How to Prevent Your Tesla from Being Hacked or Stolen


How to Prevent Your Tesla from Being Hacked or Stolen

With long wait lists, soaring stock prices, and a CEO who’s sure to make any interview go viral, Tesla has spent the past decade making a name for its cars and its mission. Now that production has caught up with demand; things are smoothing out. It’s easier than ever to get into a vehicle that offers a perfect blend of luxury and sustainability. But will you have to worry about it getting stolen?

How can you prevent your Tesla from being hacked or stolen?

  • Use a Faraday Pouch
  • Set Up “PIN to Drive”
  • Use “Sentry Mode”
  • Keep Your Tesla Plugged In
  • Turn Off “Passive Entry”
  • Update the Security on Your Key Fob
  • Use a Strong Password on Your Smart Phone App
  • Don’t Leave Your Keys Laying Around
  • Check the Range on Your Phone App
  • Park Your Tesla in the Garage
  • Turn on the Alarm
  • Setup Outside Motion Sensor Lighting
  • Add a Secondary GPS
  • The Club

As the number of Tesla vehicles on the road goes up, the demand for replacement parts will increase. That will offer more incentive to the professional car thieves who are already trying to crack the code of the supposedly theft-proof cars. Take advantage of Tesla’s upgrades to stay ahead of the car thieves. To stack the odds even more in your favor, read on to learn about additional steps you can take.

Protect Your Tesla from Being Hacked and Stolen

Even if the odds are in your favor. Even if authorities recover over 90% of the Tesla vehicles that do get stole. You still don’t want to wake up one morning to find out that you are the exception to the rule when you walk out of the house and into an empty driveway. 

Using the most current information available, it looks like just over 100 Tesla vehicles have been stolen in the last decade. Of that number, all but three have been recovered (source). There are some things about Tesla vehicles that make them hard to steal in the first place and more that make getting away with it nearly impossible. But if you can count on anything, it’s that criminals won’t give up trying to figure out how.

It’s likely that the incentive to take the risks involved in stealing a Tesla will only go up from this point forward. Now that there are more of the vehicles on the road, the demand for replacement parts will go up and the opportunity to make money selling chopped parts will make Tesla theft a gamble worth taking. Doing anything you can to decrease their chances of success makes sense!

In this article, we will offer some tips for how to make your Tesla an even less attractive target to criminals. We’ll also spend some time looking at what makes a Tesla hard to steal and how the company has responded to newly emerging threats. Then we’ll spend some time looking at what Tesla owners can expect in the future as thieves get better through experience, and the incentive to steal a Tesla goes up.

14 Tips to Protect Your Tesla from Car Thieves

When you spend $70,000 to $140,000 on a vehicle, you want to know that it isn’t a magnet for car thieves. Even if almost all of the stolen Tesla vehicles have been recovered, you don’t want some car thieving creep cruising around in your ride until he gets caught. And yeah, you’ve almost definitely got full-coverage on it, but do you really want to see what a $100,000 claim does to your insurance rate?

Fortunately, Tesla has been very vigilant as a company when it comes to making sure their vehicles preserve their reputation for being theft-proof. That has led to rapid responses to each new weakness that car thieves have exposed. On top of that, there are a number of things that you can do yourself to make a car thief’s job even harder and decrease the likelihood that you’ll ever walk out to an empty driveway or parking spot.

#1: Use a Faraday Pouch

A Faraday cage is a simple way to block RFID signals. That’s the most important step that you can take to prevent would-be car thieves from hacking your key fob and gaining access to your vehicle. Some online sources suggest a fix as simple as wrapping your fob in tin foil – but is that really the look that you’re going for in your new luxury wheels?

There are a ton of bags and pouches on the market that will allow you to separate your fob from prying hackers in style. If you want to go the extra mile, consider getting a Faraday tin instead of a pouch. It will be a bit more cumbersome, but it will last longer and eliminate the risk that your pouch falls open without you realizing it. Either route that you decide to go—make sure to check your Faraday regularly to ensure that it’s fully closed and doing its’ job.

