THE rise of “keyless” cars is driving a big rise in vehicle theft, according to a Dorset insurer.

LV= General Insurance says car theft claims have increased by 20 per cent in each of the past four years, which keyless cars accounting for a rising proportion.

It says luxury marques such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes, Porsche and Tesla now account for almost half of thefts.

Keyless cars can be started with a fob or a smartphone. Criminals use relay devices to “trick” a car into thinking the correct device is present to unlock it.

Thefts from vehicles have also risen by 140 per cent in the past four years, mainly due to thefts of catalytic converters for their precious metals.

Heather Smith, managing director at LV= GI, which is now owned by Allianz, said: “From keyless cars, to Apple’s recent CarKey partnership with BMW, which means drivers can unlock and start their vehicle with an iPhone, car technology continues to advance. But unfortunately so do the methods criminals use to steal them, so consumers need to keep on top of new innovations and take extra precautions to ensure they stay one step ahead of criminals who may try and take advantage of them, and their cars.

“The police can only do so much, so it’s vital that drivers do everything they can to protect their vehicle, especially those driving a luxury or prestige car that is likely to attract attention.

“Most car theft happens near people’s homes, but with a better understanding of the technology and a few simple security measures, you can make your car a lot less appealing to thieves.”

Vehicle thefts in London have risen by 265 per cent since 2016, while Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester have all seen thefts more than double in that time.

The average claim for car theft ranges from £6,000 to £15,000 depending on the type of theft.

Cars stolen through burglaries lead to an average claim of £14,629, while thefts by force or threat of violence cost just under £11,000.

The average claim for opportunist thefts – where a car is left unlocked, keys are lost or stolen, or thieves use deception – ranges from £6,000-£10,000.

Owners of keyless cars are being urged to keep the fob as far away from it as possible and preferably in a Faraday bag, which prevents the fob from sending signals that can be picked up by thieves. LV= has distributed 18,000 of the bags to customers.

The insurer also urges owners to consider a wheel lock or clamp and always lock the car when unattended. Many owners do not realise their car has a double-lock mechanism and they should press the key or fob twice.

Other suggestions include fold-down parking posts in driveways; tracker systems; and using complex passwords for any smartphone apps that are required to use features of the car.