Case of the Month: Stolen Recovered

Mar 1, 2017 by

A 2006 Toyota Tacoma was stolen, vandalized, partially stripped, and then recovered. GEI was assigned to inspect and photograph the Toyota and to identify signs of theft, forced entry, compromised locks or steering column. We were also to determine if the steering column lock or ignition switch lock cylinder were attacked or defeated, and to determine if the transponder system was defeated or bypassed.

The vehicle was inspected. The exterior of the vehicle was dirty with evidence of vandalism from recent multiple deep scratches (keying) on all of the body panels with the exception of the roof. The middle section of the roof had flaking paint, rusting metal, and was sagging. These damages pre-existed the date-of-loss incident. The rear bumper was slightly dislodged and out of place, and the tailgate was missing. The wheels were not made by Toyota.

The engine compartment was also examined. No vandalism damage was found in the engine compartment. However, the battery and the aftermarket battery cable terminals were missing. The remainder of the engine compartment was found in good, clean condition.

The exterior of the vehicle was examined for signs of forced entry. No indications of a forced entry attempt or the use of a “Slim-Jim” type tool were found on the paint of the underlying sheet metal at the doorjambs, window frames, or door handle areas. The doors’ rubber weather stripping and the windows’ trim and doors’ window channels were found in good condition.

The driver’s and the right front passenger’s door lock cylinders were found in place, undamaged and undefeated. The paint and sheet metal surrounding the front door handle areas were found in good condition with no evidence of attack. The left and right door latch mechanisms were found in place, undefeated, and in their open positions. The rear doors’ doorjamb-mounted door handles were found in good condition. The rear doors were found in good condition and displayed no indications of attack.

The interior of the vehicle was partially stripped and heavily vandalized. Missing components included the front and rear seats, stereo components including the stereo head unit and most of its wiring, rear door stereo speakers, sun visors, and the reading light covers. The dash, front door panels, and rear seat cushions were vandalized.

The ignition system was examined for signs of forced entry. The outer ring of the ignition key guard was gone. The components of the steering column lock were found in the locked position, intact, and displayed no indications of attack. The components of the ignition switch were in place and displayed no indications of attack. An inspection of the lock wafers, with magnification, found the wafers in place and undefeated, but they did display signs of wear and/or tampering and attack damage. The remaining components of the ignition lock assembly were found in place and not defeated. As a result of the nondestructive examination of the ignition lock, it was determined that the ignition lock cylinder was not bypassed and was last operated by a key with the proper cuts.

The vehicle was factory equipped with a transponder key that operated in unison with the engine immobilizer anti-theft system. Barring the use of equipment available at a Toyota dealership, and training on that equipment, this system would have prevented the engine from starting and the vehicle from being driven without a properly coded transponder key. The transponder antennae ring was found broken and disabled; however the transponder anti-theft system was not defeated.

The engine immobilizer system is designed to prevent the vehicle from being stolen. This system uses a transponder key Engine Control Unit (ECU) that stores the key codes of authorized ignition keys. If an attempt is made to start the engine using an unauthorized key, the transponder key ECU sends a signal to the Engine Control Module (ECM) to prevent fuel delivery and ignition, which disables the engine.

When the transponder key ECU detects that unlock warning switch is ON, the ECU provides current to the transponder key coil, which produces a faint electronic wave. A transponder chip in the key grip receives the wave. Upon receiving the wave, the transponder chip outputs a key ID code signal. The transponder key coil receives this signal. It is amplified, and then the signal is transmitted to the transponder key ECU. The transponder key ECU matches the key’s ID code with the vehicle’s ID code, which was previously registered in the transponder key ECU. If the ID codes match, the transponder key ECU turns OFF the security indicator. Then when the ignition key cylinder is turned, the code match results are sent through the transponder key ECU to the ECM. After the identification results show that the key’s ID code matches the vehicle’s ID code and the transponder key ECU has confirmed their match, the immobilizer system is canceled and the engine starting controls (fuel injection control and ignition control) enter standby mode thus enabling the engine to start and run.

In conclusion, no indications of a forced entry attempt were found. The ignition lock cylinder was not bypassed and the vehicle was last operated by a properly programmed transponder ignition key.

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