In June of 2018, Tesla released upgraded encryption that made it harder to hack critical fobs. While regular security upgrades from the manufacturer do a great job of keeping car thieves on their heels, even a thief who can hack the most recent release won’t be able to hack your fob when it’s inside a Faraday device.

#2: Set Up “PIN to Drive”

One way that Tesla responded to the high-profile but low-volume thefts that have occurred is by introducing an additional layer of security between thieves and a Tesla that will actually roll down the road.  Like the advanced encryption, “PIN to drive” was introduced in 2018 to shore up Tesla’s defenses in response to the surge in thefts that was seen in 2016-2017.

To activate the PIN to drive feature on your Tesla, just go to the center screen and select “Controls.” From there, choose “Safety and Security.” When you set up your PIN to drive protection, you’ll need to select a four-digit access code and re-enter it for verification. At that point, you’ll just need to enter it once when you get in the vehicle in order to allow the motor to start.

Some Tesla owners have expressed concern that the code is only four digits or that potential car thieves might be able to figure out their PIN from the smudges on the screen. If you choose your PIN wisely, four digits should be plenty. If you’re worried about smudges, you can either wipe the screen more regularly or wear driving gloves.

#3: Use “Sentry Mode”

Tesla’s blog states that “Sentry Mode adds a unique layer of protection to Tesla vehicles by continuously monitoring the environment around a car when it’s left unattended” (source). You will have to enable Sentry Mode each time you want to use the feature; it can’t be pre-set or left on continuously at this time. When you consider everything that Sentry Mode offers, we think it will be easy enough to remember.

First, there is the active deterrent feature. When you turn on Sentry Mode before leaving your Tesla, it will go into “Standby” state. In Standby, your Tesla is using the car’s external cameras to detect any potential threats. If a threat is detected, the car will go into either an “Alert” state or an “Alarm” state, depending on the level of the perceived threat.

If the car detects an average threat – say a jealous admirer leaning against the car while checking it out – it goes into “Alert” state and displays a warning message on the touchscreen to let them know that they’re being recorded by the car’s cameras. If, on the other hand, the car detects someone breaking a window or trying to slim-jim the door, it will go into “Alert” state. 

In “Alert” state, your Tesla will activate the car alarm, play music at maximum volume and increase the brightness of the center display. That is the active deterrent that Sentry Mode offers. But it also offers passive protection. In “Alert” state it will send an alert to your mobile app that lets you watch video of the incident. 

#4: Keep Your Tesla Plugged In

It might sound ridiculous, but there is evidence to back this up. Even with all of the high-tech protection that Tesla vehicles have working for them, sometimes the biggest obstacle to a Tesla-theft is the charging cord. There is plenty of security camera footage floating around the web that shows otherwise skilled car thieves struggling to remove the plug-in from a charging Tesla (source).

Tesla and other car companies have been churning out more and more electric vehicles with each passing year, but it’s still rare enough to encounter one in real life that most folks don’t have any idea how to actually perform the basic tasks that go along with owning one. When you consider that people still have trouble filling up their gasoline-powered vehicles, it really isn’t that surprising.

#5: Turn Off “Passive Entry”

If you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of convenience to get a little bit more security, then you can go as far as disabling the keyless entry system on your Tesla. This feature unlocks the doors of your vehicle whenever the fob passes inside a certain perimeter around the vehicle. It can make getting into your car faster and easier – especially if you’re carrying packages or other items.

With keyless entry turned on, the PIN to drive security is the first real line of defense that a thief will encounter once they’ve successfully hacked your key fob. If you turn keyless entry off, a car thief can still break into your Tesla the analog way—but that takes more time. A professional car thief won’t need more than a few extra seconds, but every little bit helps when you’re hoping they get caught before they get the car moving.

#6: Update the Security on Your Key Fob

If your Tesla is newer than a 2018, then you’ve already got the most recent update to their key fob security. If you have an older model, you should take advantage of their security upgrade to make sure that only the most up-to-date ne’er-do-wells can make it past the first line of defense.

