How easy is it to steal a vehicle with Push to Start ignition?

I’m replacing my truck and new models have only the push to start ignition now. Since the truck lives outside the garage, and is the vehicle we roam the country with, I’m concerned about the apparent ease of spoofing the fob’s signal and stealing it. Our car has this too, but stays inside the garage and is used only for local trips.


  • Can this be done easily, with some type of electronic equipment that queries the fob? Or does it query the vehicle?
  • At what distance can a thief accomplish this? (i.e. Is fob safe when deep inside the house?)
  • I’ve heard claims that, with the correct equipment, the theft can be done with only the VIN. True?
  • Are vehicles with automatic unlock at greater risk? Or can thieves spoof the unlock signal as well?
  • What would you recommend to mitigate this? Faraday bags? Kill switch? A Boston Dynamics’ robot dog in the cab? (You gotta admit, the videos would be hilarious)

My neighbor (3 doors down) recently lost a new car to this method. It was in the driveway and disappeared the first week it was home. Police theorize the fob was spoofed and it was simply started and driven away. They still had both keys inside, and were sure it was locked.

My concern is due to extensive travel towing our camper. If the truck were stolen 1000s of miles away, there would be substantial problems beyond just getting home. RV storage and transport aren’t covered under insurance, AFAIK.

In IMHO since some questions may not have a specific, exact answer.

A bit of a tangent - can someone explain to me WHY this push-to-start thing has become so prevalent? I realize that I’m not a quick adopter of new technologies - hell, one of my current vehicles is literally from a prior century - but I don’t see the need to change up the old fashioned use of a key to start vehicles. Yes, there are issues with those, too, but my 20th Century truck can’t be stolen by someone with an iPhone (or whatever they use to do it).

Did your neighbor have a Kia or Hyundai? I read that they had some sort of security problem that made it easier to spoof.

The answer has to be “very difficult”, since basically all new cars use this for the last 6 or 7 years and it’s not like car thefts are just rampant.

In my neighborhood, it happens because people leave the fob in the car and the car unlocked. Having grown up in the 70s in Queens, this is baffling to me.

I’m not sure either, but we talked about it here a year or so ago. The consensus (IIRC) was that the slight increase in convenience was worth it for enough customers for it to become a standard. I had a rental car with this, and it was nice to just walk up, yank the door open, push a button and drive away. Once stopped, another button push, then walk away and it would lock itself. But on a rental I didn’t care what happened to it.

It was a Jeep. Not sure which model.

Forbes says they’re up by 20%, and hints it’s mostly push-start models.

I don’t know exactly why they have become prevalent - but I know what I like is that I don’t need to dig my keys out. It’s more important not to have to dig my keys out when I’m opening the door than when I’m starting the car, but I’m pretty sure all vehicles with keyless entry also have push to start.

Our people car has keyless entry. It wasn’t something we looked for, it just had it. But when we sold that car and got this one, with traditional keys, we missed it.

Yes, it’s nice not to have to fish in your pocket for the key.

I have a Subaru OB with keyless entry and remote start. One rainy day with the car parked I was walking to the mailbox and noticed the rear window was cracked open. The key fob was in the house but I had my phone so I used my app to unlock & start the car so I could raise the window. As soon as I sat down inside and shut the door the car alarm went off. the start/stop ignition buttonI needed the key fob to do anything else. I had to fetch the fob to silence the alarm.

Also one needs to keep the fob with them while driving and take it out when leaving. You can’t lock the car with a spare fob inside. And you can’t drive away without the fob inside.

If you read any car manual from the last 20-25 years, it seems that practically all of them boast about their modern anti-theft technology.

And yet cars keep getting stolen. And not all of them had the keys/fob left in the car.

I bought a faraday box from Amazon to keep our fobs in. To test it, I put my iPhone in the box and tried to ping it from my watch. The phone promptly responded from inside the box. I’m not sure if a lower-powered fob can still be read from 15ft from my driveway.

I can look at my phone and know exactly where my car is anytime I wish. That must deter thieves.

For all the talk of car theft, in my 61 years on Earth I’ve never known anyone who had a car stolen. (ETA: and during my time as a public defender, I never represented a car thief. )

No, but it might have been stolen by someone with a big screwdriver.

Someone who knows more about cars will be along soon to correct me, but here’s how I recall the approximate progression of OEM car security in my lifetime.

  • Plain ignition lock
  • Ignition/steering lock
  • ignition/steering lock with immobilizer chip in fob (key still needed for ignition switch, but engine won’t start if the chip isn’t inside the car)
  • keyless entry with pushbutton start

Each step in this progression nominally increased security over its predecessor. Adding the steering lock meant you couldn’t just hotwire the car or defeat or remove the ignition switch.

