The technology of vehicular ad hoc networks allows vehicles communicate with road-side infrastructure or with nearby vehicles, supporting a wide range of promising vehicular communication applications and services. It relies on the periodic transmission of packets, called beaconing, as single-hop link-layer broadcast to nearby vehicles or road-side units. However, because of the inherent broadcast nature of the wireless channels, beacon messages are easily exposed to security attacks, such as spoofing, manipulation, or replaying. In this paper, we propose a new certificateless broadcast authentication scheme for securing beacon messages in vehicular networks, which uses the mechanism of Schnorr signature as an underlying primitive. The main goal of our scheme is not to impose the requirement of the public key infrastructure (PKI) that makes existing schemes impractical. Our scheme has a number of crucial advantages. It mitigates the PKI requirement but without degrading any security strength. Consequently, it surpasses existing PKI-based solutions in terms of both the communication and computation overhead associated with certificates. We also show how the scheme can be extended to provide a practical solution for the problem of key distribution in general-purpose vehicular applications. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.