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Headlight Hack: The New Way Thieves Are Stealing Cars

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Regardless of the make, model, or year a vehicle is a significant investment. We rely on them to get us where we need to go. If your car is stolen, it’s inconvenient at best. At worst, it can make you feel violated or unsafe. And unfortunately, stealing cars in become more and more prevalent.

Car thieves are always learning how to steal a car in new, seemingly undetectable ways. Recently, tech-savvy car thieves, known as Shadetree hackers, have found a new way of stealing cars by injecting code into headlight wiring. 

Motor vehicle thefts rose precipitously in the United States in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. That trend didn’t stop after municipalities lifted restrictions. In 2020, there were 873,080 vehicle thefts, amounting to about 2,385 vehicles stolen daily and every 43.8 seconds

According to Kelley Blue Book, there were 37,560 more motor vehicle thefts in 2022 than in 2021, an average increase of almost 21% over 2021 and a whopping 59% more than in 2019. 

Read on to learn more about headlight hacking or wiring, how to protect yourself, and what to do if your car is stolen. 

What Is a CAN Bus System?

The Controller Area Network (CAN) bus system is where the Electronic Control Units (ECUs) communicate with each other. ECUs are small devices that control specific functions within a car, such as power steering and keyless entry. Most modern vehicles have more than 80 ECUs. 

Stealing Cars: How Tech-Savvy Thieves Put It Together

To steal your car using this method, thieves enter the CAN bus system through your headlights. The dark web sells a tool that looks like a bluetooth speaker and can impersonate any vehicle’s key fob when wired into the CAN bus. This device sends fake CAN messages into your car’s CAN bus system, which tricks your car into thinking a key is present. This essentially instructs the vehicle to disable its security system, unlocking the doors and allowing thieves to drive away with your vehicle. This insidious process works on any car with a key fob function.

How Can You Prevent Headlight Wiring? 

One possible prevention method is to install an aftermarket system as a theft deterrent. However, this isn’t foolproof. For example, a thief can still unlock your car doors, but it would be much more difficult as they’d need to find a way to hack that aftermarket system as well. 

The good news is that wiring into a car takes substantial work and time. This means a thief needs uninterrupted access to your vehicle out of view to make it work. 

Here are some other ways to defend your car against headlight wiring: 

  • Keep valuables out of sight – Your car interior should be clear of clutter and valuables such as navigation systems and mobile phones. Keep your glove box empty and open. 
  • Defensive parking – Park in an enclosed garage. If you have to park in your driveway, leave your car as close to your property as possible so it’s more difficult for thieves to get to it. 
  • Use a wheel clamp/steering wheel lock – This makes it harder for thieves to abscond with your car, even if they unlock it.
  • Contain your keys – Place your key fobs in a metal container or signal-blocking pouch, which prevents it from transmitting its code to your vehicle. 
  • Never leave your car running or unlocked – This may seem obvious, but if you allow yourself to become complacent, you may forget! 

What Should You Do if the Unthinkable Happens and Your Car is Stolen? 

It’s any car owner’s nightmare, but it is an unfortunate reality for some. If a cunning thief makes off with your car, what should you do?

  • Contact the police to file a stolen vehicle report. 
  • Inform your car insurance company.
  • Report the theft to your finance or leasing company.

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Protect Your Car with Classic Automobile Insurance

Comprehensive insurance coverage is one of the best ways to protect yourself if your vehicle is stolen. Your insurance company can help pay for it if it’s not recovered. Family-owned Classic Auto Insurance has more than 15,000 happy policyholders, and we can protect your investment, too! Our flexible plans offer unmatched benefits including roadside assistance with flatbed towing, rollover miles, inflation guard, and more. Get a hassle-free quote instantly. 


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