more than 75,000 cars were stolen last year and only half of those have ever been recovered
Car crime reached a peak in the early 1990s when 700,000 cars were stolen in a single year.
Thanks largely to the efforts of vehicle manufacturers, and insurers, a vehicle-owning household is now around five times* less likely to become a victim of vehicle-related theft than in 1995 but there were still more than 75,000 cars stolen in 2013, of which more than half will never be recovered.
Back in the 1990s most car theft was committed by opportunists and so-called joyriders but today it is restricted mainly to the activities of organised criminal gangs. Cars are frequently stolen to order to fund other criminal activity and are often shipped overseas.
There are some new types of vehicle crime that it pays to be aware of too.
Theft of prestige, high-value vehicles is on the increase again in some parts of the country where highly-organised criminal gangs are using sophisticated technology to override the car’s security via the On Board Diagnostic (OBD) port.
Cars with keyless ‘entry and go’ are particularly at risk, as a mechanical key isn’t even required to overcome the steering lock.
At the moment it seems that car thieves are one step ahead of Thatcham (The Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre) and the vehicle manufacturers, who are working on improvements to their systems to help combat this new type of car crime.
Until the advent of electronic attack via the OBD port, it was generally believed to be almost impossible to steal a modern car without first obtaining the keys.
Key theft remains a problem and there are many different ways of obtaining car keys, though at least one-in-five cases involves domestic burglary – snatch the keys from the house and take the car from the drive. In 2011 more than 19,000 cars were stolen in this way.
Your own personal safety is more important than property – don't leave keys on display in the hall where they can be seen or easily reached from the front door but, on the other hand, don't be tempted to take keys up to bed with you. Many thieves won't think twice if you stand – or lie – between them and the keys to the car they want.
If your number plates are stolen contact the Police immediately. It may seem trivial at the time but if the plates are used to change the identity of another car you can expect to start receiving penalty charges for things like parking, speeding and congestion charging. You may even be suspected of committing crimes yourself.
If you use a portable sat nav, take it with you whenever you leave the car.
Remove the cradle and suction pads and clean any marks left on the windscreen or dashboard too as thieves are known to look for these telltale signs and break in anyway, expecting to find the sat nav tucked away in the glove compartment.
In 2008 the credit crunch and high market value of platinum combined to create a new type of vehicle crime – theft of catalytic converters to recover the parts and precious metals they contain. With money still tight and platinum prices rising again, catalytic converter theft is on the increase again.
Taller vehicles (4x4s) are particularly vulnerable as the converters are more accessible and, because they tend to have larger engines, they contain more of the precious metals too.
The so called 'virtual vehicle' scam involves fake shipping websites that promise to handle and look after your money.
Once you respond and express interest in buying the car being advertised which is currently located abroad, you are directed to a fake website for a shipping company that will handle the transfer of funds including shipping costs.
Watch out too for Vehicle matching scams which work by approaching consumers who are selling their cars and promising falsely to match them with 'definite buyers' – consumers lose nearly £3 million a year according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT)
*Crime survey for England and Wales (previously British Crime Survey)
(updated 27 October 2014)