Thanks largely to improvements in vehicle technology, car theft in this country has declined steadily since its peak in the early 1990s, when it accounted for almost a quarter of all crime.
Since 2015, however, car crime has been on the increase again. According to police figures for 2017 in England and Wales, there were 280,313 recorded offences of theft from vehicles (13% more than 2016), and 103,644 were stolen (19% more than 2016).1
Although the technology protecting our cars has become smarter, thieves have become cleverer as well – and they're always discovering new ways to steal cars.
The different types of car theft
Despite the risk of rising car crime, we polled our Members and found out:2
- 1 in 4 don't think about car crime.
- 1 in 10 think modern cars are theft-proof.
- 4% don't bother to lock their cars.
As the police records show, there are two types of car theft: from the vehicle and theft of the vehicle. Both can be planned or opportunistic, though theft from a car is more likely to be opportunistic.
Opportunistic theft is usually the result of a driver making a single mistake, such as leaving something of value on display. It doesn't take any time to break in, and is especially tempting if there's a laptop or a handbag lying on a seat.
Planned theft often involves gangs that effectively steal to order. They target specific, usually high-value models which they know they can sell on, often abroad or as parts. High-value stolen cars are rarely recovered unless fitted with a tracking system.
What do car thieves look for?
Thieves generally have one priority when they're trying to steal a car – they don't want to be disturbed. So it's always best to look for car parks that are accredited by the Safer Parking Scheme.
If you have a car with a keyless entry system, take extra care. In this scenario, the car can sense the presence of the key in your pocket or handbag, and will unlock when you lift the door handle.
If someone stands close to you – for example, they may have followed you around a supermarket – with the right kind of receiver or transmitter they can 'relay' the signal from your key to a similar box held by an accomplice near your car. This means they'll be able to get in, start the car and drive away.
Signal blocking is when thieves use a transmitter broadcasting on the same frequency as your remote control key. This blocks the 'lock' signal sent by the key, so you don't actually lock your car. Always stand by your car and listen for the 'click' of the locks before you walk away.
Will insurers always cover me if my car's stolen or broken into?
Your car insurance will normally cover you if your car's stolen or broken into. But your claim could be declined if you haven't made every effort to secure it.
For example, leaving keys in the ignition or leaving a window open could mean your insurer won't pay out.
Also, whenever possible park your car in the place you stated on the insurance quote. Insurers understand that from time to time this won't be the case, such as going away for the weekend. But if you've said that you keep your car in a locked garage and it's stolen from the street outside your home, they may be suspicious and want to investigate.
And take extra care when you're dealing with people you don't know – for example, if you're selling your car. Willingly handing over the keys to a thief could mean your claim is declined if someone steals your car.
How can I keep my car safe?
- We all have busy days where we forget the obvious – always check your door handles are locked before you leave the car.
- Remove anything from your car that could be of value to thieves.
- Use a locked garage if you have one. If you haven't, look for car parks that are accredited by the Safer Parking Scheme.
- If your car has a keyless entry system then keep the key in a metal-shielded blocking pouch. This will stop thieves mimicking your key's signal and 'tricking' your car into unlocking – even when you're not nearby.
- With a keyless entry system it's also important to keep the key as far away as you can from the car at home. Again, keep it in a signal blocking pouch, so that your car can't be unlocked on the drive.
- Fit a Thatcham certified immobiliser. These aren't as vulnerable to some of the new electronic techniques that thieves may use to bypass your car's standard security features, or to override a keyless entry system.
- Consider fitting a tracking system to help find your car if it's stolen.
- If you're selling a car, always accompany potential buyers on a test drive. And if you change seats, take the keys with you and hand them over when you get back in the car.
1 Office for National Statistics, Crime in England and Wales, year ending December 2017. 'Police recorded vehicle offences increased by 16% in the year ending December 2017, continuing the rising trend seen over the last two years.'
2 AA-Populus online poll of 20,496 AA Members, 13 to 20 March 2018.