It’s probably worth your time to check the company’s website and blog at regular intervals or join one of the online forums for Tesla owners. Even if you don’t participate, you’ll be able to scan the blog titles and thread topics to see if anybody is talking about a new update that you weren’t aware of. In the digital age, security has to move at the speed of hackers’ ability to beat it. Don’t get left behind.

#7: Use a Strong Password on Your Smart Phone App

Even when you’ve done everything that you can do to reinforce the defenses around your vehicle, sharp hackers can get inside the city walls by using your smart phone as a Trojan Horse. The mobile app on your smart phone is a direct line to your Tesla. If hackers can’t hack the key fob and they really want your car, they may try to hack your phone instead.

If a hacker manages to get access to your phone, the password protection on the app will be the last line of defense, keeping them from accessing your vehicle. To the best of our knowledge, there are no reported cases of car thieves actually doing this to accomplish the theft of a Tesla, but in theory, it is possible. If we thought of it, you can be sure that they have too.

#8: Don’t Leave Your Keys Laying Around (Even Inside Your Own Home)

It should go without saying at this point, but if we don’t take a few seconds to mention it, somebody will eventually make the mistake. Even if you keep your fob inside a Faraday pouch or tin, you need to know that these things will only become more recognizable to the average person as more electric vehicles find their way onto the roads.

Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to do everything you can to deter professional car thieves only to have one of your kid’s friends decide to take your Tesla for a joyride because they saw the Faraday pouch laying around?

#9: Check the Range on Your Key and Phone

If there isn’t much more than an exterior wall separating you from your parking spot when you’re in certain rooms of your home or workplace, you might be unlocking your Tesla vehicle’s doors without realizing it. You’re more likely to encounter this problem if you’ve set-up the Bluetooth system to allow you to use your phone as your key. Fortunately, you can adjust the range on your phone to make sure this doesn’t happen.

#10: Park Your Tesla in the Garage

Whenever you have the option, it’s a good idea to park your Tesla behind an additional barrier. If your home has a garage, then take advantage of it—even if that means that you have to organize a bunch of stuff in order to open up a space big enough to park the car in. 

It’s a good idea to garage park your Tesla as much as possible when you’re away from home as well. We certainly know how good it feels to find free street parking when you’re out for a night on the town or headed to an on-site client meeting. But when you consider the relatively low cost of paying for garage parking in comparison to the huge headaches and potential financial hit of having your Tesla stolen, it seems like money well spent.

#11: Turn on the Alarm

If you have home security like cameras and alarms but aren’t using them, we’re not sure that anything we’ve said up to this point is actually going to make a difference. With all of the affordable and functional home security products that are on the market now, it just makes sense to protect your home and family with as much assistance as technology can offer you.

Wireless security cameras and door alarms are both ways to make sure that any car thief worthy of the name keeps right on going when they stop to “case the joint” (that’s car thief talk for spec’ing out the job – the job of stealing your Tesla).

#12: Outside Motion Sensor Lighting

A well-lit driveway or parking lot is a much less comfortable place for a car thief to do their work than anywhere that they’re under the cover of darkness. Whether you prefer to go with lights controlled by your smart-home system, motion-sensor activated security lights, or more traditional options—plenty of light is a great way to make your home a no-go zone for car thieves.

The same logic applies when you’re parking your Tesla away from home. Are you really saving yourself anything when you park your Tesla in a free spot down a dark alley instead of paying for a well-lit and monitored lot or garage?

#13: Add a Secondary GPS

The best car thieves out there are going to know how to disable the onboard GPS system in your Tesla. If they do get in and manage to get it rolling, you’ll be counting on the GPS locator to help you, and the police track your vehicle down and get it back. What the car thief might not think of is the possibility that you had an aftermarket GPS locator installed in your Tesla.

