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Tesla owner tracked stolen Model S via iPhone app, leads to arrest, enjoyment

Tesla-Model-S-third-part-3After a concert last Thursdays night, Katya Pinkowski, a Tesla Model S owner in Vancouver, returned to her car in an underground parking lot to find it missing. Pinkowski told local news outlet The Province that after making sure her Model S didn’t get towed, she called her husband who quickly checked the Tesla App to confirm the location of the vehicle.

Tesla’s smartphone app allows owners to access certain features of their vehicles like climate control, charge state and fortunately for Katya and her husband Cary, real-time location tracking. When Cary looked at the app, he saw that the couple’s Model 85D was driving through Richmond, a city south of Vancouver, at 43 mph (70 km/h), presumably with a thief behind the wheel.

Cary then called 911 and relayed his car’s location in real-time to the operator. Usually having your car stolen results in a bad day, but the Pinkowskis seem to have enjoyed their experience. Cary told The Province:

“It was so much fun, actually. I could tell the 911 operator was excited … they’d never had this before, where they could actually track the car […] I could watch him go in and out all the streets in Richmond.”

The couple debated about contacting Tesla to see if the company could stop the car remotely, but they decided to let the local police handle the situation. The RCMP said in a statement that they were able to surround the vehicle and safely make an arrest. A RCMP spokesman told the The Province:

“This is the first such Tesla recovery our detachment has encountered. What was unique in this incident was the ability for the Tesla owner to provide the E-Comm police dispatcher with accurate real-time tracking data.”

A 24 years old man was arrested for possession of stolen property and the Pinkowskis were able to retrieve their car at around 1 a.m. – just a few hours after the incident.

As it turns out, the thief gained access to the Model S because the couple mistakenly left in the vehicle a spare fob key they had recently bought. Very few Model S’s have been reported stolen, presumably because they are known to always be connected to the internet and tracked.

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  1. Steven - 7 years ago

    Just like the PSA from the ’70’s said…

    “Lock your door, take your keys.”

    • AlexanderB - 7 years ago

      PhilBoogie: Simply walk away is correct. (Unless you leave a key in the car.)

  2. PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

    What has the spare key inside the car has to do with the theft?

    • Fred Lambert - 7 years ago

      You need a fob in the car to put it in drive.

      • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

        I assumed as much. But how did the thief get into the car?

      • Fred Lambert - 7 years ago

        He touched the retractable door handles. If a key is detected, the doors will open.

      • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

        Aha! Thanks for enlightening me. Wow, well, looks like Tesla has yet to refine their security then, because this just plain sucks.

        How do you lock it then? Simply walk away?

      • Fred Lambert - 7 years ago

        With the app or fob.

  3. Definitely an area car manufacturers have not worked on much since the arrival of car fobs and the disappearance of real car keys: when should the car be locked or unlocked depending on where the fob is…

  4. garfnodie - 7 years ago

    I noticed someone on here a little confused by the newer keyless entry systems that exist. They all still have the ability to be locked and unlocked from short distances like always using the buttons, but they also have ones with proximity-based system as well. Assuming the key fob is on your person, you just walk up to the vehicle and usually touch a button on the door handle to unlock the door. The door will only unlock this way if the key fobs is withing a few feet of the vehicle, usually a few feet of the doors and truck specifically. Conversely, if you get out and start walking away with the key fob still on your person, and you don’t lock the door manually, the system will see the keyfob has gone beyond the few feet distance and will auto lock the door.

    Now, in the case of this Tesla, someone had a spare key fob that they obviously forgot was in the car and visible through the window, but the car still reacted like normal as the other key fob walked away and the car auto locked it’s doors, but since the spare was still in the car, the thief was able to just touch the door handle to unlock the car because it didn’t know they weren’t the owner since it saw that a proper key fob was still in proximity.

    This is a case of id10t error, but still a problem that someone needs to try and solve.

    • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

      That someone would be me. And I’m not just a little confused, I’m dumbfounded by the Tesla engineering team who seemingly have a collective IQ of a single digit.

      The fact that the system, the car, the security, whatever, wasn’t designed to overcome this scenario is beyond me. This is not just stupid, this is Microsoft stupidity level.

      The car should alert the owner that one fob was walking away and another fob was still inside.

      • garfnodie - 7 years ago

        I agree that it’s a problem, but in Tesla’s defence, I don’t think they’re the only one with the problem.

        My step mother has a Nissan Rogue with a proximity base system as well. It doesn’t have all the fancy, real-time GPS tracking, or phone app, but I should be able to test this out since both my Dad and step-mother have their own proximity fob. I’ll test it tomorrow and see how it reacts to leaving a fob in the car and I’ll report back here.

      • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

        You trying this out and report back? That is freaking awesome!

      • Drucifer - 7 years ago

        Really?!? For 100 years, cars have never told owners to take the keys with them and lock up. This is no different. People need to take responsibility for their vehicle security, period.

      • garfnodie - 7 years ago

        So I tested my step mothers Nissan. With key fob A on the driver side seat and having been locked with key fob B, fob B is then taken inside, come back to car and press unlock button on door handle and the car would not unlock. I had to go inside and get fob B and then pressing the unlock button on door handle unlocked the car.

      • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

        1) Thanks for testing this out an posting back.

        2) This proves that Tesla has completely fucked up here. Had they put any thought into the design of auto-locking the car by walking a away with a fob they wouldn’t made this useless non-secure system.

  5. Hkelly00 - 7 years ago

    My 2010 Lexus LS460 would not lock, and would begin a loud alert noise if you left the main fob or a spare in the car. Very handy backup for those of us who are prone to absent-mindedness. Tesla should do the same.

    In the meantime, I have made it a habit to look back and be sure the mirrors are folded back. If you have enabled auto-fold this is proof positive that the car is locked.

    • garfnodie - 7 years ago

      I’m still reserving my judgment on Tesla until I’ve had a chance to test my parents Nissan. If the Nissa works like your Lexus though, then Tesla certainly messed this one up, but it’s most likely fixable in software, so they could send the fix out OTA and no one ever has to go to a dealer.

  6. John - 7 years ago

    Teslas have a setting where you can let the car lock itself once it no longer detects a fob, or you can manually lock it. If you leave the fob in the car and manually lock it.. It’s locked. If you leave the fob in the car and the car is set to lock itself, it won’t lock. This is the owners fault.. Not Teslas

    • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

      I disagree; and not just because a Nissan Rogue does lock while leaving a fob inside the car, but mores that it’s advertised as ‘simply walk away’ instead of advertising this feature with ;simply walk away and don;t leave spare fob inside the car’.

      Tesla completely screwed up here. It makes one wonder what other design flaws we will surfacing.

  7. Jeffrey Hudson - 6 years ago

    leaving a key fob in a car is a definite no – no.


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