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You have likely seen plenty of movies where a car thief breaks into a car, pulls out the ignition wires and starts it effortlessly. This is called “hot wiring” a car and it’s normally done when thieves (in the real world) steal people’s cars. But with the invention of push-button ignitions and more sophisticated security devices, is it still possible to hotwire a modern car?

Can car thieves steal a modern car by hot wiring it?

Key fob security
Key fob security flaws | Getty

No, they can’t. Thanks to the modern systems found in cars made after the 90s, most thieves won’t be able to simply hotwire a modern car and drive away with it. Jalopnik reports that most modern cars have ignition immobilizers that make hot wiring them much more difficult. However, it’s not impossible.

But if you have a late-model car with a push-button ignition that requires a remote key fob to start it, then you can rest a little easier at night knowing your car will be there in the morning. According to How Stuff Works, cars with push-button ignitions work more like computers and there’s no ignition lock cylinder – the thing you put your key into – to bypass.

Frank Scafidi, the director of public affairs at the National Insurance Crime Bureau told How Stuff Works, “In newer vehicles with keyless ignition, hot wiring is a thing of the past. But hot wiring is still an effective method in older vehicles, no question about it.”

How thieves steal late-model cars

If thieves can’t simply hotwire a late-model car with a push-button ignition, then how do they steal them? According to Scafidi, many late-model car owners have become complacent with having a proximity key fob and tend to leave them in the car. As you can guess, anyone can just jump in and take the car in that case.

Barring any careless negligence by the owner, thieves steal late-model cars by hacking into them. More specifically, they do what’s known as a “relay attack,” which includes the use of a device that boosts the car key’s RFID signal. With the signal boosted, the car will think that the key is in close proximity and the car thief will simply be able to gain access into the car, start it, and drive away. No wire pulling or cutting is needed.

Tips for protecting your late-model car

push button start on an acura
Close-up of engine start and stop button. | Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Is a ‘Kill Switch’ Effective in Preventing Car Theft?

If you currently own a car with a push-button ignition, it’s imperative that you take the necessary precautions to keep it secure. First, don’t leave the remote key fob anywhere in the car or close to it, even when you’re at home. If you park your car outside or in the driveway, then thieves can boost the signal from the key in your house. In that case, keep the key away from the walls or windows facing the driveway or front of the house.

If you want to keep the key extra protected, then you can keep in it the refrigerator or freezer as the appliance’s construction can block the signal. However, just note that the cold temperatures can ruin the key’s battery life.

Lastly, if you have a garage, park your car in it. While that garage space is great for storing random stuff and gym equipment that you’ll never use, it’s even better for storing your car. After all, “out of sight, out of mind.” So if a thief can’t see your car, then they likely won’t want to steal it.