By on July 11, 2016

jeep wrangler theft

It looks like car thieves in Houston have found a way to break into (and make off with) Jeep and Ram vehicles without using a slim jim, crowbar or screwdriver.

Surveillance video from a Houston garage shows a Jeep Wrangler being methodically commandeered by a man using a laptop and tablet. After last year’s remote-control Grand Cherokee incident, this is another hacker-related headache for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

The Houston Police Department’s Auto Theft Division released the video on June 22, but the theft itself occurred on April 20. The video doesn’t show the first suspect, who — according to police— raised the Wrangler’s hood and seemingly cut off the vehicle’s audible alarm. A second suspect walks up to the vehicle 10 minutes later, pulls out a laptop, and is soon able to open the vehicle’s door, kill the four-way alarm lights, then start up the Jeep and drive off.

At one point, the suspect briefly uses a flashlight behind the wheel, after which he can be seen using a tablet, with his laptop sitting on the dash.

“They were very professional, kind of made you feel kinda like you’ve been invaded,” the Jeep owner’s father, David Payne, told KHOU 11.

The high-tech theft isn’t a one-off — the same report quotes a Ram owner in another Houston neighborhood who suspects his vehicle’s thieves might have used dealer-sourced technology.

Even before Houston police released the video, residents began to suspect something was going on. A news report from early June detailed a rash of Ram thefts in the city’s Oak Forest neighborhood. Chris Mallia told Click2Houston that four Ram pickups and two Jeep Grand Cherokees were recently stolen from driveways in the area.

“It feels as though they have some sort of master key or computer system that’s allowing them access to the vehicle,” Mallia said. “If you look at the Jeep keys and the Ram keys, it’s the same system.”

In May, Ram trucks were the third most stolen vehicle in Houston, with 53 thefts. Jeep SUVs came in at number 10, with 17 thefts.

“It’s everywhere,” Jim Woods of the HPD’s auto theft unit told KHOU, after the release of the video. “If you’ve got a group that knows how to steal a certain model vehicle, that’s what they are going to go after consistently and steal.”

Last year’s Grand Cherokee hacking saw 1.4 million FCA vehicle recalled to prevent remote takeover of vehicle functions. Before the patch was added, hackers were able to use the Uconnect infotainment system as a portal to reach other vehicle functions, including the throttle, steering and brakes.

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82 Comments on “Jeep and Ram Owners in Houston Targeted by Laptop-Wielding Thieves...”


  • avatar

    Gotta keep my cars garaged because these animals will steal my wheels and tires.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      They’ll just take the whole car, if you noticed from the story.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Fortunately, that’s not really a thing where I live, and I’m able to leave my car in the driveway at night without fear of it being on blocks in the morning.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Yeah, it’s nice to be able to leave things outside and unlocked. Or you know, forget and leave the garage door open all day long while I’m at work.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          So my wife is famous?

          OTOH, here in the hills of CT on vacation leaving the keys in the car and windows open overnight is pretty nice.

        • 0 avatar
          pragmatist

          That’s sort of my situation as well. 25 years rarely bothering with locking car doors.

          And it’s definitely NOT a gated moated community. Mixed background, mixed ethnicities, pretty laid back.

      • 0 avatar

        NYC is so bad they’ll take the goddamneeed doors off a pathfinder.

        Even on your front lawn.

        I’ve seen it.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I believe that. You know, I don’t think I’d own a car in NYC.

          • 0 avatar

            I had to go into financial district/Wall Street this morning.

            E-train from Jamaica Queens into Manhattan.

            The E train was delayed because someone shat on a seat.

            You THINK you wouldn’t need or want a car, till you have to actually deal with public transportation.

        • 0 avatar
          mtmmo

          This past February I saw 4 guys in Jamaica Queens boost a set of Honda Accord Sport wheels in broad daylight. They would have made any NASCAR pit crew proud.

          • 0 avatar
            Piston Slap Yo Mama

            Jamaica, Queens – I’ve never seen more piles of green shattered glass shards from burglarized / vandalized cars, ever. Had to park my mint condition Insight on the street and stay in a flea-bag hotel there in the aftermath of Sandy. I barely slept and the next night found a nice AirBnB in Hollis to work out of. Run DMC, yo.

        • 0 avatar
          chuckrs

          My son had an older Cadillac that had a drivers door wiring harness that Gm discontinued. Came out one morning to find his drivers door missing. Probably more work stealing the door than making up your own door harness.

    • 0 avatar
      LS1Fan

      HELLCAT.

      Because car thieves deserve the best FCA can offer.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        I just found out a friend of mine has a Hellcat. Conversation went something like this: “My wife has a Fiat 500 Turbo convertible that has been fitted with a bigger turbo.” “You should take it for a spin around the block; it’s really fast through traffic!” Later on, the subject of Hellcats came up. “Oh, you didn’t know I have a Hellcat?” “I should take you for a ride.” “That’s not one I’m going to throw you the keys to.” :(

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      The HELLCAT would be too much for them to handle, so no worries there BTSR.

