Manufacturers are trying to stay ahead of the thieves by updating software. It has been reported that some London-based owners of Range Rovers have been denied insurance over the issue. The warnings echoed those made by the US National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which earlier this year said it had seen a "spike" in car thefts involving equipment to spoof keyless entry. Keyless entry and ignition typically works by the driver keeping a fob on their person which automatically opens the car and activates it so it can be driven. As the popularity of keyless systems has increased, criminals have been buying equipment online that is able to re-programme keys.
"The criminal act of stealing vehicles through the re-programming of remote-entry keys is an on-going industry-wide problem," said Jaguar Land Rover. "Our line-up continues to meet the insurance industry requirements as tested and agreed with relevant insurance bodies. Nevertheless we are taking this issue very seriously and our engineering teams are actively working in collaboration with insurance bodies and police forces to solve this continuously evolving problem."
Keyless ignition Keyless ignition means drivers press a button to start a car
The statement added: "This has already resulted in a number of prosecutions."
Thatcham Research, which collates data on behalf of UK insurers, acknowledged the problem was widespread. Whilst BMWs and Audis appeared to be the early targets, it's fair to say that this was largely associated with their desirability across Europe, rather than any specific security lapse.
It is becoming much harder to steal cars. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, car theft has fallen from 318,000 in 2002 to 77,500 last year. But thefts involving computer equipment used to circumvent security are rising. The SMMT is pushing for stronger legislation to help reverse this.
"The challenge remains that the equipment being used to steal a vehicle in this way is legitimately used by workshops to carry out routine maintenance," a spokesman said.
But Ian Crowder, from motorists' group the AA, warned the risk should not be overstated. "By far the most common way of a car being stolen is still from thieves breaking into homes and stealing keys," he said.
"The keys are still the weakest link in a car security chain. If someone has your keys, they have your car."