Tesla Model S difficult to steal, no used parts market, why/how was one stolen last night? Joyriders?

Last night a Tesla Model S was STOLEN, and after a 100+ miles/hr police chase it crashed in Hollywood, impacting several other cars, the Model S tore in half from the impact, multiple cars caught fire, and several people went to the hospital in critical condition.   There’s a glaring question or two waiting to be pondered:  Just how was it the Model S could be stolen in the first place?  Wouldn’t stealing a Model S be extremely stupid because Tesla Motors can not only track its every move, but also remotely shut off the car?

Tesla Motors designed the Model S to not use regular locks, instead the car opens itself when the fob approaches the car.  There isn’t a regular keyhole, so no possibility for jimmying the lock.  That means the first step would be to first steal the fob.  The car also turns itself on when the fob is in the car, a person sits in the drivers seat, buckles up, and perhaps presses a button on the dash (I don’t remember precisely).

Each Model S is constantly communicating with the Tesla mothership over cellular data connections.  Tesla Motors not only can track every aspect of each Model S, they can (and reportedly have) send out STOP commands to stolen Model S’s.  That means even if a thief does get ahold of the fob, Tesla can stop the theft in its tracks.

Therefore, why would a thief even try to steal a Model S if Tesla can just stop them?

The reality is a bit different than the theory I just laid out.  There are some vulnerabilities which could be exploited by thieves with enough technical skill.

First off, some have observed the cellular connection on the Tesla Model S is vulnerable to hacking.  I wrote a summary of one such report over on PluginCars.com, in which a writer posting on the IEEE Spectrum website went over the known REST API pointing out how Tesla Motors didn’t use industry best practices and left the Model S with weakened security.

If the Tesla Motors Corporation staff can send remote commands to a Model S, it’s possible for a sufficiently talented criminal (or government agency) to do the same.  By the way, this is true for every other car that exports a data connection to the Internet.

A discussion thread in the forum on teslamotors.com discusses different vulnerabilities.  It’s possible (but difficult) to develop a fake fob.  Defeating the cellular connection between the Model S and the mothership would require either blocking GSM signals (feasible with the right gizmo) or else removing the SIM card.

That video demonstrates the necessity to either steal the fob, or develop a fake fob, in order to successfully steal a Model S.

Keyless cars may be easier to steal than ones that use keys, because the manufacturers have to put in systems to easily create new fobs.  At least that’s what one poster on Tesla Motors Club says.  The same guy said high end BMW’s are trivial to steal, because there’s a simple method through the OBD port to create a new fob.

According to a MarketWatch report, there have been some Model S’s which were stolen but the report doesn’t go into how it was accomplished.

There are two reasons why any car is stolen:  a) reselling parts stripped off the stolen vehicle, b) joyriders who want to drive fast/hard, then trash the vehicle

The market for used Tesla Model S parts is minuscule, because there are no independent shops that can work on the cars.  That makes a tiny economic motive for stealing a Model S.

As for the joyriders – I’m sure they’d love to joyride then thrash a Model S.  And that may be what happened last night in Hollywood.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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