In an era of keyless entry, connected cars and computerized everything, you’d think that car theft would be a thing of the past. Alas, as cars have gone more high-tech, so have car thieves.
Thanks to clever black market hardware, it’s possible for thieves to spoof the electronic codes that wireless key fobs use to unlock and start cars. It’s not easy to do, but it’s common enough to be a concern, especially with high-end vehicles.
To discourage this, Dodge has taken a page out of the IT security handbook and will now offer two-factor authentication in Charger and Challenger models equipped with its most powerful 392-cubic inch V8 and its supercharged 6.2-liter V8. Even better, this feature isn’t restricted to only newly sold vehicles: It’ll be available as a free software update to all eligible 2015-2021 products.
Here’s how it works.
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Once installed, the software will limit vehicle engines to an idle speed of around 675 rpm upon initial startup, generating just 2.8 horsepower and 22lb-ft of torque—a tiny fraction of what they are capable of producing. They’ll be able to be driven, but at close to walking pace and nothing faster.
However, once a driver enters their four-digit security code, the full power of the car will be unlocked. That means that without the code, would-be car thieves won’t even be able to make a quick getaway even if they have a spoofed key or the original.
“Though statistically rare, car thieves have targeted the high-horsepower Dodge muscle cars, and we want the Dodge ‘Brotherhood’ to know we’re taking quick action and covering their backs,” explains Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis in a press release.
This isn’t the first time that Dodge has used clever software to introduce features to an automobile. A few years ago, it rolled out an update to the Dodge Charger Pursuit police car that used the built-in ultrasonic parking sensors to alert officers if someone tried to sneak up behind their car to catch them unaware.
More vehicles will soon be incorporating digital key technology, which should help prevent auto theft from key spoofing as well. The next-generation BMW iDrive includes something called “Digital Key Plus” that uses ultra-wideband tech in late-model iPhones to securely authenticate both phone and car to unlock doors and drive, and its key fobs will do the same, making spoofing considerably more difficult.
Then there are digital connectivity and app-based solutions like GM’s OnStar, the Volvo On Call app, or other similar apps available from most car companies these days that allow doors to be unlocked remotely from an app. Of course, these work differently as they are connecting to the car via the cloud, but it’s still an interesting non-traditional way to unlock a car.
It remains to be seen whether these wireless systems will replace key fobs entirely someday.