You might think that, in this age of alarms, immobilisers and tracking devices, the humble steering wheel lock is like a relic from motoring of days gone by. But youíd be wrong, because sales of the devices doubled in 2017, as motorists took an old-school approach to solve a very modern problem.
After years of falling crime rates, car theft is on the rise, with an extra 57,000 crimes reported between 2015 and 2017. Part of the problem is the increasing number of so-called ërelay attacksí, in which criminals exploit a weakness in keyless entry systems. Put simply, one criminal holds a device up against the side of a house searching for a signal from a keyless fob, which is then relayed to an accomplice who is holding another device against the car door. This tricks the vehicle into believing the key is present, allowing the criminals to drive away without even touching the key. Itís a remarkably easy process, which has seen the number of car thefts rise by 40 per cent over the last five years. Clive Wain, head of police liaison at Tracker, a company that traces stolen cars, said: ìThe good news is there are simple precautions people can take. Whilst the relay devices can receive signals through walls, doors and windows, metal is its enemy, so putting the keys in a metal tin or the microwave is a cost-effective way to thwart the criminals. Alternatively, invest in a metallised signal blocking pouch, such as a Faraday wallet, which is designed to shield electronic keys from relay attacks.î
Tracker goes on to recommend some thoroughly traditional forms of vehicle security, including keeping your car in the garage, locking wheel clamps, pedal box locks, window etching and locking driveway posts. But thereís one recommendation that stands out ñ the use of the steering wheel lock. The chances are you may still have one in the garage or loft, but probably felt that it would be redundant in light of improved locks and high-tech alarms and immobilisers. But theyíre more popular than ever, largely because they canít be bypassed by technology and electronics. Some cover the entire steering wheel, others slot through the spokes, while others connect a pedal to the steering wheel to provide a deterrent. A determined car thief will be able to break the lock, either by cutting the device with an angle grinder, picking the lock or by using simple brute force, but the visual deterrent might be enough to discourage a criminal from having a go, especially if they arrived with a ërelay attackí in mind. Criminals using this method rely on stealth, silence and speed ñ three things a steering wheel look will guard against.
We visited a major high street retailer, where we found steering wheel locks available for as little as £20, and more expensive units on sale for £125. Even the most cursory of searches on the internet suggests that not all steering wheel locks are created equal and you would do well to research the pros and cons of each item. Weíre not saying that the most expensive locks are necessarily the best, but some of the cheaper units could be beaten in a few seconds. At the very least, youíll want the lock to remain effective for a few minutes. We reckon youíll spend more time searching the loft for your own ëretiredí steering wheel lock.