Car Crime

Key to preventing car theft begins at home

8 April 2010

53 cars a day disappear from drives following domestic burglary for keys

  • 19 per cent upsurge in vehicles stolen following domestic burglary* – despite 14 per cent fall in car thefts overall**
  • Cars worth around £194m stolen off drives every year

Every day at least 53 householders in England and Wales find that their car has disappeared following burglary of their home to obtain the keys, AA Insurance reveals.

Figures announced in a parliamentary answer given by the Rt. Hon Alan Johnson MP, Home Secretary* last month, show that in 2008/09 over 19,400 cars were stolen in this way, more than 1,600 per month: a 19 per cent increase over similar figures announced last year.

A further 2,700 car keys were stolen by robbery of individuals, a slight but welcome fall over the previous year.


Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance says he is alarmed by the rising trend in key burglaries. "It's almost impossible to steal a modern car without first obtaining the keys.

thieves take keys off hall tables or from convenient key racks near the door "Our own insurance claims statistics show a similar trend with an average value of cars taken using stolen keys just over £10,000 – which underlines the increasing determination, patience and ingenuity of thieves targeting upmarket cars, even though the total number of cars stolen is falling.

"Although some cars are quickly recovered, particularly if they are fitted with a tracking device, many just disappear. It's believed that they are either taken out of the country in freight containers or broken up for the lucrative overseas spares market."

Douglas points out that this means car insurers are potentially facing claims of over £190m as a result of domestic burglary.

He adds that often home owners make it easy for burglars to get hold of keys. "A common tactic for thieves is to take keys off hall tables or from convenient key racks near the door, simply by 'fishing' for them with a pole through the letterbox.

"Burglars are also adept at opening doors secured with conventional slam-shut barrel locks. Once in the house, they'll often find the keys left on a table or sideboard and can make a quiet getaway in the stolen vehicle. It could be some time before the family realises that their car has gone after a frantic search for their keys."

AA claims experience

Recent claims at AA Insurance have included keys stolen:

  • While the owners were asleep at night
  • While owners have been in the garden or have 'popped out for five minutes'
  • Keys left in front door locks
  • Keys 'fished' through the letter box or through open window fanlights
  • Homes comprehensively burgled and the family car used as a getaway vehicle
  • Three cars stolen out of a locked garage following burglary of all the family's keys, while they were on holiday
  • Keys stolen from workplaces, gym lockers and changing rooms
  • Keys quietly picked out of unwatched bags or pockets
  • Smaller numbers stolen by way of threats, muggings or carjackings

Many stolen cars just disappear The latest figures show that London is again the car key theft capital, followed by Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and the Thames Valley. The data covers England and Wales only.

Simon Douglas says: "Keys are the weakest link in the car security chain and you should treat them as cash. You wouldn't leave £10,000 or more in banknotes lying around – yet that's exactly what many people seem to do with their car keys."

AA advice:

  • Where possible, keep your car in a locked garage (this will bring car insurance discounts, too)
  • Keep car keys in a secure place – not on the hall table or hanging from a convenient hook by the door
  • Ensure your ground floor doors and windows are locked and bolted when you retire at night. Use a 5-lever mortise lock on your main exit door. Bolt doors at night
  • Don't leave spare keys in the house if you are going away without your car
  • Consider improving your car's security, for example by having an 'after-theft system for Vehicle Recovery'(Thatcham Category 5 tracking device) fitted (this will also bring an insurance discount). Even a simple mechanical security device will be an additional deterrant – as long as the key isn't on the same ring as the car keys!
  • Park in public, well-lit car parks particularly where there is good security such as CCTV (look for the Park Mark sign)
  • Carry your car keys in a secure place about your person and not in a handbag which can easily be taken
  • Never, ever, leave your car unattended with the keys in it. Cars still disappear from drives, filling stations and car parks while the owner is distracted – for example popping back indoors for something you've forgotten or while feeding coins into a car park meter. Insurers may not meet a claim in such cases.


*Cars 'Stolen during a robbery' and 'Stolen during a domestic burglary' (source: Answer by the Rt. Hon Alan Johnson MP to a question posed by the shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling MP on 27th February 2010). Figures assume an average value of £10,000 for each stolen car

** The latest British Crime Survey published by the Home Office shows that 147,470 cars were stolen during 2008/09, a reduction of 14 per cent compared with the previous year. However 15 per cent of all cars stolen are by firstly obtaining keys by burglary or robbery

Join the discussion in the AA zone


16 August 2010