Car key crime

15% upsurge in vehicles stolen following robbery or burglary

30 April 2009

More than 18,500 cars were stolen last year after the keys were taken by robbery or domestic burglary, prompting an appeal from AA Insurance to keep car keys safe from criminals.

Over 50 people a day had cars stolen in this way, with numbers rising by 15 per cent in a year according to claims data from AA Car Insurance1, which believes it shows thieves are becoming more sophisticated and violent in their methods.

A Parliamentary answer2 given by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith suggested that last year over 15,700 cars disappeared because the keys were stolen during a burglary and a further 2,900 drivers were robbed to obtain keys by, for example, mugging, pickpocketing or carjacking. This represents 11 per cent of the 170,000 cars recorded as stolen during 2007/08 in the latest British Crime Survey published by the Home Office3.

AA comment

Simon Douglas, director of AA Car Insurance, believes this points to a worrying trend for upmarket cars to be stolen by more violent means. He points out that modern cars are almost impossible to steal without the keys.

"We are certainly seeing more claims where cars have been taken following a confrontation or where customers have found their car has disappeared off the drive and the keys have gone because their home was broken into.

"We believe many such cars are stolen to order and thieves may be waiting for the right opportunity to seize them."

Claims received by AA Insurance have included:

  • Crimes where car keys have been stolen from a property while the owners are at home, including cases where people have left their keys in the front door; or left ground floor windows open while they sleep at night; and other cases where burglars have "fished" for keys by putting a hook through the letter box. The first the owners knew of the burglaries was when they noticed their car missing
  • One criminal used keys from a single stolen key ring to carry out a major home burglary and then used the owner's car as a getaway vehicle to carry the stolen possessions
  • Some families have seen two cars vanish from the driveway after burglars took the keys
  • A number of keys have also been stolen from workplaces, gym lockers and changing rooms
  • Smaller numbers are stolen by way of threats, muggings or carjackings, while others are quietly lifted from unwatched bags or pockets

The figures quoted by the Home Secretary show that London is the area where cars are most likely to be taken as a result of robbery or burglary, followed by West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands (full table below). The data covers England and Wales only.

Simon Douglas adds: "The British Crime Survey also suggests that half of all cars stolen are over 10 years old – and these are the easiest cars to take because they aren't necessarily equipped with the security and anti-theft devices that come as standard on modern vehicles. Older cars may be used for carrying out other crimes or for joyriding and often end up wrecked or burned out. Fewer than 20 per cent of stolen cars are under five years old – and most of them can't be stolen without the keys."

AA advice

  • Where possible, keep your car in a locked garage when it is not in use (this will bring insurance discounts, too)
  • Keep the keys in a secure place inside your home – 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 and that spare keys are not left in the house if you are going away
  • Consider improving your car's security, for example by having a tracker fitted (this will also bring an insurance discount)
  • Park in public, well-lit car parks particularly where there is good security such as CCTV
  • Carry your car keys in a secure place about your person such as in an inside pocket and not in a handbag which can more easily be taken
  • Never leave keys on show or unattended in a public place such as on a pub or restaurant table
  • 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 or feeding coins into a car park meter. Insurers may not meet a claim in such cases


1Source: AA Insurance claims data: 6 months ending 31st March 2009 compared with 6 months ending 31st March 2008

2Top 10 police force areas for cars 'Stolen during a robbery' and 'Stolen during a domestic burglary' (source: Answer by the Rt. Hon Jacqui Smith MP to a question posed by the shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling MP on 23rd March 2009). This is the first time these figures have been made available and, according to the Home Secretary, from April 2009 they will no longer be collected.

3The latest British Crime Survey published by the Home Office shows that 170,182 cars were stolen during 2007/08. In 1995, over 510,000 cars were stolen.

Rank: Police area Robbery Burglary Total
1: Metropolitan Police 1000 2479 3479
2: Greater Manchester 627 1851 2478
3: West Yorkshire 112 2113 2225
4: West midlands 377 1134 1411
5: Thames Valley 40 843 883
6: Merseyside 92 783 875
7: Essex 79 579 658
8: South Yorkshire 45 605 650
9: Nottinghamshire 47 434 481
10: Hertfordshire 16 407 422
UK totals 2858 15741 18599

Note: Data is not available for South Wales or Humberside. Scottish figures are not collected by the Home Office.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


1 May 2009