Why is a Tesla so hard to steal?

Guest contributor: EVBite

Thieves are having a hard time stealing vehicles made by Tesla. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), Tesla's 2016-2018 Model S and X was among the least stolen vehicles, only beaten by the BMW 3 series. The institute claims this is due to electric cars typically being stored in garages where they're charged. But if that's the case, where are the other EVs on their top 20 list

Above: Tesla's Model S (Source: Tesla)

According to HLDI, "Two of the vehicles on the least-stolen list are the Tesla Model S and Model X. Their low theft rate may be related to the fact that, as electric vehicles, they are usually parked in garages or close to a house [located] near a power supply. In a separate report last year, HLDI showed that electric vehicles from a variety of manufacturers have lower theft claim rates than comparable vehicles."

Regardless, Tesla has done a lot to earn their (nearly) chart-topping position on this least-stolen list. In addition, the relatively few Teslas that are stolen have an incredible recovery rate. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (via Marketwatch), 112 out of 115 stolen Teslas were recovered from 2011 to May of 2018. In comparison, the overall recovery rate for all vehicles in 2016 was just 58.4%.

Above: A look at Tesla's remarkably high recovery rate when it comes to vehicle theft (Source: Marketwatch)

“That’s about as good as it gets,” explains Fank Scafidi, director of public affairs at the National Insurance Crime Bureau. “I’m wondering if the thieves’ intellect might have been overwhelmed just sitting in a Tesla, much less figuring out how to operate it for any length of time.”

While most new cars have advanced tech to prevent theft, the Silicon Valley automaker outshines the industry in both minimal thefts and recovery rate. So what makes Tesla's cars such a headache for thieves? Much of this can be attributed to three key Tesla security features: GPS Tracking, Sentry Mode, and Pin to Drive.

GPS Tracking

GPS tracking has been a security feature since Tesla's early days. From within Tesla's phone app, owners can receive real-time data on vehicle location. If a Tesla is ever stolen, owners can use their phone to tell officers exactly where their car is located. It's happened plenty of times already and likely accounts for a large portion of recovered stolen Teslas. One downside to this feature is that in order to save battery life, the car only updates real-time while driving. And a knowledgeable thief, in theory, could remove the cars SIM card to prevent tracking altogether.

Sentry Mode

Tesla’s Sentry Mode is another method used to deter thieves before they even attempt to steal the car. Enabling this feature will leave the vehicle in a 'monitoring' state. The two side cameras, front camera, and sensors will remain active even while the car is off. In turn, the Tesla observes its surroundings ready to notify its owner and any individual too close to the vehicle in the unlikely event that a theft in progress. The display flashes a “recording in progress” message, and the vehicle does just that. For the majority of thieves, this is enough to reconsider. And for those daring thieves who still forge ahead, they run the risk of simply getting caught.

Pin to Drive

Okay, so let's say a knowledgeable thief was able to successfully accomplish a relay attack, ignores the recording in progress, and pulls out the car's SIM to prevent tracking. The thief will still have trouble driving away thanks to the Pin to Drive feature. This security feature requires you to enter a pin in order to drive the Tesla. The location of the pin-pad even shifts with each startup in order to prevent reading of finger print smudges. The only way to reset the pin is to enter your Tesla account credentials.

Above: This Model S was stolen in the UK; the key was at the back of the house, but Pin to Drive was off and passive entry was enabled (YouTube: Antony Kennedy)

In this case, using the owners' account credentials is just about the only way to drive away with a stolen Tesla. Fortunately, most petty car thieves lack the skills necessary to hack into your Tesla account through phishing, social engineering, brute force methods, etc. And if a Tesla owner is still concerned about these types of corner cases, there are some helpful steps they can employ in order to defend against car hacking.


An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape.