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I miss proper car keys | Thank Frankel it's Friday

12th January 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Remember car keys? Useful things I like to think. But it seems car manufacturers don’t. Far better to issue you with some fob designed to fall down the side of your seat, jump out of your pocket or, worse, stay in your pocket as you walk away and hand the car over to someone else.

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Because that means you get to press a button to start your car, and that’s what Formula 1 drivers do. Isn’t it? Well not any more, but let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

But there’s something else your little fob is helping with too, and that is getting your car nicked. Everything you stop somewhere and walk away, nonchalantly blipping the locks shut without even looking you are also making a little broadcast. It’s meant only to be heard by your car, but like all things transmitted by radio waves, it doesn’t take much for others to listen in.

And when they do, usually from another car with a hidden antenna, that means they can talk to your car too, and just as you told it to lock the doors, they can tell it to unlock your doors. And off you or, more accurately, they go.

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This is becoming a vast problem, causing insurance premiums to go through the roof. I know someone who is 56 years old with a spotless licence. In September 2022 he insured his BMW M2 Competition for £450. A year later his renewal, with no change to his circumstances, came in at over £2000. By shopping around he got it down to £1150 but he thinks that by this September it will be back over £2k, and if it is, he’ll sell the car.

But if you think he’s got it back, insuring Range Rovers has now become so difficult and expensive, JLR has had to offer its own policy, just to help keep its customers mobile, while it frantically retrofits software updates to make its cars less vulnerable to the criminal community.

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I’m not saying that returning to the traditional ignition barrel is going to eliminate car theft overnight – indeed it was their very vulnerability that led, in part, to the current generation of ‘keyless’ cars in the first place but something has to be done, and stopping cars from broadcasting how to unlock them has to be part of the solution.

Or how about facial recognition software? It works on our telephones, so why not on our cars? It’ll be a pain if you need someone else to drive it but there must be a secure way around that which can be arranged in private, and nowhere near the car. Certainly something has to be done, and until it is, premiums will continue to rise, cars will continue to be nicked and I’ll continue to delight in the simple and honest effectiveness of the good old humble car key.

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