The immobilizer kept the car from starting even if the steering lock was defeated, adding a presumably more sophisticated electronic measure to what had been a purely mechanical system.

Keyless entry removed the weak point of the ignition switch altogether, and made the system mostly electronic. Unfortunately, automobile (and other) manufacturers have been notably unconcerned about implementing serious digital security measures, undoubtedly because of the increased expense (i.e., reduced profits) such steps would entail. One can just imagine an idealistic engineer telling her boss that she could make the keyless system much more secure, only to be overruled by some bean counter because it would add $5 to the sticker price.

When immobilizers were first introduced, manufacturers may have assumed that electronic systems would be more secure than purely mechanical deterrents. But obviously, these days defeating digital security is the hobby of millions of people, and once someone discovers a way to breach a system, it can instantly spread to millions of others over the Internet.

Here’s an article I found about the nature of the problem, with some fairly useless preventive tips; basically, install updates.

Not true of my 2010 Lexus. Fortunately, I haven’t found this out the hard way.

I recently discovered a real key inside the fob when I went to change the battery. :woman_facepalming:

Actually, someone did once attempt to break into it with, essentially, a machete, presumably to steal it. My late spouse shot him with our crossbow, which had a wonderfully discouraging effect upon the miscreant.

Let’s just all agree that no security system is perfect.

We bought a few of these and tested them. With the fob in the faraday pouch, and inside the car with me, pushing the start button produced a warning about no key detected, and no start. I also tried this with my old regular-start truck, just pushing the unlock key. Again, no results. I opened the end of the pouch and tried again, and the lock reacted. So the pouches we have all seem to work.

The problem is that I’m not clear whether the spoofing gear needs to “talk” to the key or not. The stories about using just the VIN are worrisome. I’m leaning toward an actual kill switch that breaks the circuit to either the fuel pump or the starter relay.

In the past, when hunting or any activity that left my truck unattended for long periods, I’d just pop out the fuel pump relay and drop it into my pack. But doing this daily will wear the mounts and plastic tabs too much (and it gets your hands dirty). So I’m looking for an easier alternative that will delay or stop thieves. I really like Broomstick’s crossbow anti-theft method – it carries a certain karmic satisfaction. But I’m not sure Walgreen’s or Kroger’s would view such a item favorably should I wander thru the aisles with it. But this being Texas, I could give it a try. :smile:

“Officer, the sign says no guns – this here ain’t a gun!”

Local laws will apply - I can not, in fact, legally walk down the street in my state with a crossbow in operable condition despite our very loose gun laws (I almost said “liberal” but them’s fighting words in some parts of Indiana). I can, however, do that with a gun. I’ve never been sure of the reasoning or logic behind that, but it is what it is.

But beware----you can lock the car , walk away from it, and suddenly realize the engine is still running, because you forgot to press the “stop” button.

(I’m keeping my keys till you take 'em from my cold, dead fingers.
Fortunately my car should keep running for another 10 years. So for now, I ain’t gotta worry 'bout no Push-to-Start car with a $800 fob)

I did. In Cambridge in 1972. On Memorial Drive, by MIT. Oddly a bit later 60 Minutes did an episode about car theft in Boston where they filmed exactly there.
I had a Galaxie 500, and they got in and scooped out the ignition to hot wire it. But it had a steering column lock, so they couldn’t drive it away. I replace the ignition and they did it again. This time I wired up my own ignition with a start button in the glove box. Finally, they towed it. I saw it at the scrap yard - they took all the metal off.
It was a lemon, so I was just as happy it finally got totaled. So I bought a Pinto.

Yeah… that’s what I said. Until I got rear-ended hard enough to total a crew-cab diesel. So now my choices are either used*, or give up and buy new.

*Used trucks around here have no middle ground, just beat up work trucks, or high-end luxury models for suburban commuters. Although the luxury models may be well-maintained, they’re all short-beds which I don’t want. I gave up and found a year-old '22 base-trim model with almost everything I need for trailering. It’s still new (17 miles) and without the diesel it’s priced within my budget. But as I said, they all have push buttons now. I don’t like them either.

My FIL had the same car stolen twice! First was outside Chicago lounge, couldn’t find his car, a brand new Cadillac some special edition, in the parking lot. It was stolen. Then found later, but insurance fixed it.

Second time was like in the lot of his CC if all places.

Then found stripped and on blocks.

A friend had his VW stolen while at school in Detroit.