How Difficult Is It To Steal A Tesla? Harder Or Easier Than A Conventional Car?

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Considering how expensive some of Tesla Motors’ offerings are, one can’t help but sometimes wonder how difficult it would be to steal one (or is that only me?). With all of the options concerning remote vehicle access through the internet, perhaps easier than your average everyday Toyota? That said, what would one even do with a stolen Tesla? The company does reportedly make use of a remote disabling system when dealing with stolen units, after all — and it’s not like you’re going to sell one for spare parts.

Important questions. For some of us anyways….

Tesla P85D #1 Car Ever Tested By Consumer Reports, Breaks Rating System With 103 Out Of 100

On that note, a recent discussion on the Tesla Motors Club forum covered that exact topic, and fielded some interesting replies and comments. Below are a couple of the ones that stood out the most to me.

“glhs272” commented:

A Tesla would be very hard to steal in the conventional “hot wire” way, but could be potentially easier to steal in different ways. Aside from breaking into someone’s house and stealing the keys, it might be easier to steal the “digital keys”. All you need is a smart phone like an iPhone and to social engineer an attack on someone’s user account. Getting user account logins and passwords is old school hacking and there are many ways it can be done. Basically it is an IT security risk. Get an owner to inadvertently disclose the username and password to the Tesla account, then they can use the Tesla iPhone app to find the car, unlock and remotely start the car then turn off remote access then drive away.

That would of course lead to you having the car but without the keys — and with one angry former Tesla owner furiously contacting the authorities and/or Tesla. I can’t imagine that situation working out well for someone over anything but the very short term.


“mikeash” contributed this:

Pretty much any newer car is really hard to steal. If you look at the statistics for car theft, the most stolen car models are popular, reliable models from the late 90s, because they’re still relatively easy to steal, and provide a decent ROI. Late 90s Honda Accords are stolen at a rate of about 50,000/year in the US. The most stolen new car is stolen at a rate of a few hundred per year. New cars have fancy things like immobilizers that authenticate the key with the engine control computer, so a simple hotwiring is a thing of the past.

If a new car is stolen, it’s probably because the key got stolen, often as part of a home burglary, or because the driver left it running. You can potentially do fancy hacks like breaking in through the cellular connection or using a relay to “borrow” the driver’s key fob without their knowledge, but very few thieves will bother.

How does the Tesla compare to other modern cars? I don’t know! It’s probably similar, but I don’t know that the relative differences matter much one way or another.

My favorite comment, though, came from “DGM73” over in Spain, who stated:

In my country, the most usual reason for stealing a car is to forcefully land the stolen car in the storefront of a luxury shop and then proceed to burglarize it, not giving a second thought about the now abandoned stolen car laying there. This is usually done with big robust cars (audis preferred). I would think that a Tesla could qualify, although here they attract too much atention…

That’s a funny one. Can you imagine somewhere stealing a Tesla P85D simply so that they could smash their way into luxury goods store? That certainly makes for an interesting image in my mind… I wonder what the Tesla owner in question would do to the thief if they witnessed that? 🙂

Here’s one more comment, from “Chris TX,” to perhaps close out the Tesla discussion:

There are multiple handshake sessions that happen at multiple frequencies between the fob and the car. The act of walking up to your car, opening the door, and starting it utilizes an impressive array of infrastructure components. The only way someone is going to steal your car is by brute force towing, stealing the fob, or stealing an unlocked phone AND knowing your PIN#. Even sniffing the wifi over an open network would reveal an encrypted VPN tunnel that would need to be cracked. Even then, the hacker would need to be listening at the precise moment you use your phone to start your car.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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31 thoughts on “How Difficult Is It To Steal A Tesla? Harder Or Easier Than A Conventional Car?

  • One of the compensations of living in a Big Brother society, with pervasive surveillance technology, is that sometimes he’s on your side. The Internet of Things means that objects will have no privacy.

    • That’s it. I’m starting a movement for object’s rights.

  • There was an online video of a woman who had her Model S stolen. She was able to see where it was going on her smartphone. This made it easy for the cops to catch up with the car.

    • Thats because the thieves did not disable the remote phone access on the car. Once they disable it no one can access the car from the phone app. Not sure if Tesla and the Police can still access it remotely though. Not sure how Tesla has programmed that option.

      • Easy fix. They can only allow that feature to be disabled only after a timeout.

