There’s that joke emerging that if you want a modern anti-theft device, all you need is a car with a manual gearbox. All over our manicured urban jungle, we hear dreary four-pot engines revving with clutches still engaged followed by a chirp of rubber, so there is likely growing truth to that.
However, the rise of the digital age has meant the new menace of car thieves using hi-tech relay techniques to steal keyless cars is not just looming, but striking with ever-increasing force.
This calls the humble steering wheel lock into battle once more. A Bruce Willis approach to cyber-attacks. Granted, Bruce may not be able to completely stop determined car thieves from taking off with your beloved mechanical friend, but a solid steering wheel lock is a good deterrent and will add time to a theft.
What is a relay attack?
Only keyless cars are subject to a relay attack. This is when a pair of miscreants use devices to relay signals from the car to the car’s remote. One of the rascals stands near the car with their relay device and sends that signal on to the other scoundrel who stands near the house, or wherever the car remote is. They then use their device to pass the signal on again to the remote.
When the remote picks up the signal, it responds and unlocks the car, like it normally would. This, of course, applies to modern vans, too. Like Strictly on the telly, these relay car thefts can be quite painful to watch on YouTube. And if you look them up for yourself, you’ll see they don’t take long.
What to do about it?
It’s a worrying topic, certainly as we simultaneously see spikes in car crime and move closer towards autonomous vehicles. The bureaucrats are making vague mooing noises about legislation, and car manufacturers are coming up with solutions. For example, Ford has introduced a motion-sensing key fob that falls into sleep mode after 40 seconds without movement and therefore will not interact with relay signals.
Numerous tests have been conducted on how susceptible certain keyless cars are to steal. Thatcham Research (not a research centre on Mrs Thatcher) tests keyless cars’ ability to withstand relay attacks, along with standard security features including alarms and immobilisers. It publishes its results for anyone to see. So if, for example, you have a Land Rover Discovery Sport, Skoda Superb, or a Toyota Supra, you can have more confidence, because these cars scored top marks for security and passed the relay attack test. The Tesla Model 3 passed the relay attack test too, but scored basic marks for traditional security features. Those that failed Thatcham’s relay attack test include the Subaru Forester, Mazda 3, and Volvo V60.
And now we return to the steering wheel lock. It simply provides another hurdle that any potential car thief has to encounter. Luckily, even great quality ones aren’t expensive these days. Who knows, maybe it’ll pay for itself in the potential deduction off your car insurance premium, if not dissuade car thieves entirely.
Best steering wheel locks
1. Stoplock Pro Elite Car Steering Wheel Lock
Boasting a 10-year warranty, featuring an anti-drill lock and over 10,000 different lock combinations, the Stoplock Pro is a serious piece of kit in the fight against car thieves. Built from hardened metal pieces and featuring a yellow visual deterrent we doubt anyone would be stealing your car with one of these fitted.
2. Goodyear Elite Steering Wheel
A recognisable brand name is good, sometimes. Particularly when the product is at a good price so you know you aren't just paying for the badge. You might picture the Goodyear name on the tyre sidewall of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon's black and white '66 Le Mans Ford GT40, rather than on the steering wheel of your Renault Kadjar. However, this lock has a sturdy brass alloy barrel that is highly adjustable to fit practically any steering wheel. A real bonus with this is that it also comes with a snug RFID pouch for your key fob which is not only adorable, but will block relay signals.
3. Stoplock HG 149-00 Pro Steering Wheel Lock
This steering wheel lock comes with a model number, so it must be good. In fairness, Stoplock is one of the better-known brands in the world of analogue vehicle security. As such, you can have a fair amount of faith in its steering HG 149-00 steering wheel lock. The only thing we aren't quite sure about is Stoplock's description under visibility, which says thieves will be encouraged to seek "a more vulnerable vehicle on the street". But you know, survival of the fittest and all that. You can get replacement keys too, which is a major plus point.
4. Halfords T-Bar Steering Wheel Lock
A more compact way of securing your car, this T-Bar lock attaches to the top of the steering wheel and secures to the dashboard to prevent movement. Like other steering wheel locks, it's yellow to act as a visual deterrent but a big advantage to this lock is that it will work with any steering wheel. It comes with a two-year guarantee and features a foam lining to prevent scratches to your steering wheel.
5. Streetwize Security Steering Wheel Lock
Any dastardly car thief peering through the window of your car is unlikely to miss this enormous yellow pancake on the steering wheel. And if they do, then you needn't worry too much about their ability to steal your car. It's adjustable to fit steering wheels with up to a 39cm diameter.
6. Streetwize SWTBL Twin Bar Steering Wheel Lock
If you impose a strict financial budget in your household and insist on keeping under twenty pounds, consider this. It has a curved key and lock which makes it more challenging to break into. Highly visible in yellow like your local neighbourhood watch patrol, while a soft coating on the hooks doesn't scratch the steering wheel. It's adjustable too, and will fit most steering wheels.
7. Turnart Steering Wheel Lock
Simple and sturdy is what you get here. It lacks the outgoing yellow finish of others but you can rest assured this steering wheel lock will do its job. It has a good range of adjustability and features an emergency hammer at the opposite end.
There is a simple way of blocking relay signals from car thieves. All you need to do is store your key fob in a pouch with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). It’s the same tech that protects your phones, passport, and payWave cards from being scanned and scammed.