The Art of the Steal - Gone In 10 Seconds

14 Sep 2015

Gone in 60 seconds? Too slow, Nicholas Cage. Your new record to beat is now 10 seconds. A Honda Civic was boosted in literally just the time it takes to sneeze and blow your nose, as we found out on 15 August as our nation collectively woke up to the first weekend of its next 50 years.

This particular record-setting grand theft auto took place only days after news that a Honda Stream had been stolen, highlighting the latest trend of high-speed heists involving Singapore-registered Hondas.  

But that particular Honda-heisting spree wasn’t quite over - another Honda, a Fit, was stolen the same week, making it the 3rd such incident in less than 7 days. Had our beloved safe and secure country gone down the drain in just a week?

No, because these thefts did not occur in Singapore, but in our neighbouring city, Johor Bahru, Malaysia instead. Scary isn’t it? And, amazeballs, because, how did they do it?

Let me count the ways.

High-tech heists

If you drive a Cadillac Escalade, a Jeep Cherokee or an Infiniti Q50, you’re not going to like what you hear next.

Modern cars are run by a network of many computers, controlling in-car hi-fi displays, anti-lock brakes (ABS), air bags, climate control and even door locks.

One of them in particular, the Engine Control Unit (ECU) also monitors engine emissions and adjusts spark plug rates, fuel injection and the air to fuel ratio to reduce noxious emissions. It might interest you to know that the ordinary ECU in, say, a Kia Picanto possesses more computing power than the guidance systems that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon.

Now, in today’s increasingly sophisticated cars, some of those computers are connected to radios also which transmit information such as location and status.

If these ECUS are connected to things like your throttle position (drive-by-wire) power steering, ignition, and door locks, and if the cars were not designed with robust networking security, they can be hijacked wirelessly, as demonstrated in a proof-of-concept demonstration for  

Hacking a car’s controls wirelessly isn’t the only way thieves might steal your car in the near future. Grand Theft Auto-ists can already duplicate the wireless key fobs which pair with car alarms with ease, as is speculated to have happened with the 10-second heist. And once a car’s locks have been defeated, immobilisers can be deactivated through the car’s OBD diagnostic port.

Thug life - meat & muscles modus operandi

Of course, nothing beats the old school holdup for pulling off a quick carjacking. Typically, would-be car thieves create a distraction that result in the driver getting out of the car, such as smearing oil on the windscreen or watching for the driver to make a stop at the petrol station.

The hapless driver is then surprised when he returns to his car – only to find someone else in the driver’s seat. One quick stopover for a change of fake license plates later, and that car’s gone for good.

The types thieves target

Virtually any Singaporean-licensed car is a target. Particularly attractive are those cars which are popular with modders, as the variety of parts available makes it easy to change the car’s specifications and appearance. Such as Hondas, for instance, as we’ve found out.

How to make your car theft-proof

The key mindset for theft-proofing your vehicle is making yours harder to steal than the next most vulnerable vehicle. This in turn makes your car less of a target to the perp. Remember, you don’t have to outrun a hungry lion – you only have to run faster than the slowest victim. Accordingly:

Lock the steering wheel

First, invest in a steering wheel lock. Although such locks are relatively easy to beat, as with bicycle locks, remember, it only has to be harder to steal than the next easiest target.

Park head in

Next, make it difficult for the car to move off quickly. Some people have observed that Singaporeans like to park with the rear in, as opposed to seasoned Malaysian drivers who prefer parking head in. There’s a reason for this madness – parking with the rear in increases the time needed to steal the vehicle. Remember the hungry-lion metaphor.

Don’t valet anything

Leaving your car in the hands of a stranger is as good as handing over the keys – literally. This applies to car washes, hotel carparks, eating places etc.

Lock the doors at all times

When you’re in the car, lock the doors. When you’re pumping petrol and walking to pay, lock the doors. If you’re taking a piss while your family is waiting in the car, lock the doors.

Go in groups

Travelling up north in a convoy of 30 to 40 cars may not make your car any safer from theft or harm. However, it has the added benefit of having many eyes looking out for each other.

Don’t park in deserted or dim places

Obviously, don’t leave your car overnight in a place where it is out of view of surveillance cameras or foot traffic. Look for a carpark that has security attendants, and opt for the lot closest to the entrance where there’s more traffic.

Don’t display car alarm decals

Many Honda owners I know have their car alarm brand decals on their driver windows. This tells the would-be thief what methods he should use to defeat the alarm system. How convenient!

Place a kill switch in an inconvenient location

We all like customising our cars with fancy gadgets. I’ve got a switch in mine that unlocks all the doors, and another to control the cabin lighting. Why not install a kill switch? This can be a simple switch inserted in the ignition wiring that allows the car to be started only if it is turned on. Place it in a place that’s hard to find. The thief won’t have a clue as to why the engine won’t start.

 Buy your car comprehensive coverage

If your car gets stolen, report the theft to local police. Call and disable all credit cards if you have any onboard when it was stolen. And it won’t hurt to spread the news on social media either to see if you can recover it.

Then, report the theft to your insurance provider. Chances are, you have a comprehensive insurance, which includes coverage for theft – unless you bought a 3rd party cover policy.

Most people who buy older, used cars have probably bought 3rd party cover only. This can be a mistake if you are a frequent Johor Bahru visitor – the lower premium will cost you in the event of theft, as you will be out of pocket for the cost of the car.

For example, the Honda Fit which was stolen was 8 years old – a fact which its owner had counted on for being theft-proof. Said Mr Yeoh, who purchased the car on Aug 1, "I never thought anybody would be interested in an eight-year-old car, which was why I was confident of making a short trip to JB."

The lesson is clear: skimping on comprehensive insurance can hurt your pockets more than the premium will in the event of theft. But comprehensive insurance does not have to be expensive, whilst you’ll still be covered for the things that matter most on the roads.

Affordable premiums; invaluable coverage

HL Car Insurance provides you with comprehensive coverage at affordable premiums and further savings if you choose their authorised workshop plan. It also offers coverage of medical expenses for driver/passenger up to $1,000. Plus if the car is sent for repair for more than 5 days, no worries as you’ll receive a Daily Transport Allowance.

HL Car Insurance has two workshop plans for you to choose from - Lower premiums plus 50% off your excess for Authorised Car Workshop. Alternatively, you can also select the All-workshop plan if your workshop does not fall under their panel. It is that flexible! 

What’s more, the benefits also include 24/7 emergency towing and referral for minor roadside repair.  Receive a complimentary Car Maintenance Package when you sign up for HL Car Insurance (with at least 30% NCD) as a first time customer, to give your car a good pampering session.

Want to get all these plus coverage against the risk of losing your car to a thief? Find out about the benefits of HL Car Insurance!

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