        Kinda like opting out of a spammer’s list. It took seconds to get on the list, but somehow it takes days for them to remove your email address.

        • I don’t follow you. How does a time out help here. ?

          • The time out would make it more difficult for a criminal to avoid being tracked because the phone would still be able to track the car for an hour, or however long the time delay is set for before remote access is actually disabled.

          • Its not fool proof. But yes. I guess it would make it more difficult though But that only works if the person realizes the theft with in the stipulated time out period. 🙂

          • The solution is simple, require a pin code to disable remote access. And when disabled there is a timeout.

            If a car gets stolen without owner knowing, they will need the pin code which would be impossible to get. If they say get the car stolen by threatening owner with a gun (and making them disable the pin code, tracking would still remain for say 24h.

            Thus all scenarios are covered.

          • If covers this scenario alright. Look at my other separate comment. Its never 100% fool proof. You can make it really tough though.

          • Even better, have a distress pin. Not only enables 48 hours of tracking that cannot be disabled. But alerts police with an ABP.

            My suggested timeout would be measured in days, not hours. For a tracking feature, there are no good reasons why a legit owner would need to disable on short notice.

          • My suggested timeout would be measured in days, not hours. For a tracking feature, there are no good reasons why a legit owner would need to disable on short notice.

          • I’m new to this discussion, but wondering why tracking should ever be turned off. Perhaps make the tracking information available to the owner at all times and leave it up to them whether that information is shared with others.

            (Tracking would likely be available to the police with a court order.)

          • With today’s problems with companies handing over records to the government from barely a threat of court order (Verizon, AT&T, Google, etc)… Drivers should not just trust anyone, and have a clear option to fully opt out.

          • What does it matter if someone in the government can track your car? They can do that anyway via traffic cameras and license plate reading software.
            Paranoid people should seek treatment rather than driving public discourse.

          • Traffic surveillance is usually a city thing… you have to really be in trouble for send out the alert that gets other cities and states looking for you.
            Even then, it is a ‘checkpoint’ style tracking. They still have to do old fashioned investigating to find your origin and destination.

            But travelling across the open road is another thing entirely.
            Nobody expects a single government agency to passively track vehicles.
            And GPS tracking is continuous… meaning they don’t just know the intersections and highway markers you pass… they know where you visit. The stores you shop at, the people you see, your daily routine, etc.

          • In case you need to dump a body or two…

          • Call Uber….

          • If a thief can’t disable the tracking feature when he/she first steals the car, the police can still find it.

          • Without tracking or car broadcasting its whereabouts, the cops will be able to find it? Really? Hundreds of thousands of cars remain unfound by the cops in California.

          • No, I’m saying WITH the GPS tracking feature enabled. The reply was to a comment suggesting that a thief could disable it from the car.

          • Yes. of course. No where did i deny that 🙂 I was addressing the particular solution offered by the gentleman above, 🙂

    • Seems like a good opportunity for remote disabling.

  • Only way i can think of is stealing the key fob and disabling remote access and once gain entry into the car and then may be start the hack and do whatever they need to to disable car’s 3g network + maps and location sharing and stuff which i believe uses some military grade encryption??. But it all has to happen so fast before the owner or someone else realizes whats happening. Then they have to beat the real world surveillance odds. Too many variables at play. So, may be doable if you are a hacker genius and a brilliant thief. But really tough to pull it off and get away with.

  • all i can say is…remember when that reporter lied about his use of the Tesla he was loaned?
    Tesla showed all the car logs .Time, GPS,acceleration ,mapped to the pointed
    where they caught him driving round and round a car park to try and drain the battery for a negative review..
    good luck trying to even move a Tesla 100 feet without being caught.
    Btw how are those ferraris not being stolen?…

  • you’ve stolen a Tesla….
    Now what?

  • Phone app -> Activate Valet mode -> Location -> Call police while directing them. Case closed.

    From thief’s point of view: Bring a jammer with you, to kill the car’s 3g coverage..? Would it work?

    • Also from phone app: Honk horn + flash head lamps to draw attention, non stop! 😀

  • It is my understanding that as of July 2015 only 4 have ever been stolen – which makes it one of the least stolen cars (certainly the least stolen in the USA) – mostly because any repairs have to be carried out by approved companies – so spare parts have no market value. Secondly because it can be tracked & remotely shut down by Tesla whatever the thieves do.

    • Probably put into a metal cargo container and transported to a shielded warehouse.

Comments are closed.