There was an interesting story on WXYZ ABC Channel 7 television out of Detroit last week about how auto thieves just love GM's $60,000 plus Cadillac Escalade as well as GM's Tahoe and Yukon Denali. Apparently, experienced thieves can steal a Cadillac Escalade in about 14 seconds, and have it totally stripped in about 20 minutes.
Well, the old fashion way.
According to the WXYZ story:
"You can't steal an Escalade or virtually any other new car these days by driving it away. They have a computer chip in the key. Without the key, the engine will not start."
So instead, the thieves break a window, crawl in, and then force the car's gear lever out of park. This allows the Cadillac to then be pushed away.
What about the steering wheel lock? Maybe you can push the Escalade, but surely you can't steer it.
Turns out that GM engineers thought with the high-tech key system in place, no one would be able to drive the car away. So they took out the steering wheel lock on some Escalade models which allows them to still be steered, says WXYZ.
Oops. A wee bit of technical hubris that.
WXYZ also says some Escalade owners have had their cars stolen as many as seven times.
GM told WXYZ that it has been very concerned about the theft problem, and that in 2010, it put laminated glass on the Escalade's side windows to deter thieves and started installing wheel locks again on the steering columns.
However, there seems to be a steering column design flaw which thieves have been able to easily exploit, reports WXYZ.
In addition, thieves often disable the vehicle's OnStar system to keep the vehicle from being tracked. Even when it is not, by the time the owner is aware his or her car has been stolen, it frequently has been picked clean.
WXYZ says that GM is now saying that it will be improving the steering column design to make it harder to steal an Escalade, but also adds that no car is theft proof.
According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, the Cadillac Escalade has the highest theft rate of any vehicle in the US. The other vehicles in the top ten for being stolen can be found in a photo gallery here at the LA Times.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.