Model 3 Rental Stolen and Retrieved, Thief Caught Using Supercharger Billing Information

Model 3 in background with woman holding phone showing Tesla mobile app

A regular at the Trevls EV-only rent-a-car company in Minnesota was the key suspect in stealing a Model 3 rental car owned by the agency. According to the owner of Trevls, John Marino, the man simply walked up to the Model 3, opened it, got in, started it and drove off. Bloomington police are saying that “the man somehow manipulated the Tesla app to unlock and start the car, disabling the GPS before leaving town.”

As a Model 3 owner, you have to ask yourself: is it that easy for my car to be stolen? Actually, no. The problem (or the opportunity for the thief) was that this was a rental car, and Marino suspects that the thief is actually one of his regular customers. That means his mobile phone’s Tesla app will have been authenticated in the past as a key to that vehicle. However, Marino also told Electrek that the authentication was removed after the man rented his car the last time.

So how’s that possible? According to Mark Lanterman, a computer forensic specialist, “What it sounds like this person may have done is convince Tesla to take the VIN number of that vehicle and add it to his Tesla account. By doing that, you can do that with a phone call. By doing that, you can now control the Tesla from an app on your phone.”

If he did succeed in doing that, that means he gamed the system where Tesla grants authentication for special circumstances. The company already does this with loaners when a car is being serviced, and although there’s a feature on the app to disable such access through a smartphone, most Model 3 owners don’t bother to do it.

The problem is that the thief used Supercharger stations to “gas up”, and Marino transmitted the Supercharger billing info to the police, who caught the perpetrator somewhere near Waco, Texas, within two days of the theft. Considering that the guy managed to game the system and disable the always-on GPS and nearly got away with it, you’d think he’d be smart enough to have the foresight not to use a Supercharger and get caught because of the virtual paper trail. Staying overnight at a motel with a charging outlet might have saved him.

Well, some people.