#14: The Club

Yeah, we’re being a little bit silly with this one. But in all seriousness, we’re pretty sure that you can still order one from Amazon. If nothing else, you’ll get a good chuckle when you see the look of disbelief on a car thief’s face after he makes it through all of the high-tech defenses on your Tesla only to be stymied by the most low-tech theft-deterrence system out there.

What Makes A Tesla Hard to Steal and Easy to Recover?

We talked a lot about the specific elements that make up a Tesla vehicle’s theft deterrence system as we moved through the tips to avoid having yours stolen. There certainly are a lot of them, and they definitely do an impressive job—with results to prove it. But at this point in the growth-phase of electric vehicles in general and Tesla vehicles specifically, there are other factors that have been working in your favor.

It’s worth talking about the hidden benefits that owning a Tesla has when it comes to deterring car theft. If trends continue in the direction that they are presently headed, some of those benefits might disappear or even turn into liabilities. Professional car thieves respond to market conditions just like any other business—at least the good ones do. A change in conditions could mean a change to the threat-level your Tesla faces.

Tesla Vehicles Are Harder to Steal

There is a combination of factors that make a Tesla harder to steal than the average passenger vehicle. For starters, the technology in a Tesla is unfamiliar and exotic when compared to the gasoline-powered vehicles that are at the top of the list of models most likely to be stolen. 

The fact that there aren’t many out there definitely makes it harder for car thieves to get practice, but it also tells them that there will be a low-volume demand for the parts. They might already know that they’ll have trouble unloading it once they’ve stolen it.

If a Tesla is a high-risk target that is also harder to unload, it doesn’t make sense to a car thieve to pass-up an Accord, Civic, Camry or Altima to run the risk of getting busted trying to boost a Tesla.

Tesla Vehicles Are Easier to Recover

We already mentioned the GPS system that Tesla vehicles come with. That explains the 90+% recovery rate compared to the industry standard that is below 60%. There are stories of Tesla tracking systems giving thieves away at border crossings and of owners talking police in as they intercept a stolen Tesla.

At the same time, there are stories of car thieves disabling GPS tracking systems and making Tesla vehicles disappear. The three vehicles that show up in the data had to go somewhere, but nobody knows where. Obviously, the car thieves had a way to work around the GPS system.

What Tesla Owners Need to Stay Alert For

One of the biggest things working in Tesla’s favor, when it comes to staying off of car thieves’ radar, is the limited number of them on the roads. It appears that the company has reached a tipping point where they are able to keep up with sales demand and churn out several hundred-thousand vehicles each year. That means that the market for replacement parts has to be approaching a tipping point of its’ own.

Once the demand gets high enough, car thieves will invest whatever amount they need to in order to crack the code to make a Tesla as ripe of a target as a Camry or Civic. Call it black market R & D, or whatever you want. The fact of the matter is that once the conditions are right to make stealing Tesla vehicles a high-reward proposition, car thieves will figure out how in spite of the risks.

At the present moment, it appears that Tesla has put enough road blocks in the path of would-be car thieves to make stealing a Tesla more trouble than it is worth. If you own a Tesla, you’ve been reaping the benefits of this situation the entire time that you’ve owned the car. Once those conditions change, it will be even more important to follow the tips that we provided earlier to make sure that your Tesla isn’t the one that the car thieves set their sights on.

Conclusion

Tesla vehicles are great cars that contribute to a great cause. We need to do as much as we can to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and combat the effects of climate change. That doesn’t mean that we can’t drive an awesome car as part of the bargain.

In all likelihood, the popularity of Tesla vehicles will only continue to grow over time. If they do, some of the secondary benefits of Tesla ownership that have kept them safe from car thieves may start to fall by the wayside or even flip completely. If and when that happens, doing everything you can to make sure your Tesla is just a little bit harder to crack than the next one might make the difference.

Fortunately, nothing in our list of tips is very expensive or very difficult to do. If you force yourself to adopt the good habits that correspond to our tips, most of them will become second nature well before we see the type of shift in demand for replacement Tesla parts that would mark a change in the threat-level your car faces. Don’t wait until it’s too late to make the changes that will make a difference.

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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