      It seems any car can be hacked via the OBD/CANBUS interface nowadays. Pretty soon we will be back to having The Club installed on every vehicle in a parking lot. Physical barriers always throw the hackers for a loop.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    I’m spitballing that the thief used a software tool to erase the vehicles ECU and install his own version, or (more likely) he bypassed the security and told the onboard computer to start the car.

    As an aside, it says something about modern German build quality when an FCA product is stolen instead of the BMW X5 next to it.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      In fairness, having owned an E70 X5, I think I’d rather feel sorry for the thief had he been stuck with the damn thing. Mine barely started when I had the key, let alone for a thief.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The way that many transponder anti-theft systems work there is a programming mode to add a new key or keys to the system when the owner either needs more than 2 keys or has lost one. The typical thing is that you connect the lap top enter the security system and then “open” it. Then you usually have to wait for a timer to run. The idea being that a thief will not want to sit in the car for that long waiting for the system to open. From this it looks like the Chrysler system just needs 5 min for that to happen based on the time stamp on the video.

      Once the system is in the programming mode you just have to insert a key and turn it and the computer will register that key’s transponder code.

      So I think they need to look through the look up history of the local Chrysler dealers. My bet is that they have an inside guy and they go out and find their target, do a quick scan of the VIN from the bar code on the dash. The inside guy then looks up the key code with that VIN and cuts one. Now they can get in the door and turn the ignition.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Ironically enough, there was a story in 2007 about David Beckham’s X5 being stolen in the exact same way.

      • 0 avatar
        whynotaztec

        This is a great exchange here at the expense of bmw thanks for the laugh.

        I’m thinking my 15 wrangler may be safe because no power locks so no fob, just a key.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I am kind of surprised car theft like this is still a thing, with how computerized and networked everything is. How do they profit from this? Can’t exactly go on CL and part out a brand new RAM/JGC in an area where those trucks have been getting stolen.

    I’m also wondering if other FCA models are equally vulnerable, but aren’t making the news because nobody wants them :)

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      Houston is a major port. Those vehicles are already in shipping containers halfway around the world, where the governments don’t care about the vehicles’ origin.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      in Houston…I would be good money they go straight to the port and out of the country.

      Oddly, titling and emission compliance issues are not as prevalent in parts of the middle east and Africa. They are probably loaded in a container before the owner even realizes their rig is missing in most cases.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    hacking? all you need is a few grand to buy the machine to clone the keys. ask any locksmith because they are happy to tell you how much they are fleeced to buy the system.

    • 0 avatar

      Every decent auto repair shop in the US has the gear. The shop I use owns a Ford IDS, A GM MDI and a StarMobile setup.

      A rogue mechanic could take that stuff home on a weekend, use it and return it Monday morning and no one would be the wiser.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Not only do many larger shops have the OE tools there are aftermarket tools out there that have the full OE functionality including being able to program the security system to add or replace keys. When I bought a car that only came with the one key I took the system home from the shop I used to work at to program it. I also used it on a coworker’s wife’s car that they only got one key with when purchased used.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      You would have to have a key to clone in the first place. Though you don’t need a few grand, depending on which cars you want to be able to service and which clone chip you want to program the systems can be under $600.

      • 0 avatar

        The point he’s making is that most of the better repair shops can clone a key or a fob. No problem. Cheaper than a locksmith in most cases. On my PATS key cars I buy blanks, have them cut, run them down to my shop for programming. It’s so easy they don’t even charge me to do it.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          For a lot of cars if you have 2 recognized transponder keys you can add more yourself with no tools. Insert recognized key 1 turn to on, then off, insert recognized key 2 turn on then off. Now insert unrecognized key turn to on and the computer will now recognize it. You can continue up to the number of keys the system is set up to remember. I’ve done that with most of the cars I own and some family and friends too. That way if you do loose a key you still have two recognized keys that will allow you to add a 3rd key again.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If someone stole my FCA car there would definitely be tears in my eyes.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Could you steal this Jeep with a laptop? I’m not sure.

    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/5660961298.html

    :D

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    I have the ultimate anti theft device – I drive an old Saab. Nobody wants it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      You have the ultimate theft device…a key position that’ll confuse the thief.

      Though you are right, it being a Saab helps

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      Or drive a manual transmission. Most thieves dont have the foggiest clue how to operate them…

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        I’m not sure why this is commonly stated; driving stick isn’t that hard and if someone wants to steal it, it’s not like they even have to do it well to bring their new prize home. Just dump it into 2nd and abuse as necessary.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          I look at it this way: if a thief is looking at 2 Honda Accords, and one is a stick, he is more likely to pick the other to steal. He’s more likely to feel comfortable driving it, and it would have a larger market for resale (or whatever he plans to do with it).

