risk of damage to my new car?

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Thanks,

Michael K, Toronto

I have confirmed that your tire-sizing calculations are correct and within industry-allowable specifications. This means that from a vehicle-electronics perspective, it will essentially not see any notable rotational differences. However, please check the age of your old tires before proceeding.

Moving forward, the larger centre bore of the Murano wheels will allow them to fit on your Highlander but will make them non-hub-centric. See my description detailing universal and hub-centric wheels here. I would search online and order a set of centering rings with an inside diameter of 60.1 mm and outside diameter of 66.1 mm, effectively making your swap usable for years to come.

Not knowing the offset of the old Murano wheels will be the part of your question that requires trial and error. A notable change in offset may cause the Murano wheels to come into contact or interfere with a brake or suspension component on your Highlander. That being said, most aftermarket steel-wheel manufacturers use offsets designed to cover as many vehicle applications as possible, and I imagine that they will be similar in specification. I don’t know the year of the Murano, but I guessed at a 2015, and it has a factory offset of 50 mm with an acceptable range of 35 mm. Using this as an example, I would say that you are good to go with a quick inspection by a professional for peace of mind.

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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