And this button unlocks *a lot* of doors
April 11, 2012 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Two of my neighbors have had objects stolen from their Toyotas (three cars in total), with no signs of a break-in and no alarm going off. Aside from the obvious "perhaps someone has a copy of the keys", any suggestions as to how they're doing it?

Three different Toyota models, two different driveways. A presumption that it is someone in the area (another neighbor, perhaps), since nothing was missing from one car until the one night that expensive camera gear was left in the trunk. That was the first instance; since then, their other car and another neighbor's car have been hit, days apart.

Note that a neighbor's kid was seen clicking his own Toyota remote key fob incessantly outdoors on more than one occasion, enough that it was noticed prior to the first break-in. This is probably a red herring, though, as searching google only tells me that it is extremely unlikely that recording someone's key fob transmissions would grant them access to the I'm looking for other potential methods that wouldn't set off the alarm or leave signs of a break-in.

Oh, and while the neighbors share housekeys with each other, neither shares car keys, neither has kids over the age of seven, and all are people I'd trust with my own car key.
posted by davejay to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm able to open my own car doors using a coat hanger when they are locked from the outside - found this out when we locked ourselves out of the car with the keys in the car. I have a 2001 Subaru Forester. Not sure what kind of set up the Toyota locks have but that might be a possibility?
posted by carmel at 1:01 PM on April 11, 2012

Slim jims are pretty damn easy to acquire and use. Once you have one and know what models to look for, it's easy to prowl all the cars in a neighborhood. With the rise of phones and media players that are instantly convertible to cash, semi-pro car theft has been on the rise for a decade or more.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:05 PM on April 11, 2012

And they're certain they're locking the doors?

Seems obvious, but I ask because I've lived in one neighborhood where a rash of thefts - people stealing cameras, entire music collections, some decently expensive stuff - was traced to a group of kids who waited for it to get dark, and then walked from driveway to driveway trying the handles on cars.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:10 PM on April 11, 2012

Response by poster: On the slim jims et al: all three cars have factory alarms. If tools like this are used, will the alarms go off (because the doors are unlocked from the inside without the fob?) I know that the alarm goes off on Mazdas and Volvos under those conditions (the former because I set off a Miata alarm on a dealership floor when trying to open it, and the latter because I own one.)
posted by davejay at 1:12 PM on April 11, 2012

Does either one now, or did they in the past, ever use one of those little magnetic spare-key boxes you can hide in a wheelwell? Or do they/did they ever hide keys in fake rocks/flowerpots/over doorjambs?
posted by easily confused at 1:25 PM on April 11, 2012

Based on experiences locking myself out of older cars, it used to be that any given Toyota key stood a nonzero-to-fair chance of opening x-random Toyota. These sound like late-model cars, so I'm guessing that's not the case any more, but it seems worth mentioning.
posted by brennen at 1:26 PM on April 11, 2012

Not necessarily the case, but many many cars will come with a key fob, along with a nice panic button, but that doesn't mean they have alarms. If it does have an alarm, they should note under what conditions those alarms will be triggered -- my friend's car alarm can be set, but if he (for instance) leaves the window open, reaches in and unlocks the door and opens it, the alarm won't go off.
posted by smitt at 1:28 PM on April 11, 2012

When we bought a car recently, in order to get us to buy the add-on car alarm system the dealer was scaring us with stories of remote key fob signals being hacked by thieves with receivers that could pull your key signal out of the air and then replicate it to get into your car. Based on this Snopes article, that seems to be an actual possibility, but a remote one, and if someone was going to that much trouble they'd probably actually steal the car instead of just some stuff out of it.
posted by LionIndex at 1:43 PM on April 11, 2012

Modern cars with wireless remotes use a scheme where they don't just keep sending the same signal. It's complex, and I don't understand all I know about it, but it's like a cipher where each time the remote communicates with the car, it advances to a next code. The car and the remote are programmed so they understand each other, but another remote would stand a very low chance of opening another car, and this idea of having a black box that "captures" the code is also not really credible with late-model cars (like, the last 10 years worth).

Of course, if you're suspecting inside job, and if someone shares housekeys with someone, what are the odds that someone leaves a spare car key somewhere in the house?
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:05 PM on April 11, 2012

So there's the other obvious possibility - they left a door unlocked. Unlikely as this may seem, it seems more likely than a single vulnerability across three cars and two driveways.

What randomkeystrike is talking about is called "rolling code". They are difficult, but not impossible, to clone. Unless this thief is a pretty good hacker, OR he works at a lock shop or has a friend who does, this kind of attack is unlikely.

It is also possible that the houses themselves have been compromised. Have any fobs or keys gone missing over the years? Have they both been parked at the same parking garage somewhere, where a valet might have copied them?

It's probably time for them to get a wireless IP camera and point it at the car. Leave something attractive in the car and wait for the thief to reveal themselves and their method.
posted by fake at 2:13 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Several Toyotas - notably some of the late 90's / early 00's vans & 4WDs, but also some later models, Corollas, & Camrys - were ridiculously easy to unlock if you accessed the wiring loom in various places (e.g. behind the front or rear bumper, in the wheel arch, in the engine bay, etc). All it took was a pin or piece of wire, and the knowledge of what 2 or 3 wires to quickly short to unlock & disarm that particular model.

AFAIK Toyota fixed this issue by the mid 00's, but if the cars are that age or earlier it might pay to ask your local Toyota dealer or specialist garage if there's a wiring loom replacement or mod to prevent it.
posted by Pinback at 3:14 PM on April 11, 2012

On the slim jims et al: all three cars have factory alarms. If tools like this are used, will the alarms go off.

When's the last time you heard a car alarm go off and did something about it? If you actually saw a car being broken into, would you put yourself at risk and intervene or just mind your own business?

Most likely these guys DID use slim jims, and got in and out of there before anyone ever stopped them.
posted by wutangclan at 8:00 PM on April 11, 2012

Note that a neighbor's kid was seen clicking his own Toyota remote key fob incessantly outdoors on more than one occasion, enough that it was noticed prior to the first break-in.

I'm voting the kid.

He was doing it "incessantly" because he was perfecting whatever system he was using on his own car, then he used it on your neighbors' cars.
posted by jamjam at 9:23 PM on April 11, 2012

so I'm looking for other potential methods that wouldn't set off the alarm or leave signs of a break-in.

Long shot, and I'm not sure about the car models in question, but you did ask...
My car (different brand) has a hidden slot that allows it to program a new key. (ie if you lose a fob, you don't need a dealer or a locksmith to key a blank one to your car, your car can do it, though most owners will be unaware of this and take the car to the dealer/locksmith... who will simply use this slot).

If someone had access to the unlocked car, even when there were no valuables in it, they could have used that to key an additional fob, which they used later when there were valuables.

(On mine, the computer requires the new fob to sit in the car for 40 minutes, before programming it, to help deter against this kind of attack.)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:35 PM on April 11, 2012

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