          Now, if we are talking about a rare Ferrari that a real professional has targeted, then I agree that transmission choice won’t make a difference.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    If someone doesn’t have a key, how in the world can someone steal the car? You can hack the computer, but you need a key to turn and unlock the steering column.

    • 0 avatar

      These fob vehicles do not require a key to unlock the steering column. Only the fob in proximity.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Lots of cars no longer have a locking steering column. Having a transponder key meets the required anti-theft regulations in and of itself. So those locking steering columns have been going away.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        This makes me think of the old anti-theft trick of Jeep CJ owners. Weld some chain to the metal dashboard and a single link to the manual transmission shifter. Make sure that the chain was just long enough to keep the transmission stuck in a high gear when padlocked together.

        Security for your convertible, door-less transportation.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          The way most people weld, that anti-theft device would soon be thwarted. Better have someone who knows what he / she is doing weld the chain.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        My Golf SportWagen has both a proximity key and a steering lock. The steering lock is engaged / disengaged electronically, and you can hear it.

        It’s weird that the JK Wrangler hasn’t had a steering lock, I believe, since 2009. You have the only vehicle on the consumer market that is designed to operate with its doors completely removed…and one that’s available with a manual transmission, so that there’s nothing preventing anyone from putting the vehicle into gear or rolling it down a hill…and there’s not even a steering lock to stop them? Ridiculous.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          But that steering lock would cost them an extra 25 cents per vehicle and since it isn’t required by law they are going to save that 25 cents per vehicle.

          As some may have figured out I own International Harvester Scouts. The Scout is the finest vehicle that GM ever had a hand in bringing to market. In one of the many ways IH was well ahead of its time was that they assembled vehicles with as many parts from outside suppliers as possible. The vast majority of those parts were from then divisions of GM. Delco-Remy, Rochester Products, Guide, Packard Electric and Saginaw. The steering column came from Saginaw. At some point IH decided that the Scout II needed a tilt steering column. Somehow in the negotiations they agreed to leave out the spring loaded pin and toothed plate that made up the locking mechanism for the steering wheel. It had to save Saginaw 7 or 8 cents per unit. However since it was going into a MPV, as they were classified at the time, it didn’t required a locking steering column since MPVs were considered trucks. So that 79 Scout with a tilt wheel doesn’t have a locking steering column but if it has the fixed column it does have a locking steering column.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            The Wrangler is probably one of the most profitable vehicles on the market considering what it costs to build it, versus what people pay for it. And its particularly susceptible to and desirable for theft. FCA could do right by its hordes of loyal Wrangler fans and install a steering lock, standard. I mean, seriously, of all modern cars not to have one…

            And interesting about the Scout, BTW. There were some other automakers that pretty much borrowed off-the-shelf components from larger firms. TVR was one of them. Really, Bentley and Rolls-Royce did it up to the 90s, when BMW and Volkswagen got their hands in the pie.

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge (bball40dtw)

            FCA hardly builds the Wrangler anyway. It’s all done in the Toledo Supplier Park using tooling that has been paid off forever ago.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            They need to have a big corporate poster right in the lobby of FCA.

            Things To Not Do:

            1) Change the Wrangler.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            And the picture should show a Wrangler with rectangular headlamps with a red bar diagonally across it.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @Kyree, and every Wrangler that is stolen is an opportunity for more profit. Either it is never recovered or stripped beyond repair and the previous owner will need a replacement. Or it is recovered but missing its doors, wheels and tires, damaged other parts, but not enough to write off. Either way each theft creates an opportunity to sell either a replacement vehicle or replacement parts. And that is why there are regulations requiring a minimum level of anti theft equipment.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @ Kyree. The Scout parts thing has led to some interesting interactions at parts stores. The one time that stands out in particular was when the headlights were starting to act up, the sun was dropping quick and I was ~20 miles from home and had to be somewhere. I figured out that it was the dimmer switch and headed to the closest parts store. I told the guy at the counter “dimmer switch 1972 International Scout” He responded there is no way we are going to have ANYTHING for that. I told him that while I can’t say what is actually on his shelf at this point and time I guarantee that there is a spot on the shelf for it. He argued some more and I finally got a little loud and told him to look up the [email protected]#$%^ part number. He finally did and when he came back with the switch in his hand he said I can’t believe we have one. I told him of course you do it is far and away the most common dimmer switch ever made as it fits GM cars from the 60’s until they started moving do the steering column stalk.

            Of course with the internet I always walk in with the part number and with a smart phone I can show them that their inventory system shows that they have one in stock.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Honda stopped putting the locking column on keyless cars here in the States, but according to the O/Ms, still has them on Canadian vehicles.

        What is different between NHTSA and Transport Canada’s regs, I wonder?

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    Well Crap. I have a 2014 Ram and a 2015 Jeep GC.

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