After falling for years, car theft is rising again as criminals crack new high-tech locking devices, including immobilisers and alarms.
Many are exploiting vulnerabilities in keyless entry systems by using pairs of radio transmitters to capture fob signals. Police-recorded motor vehicle thefts across England and Wales peaked at 306,947 in 2002/03, steadily declining to a low of 74,168 in 2012/13, largely because of improved anti-theft security.
However, thefts have since leaped by a hefty 20 per cent in 2016/17 to hit a six-year high of 91,433. Car crime will remain tempting given that so many criminals get away with it, according to insurer Churchill. Whilst 380,000 cars were stolen in England and Wales in the fi ve years from 2012 to 2016 there were a mere 7,405 prosecutions, with custodial sentences handed down in just 20 per cent of cases.
The average sentence was 21 months, although when no prison sentence was awarded, culprits were fi ned just £198 on average.
Churchill head of car insurance Steve Barrett said vehicle theft is a harrowing experience: “It can also be a huge inconvenience, with many reliant on their cars on a daily basis.”
He said existing deterrents are not tough enough: “We believe the punishment needs to reflect the impact of the crime, with greater sentences and fines.”
Just over half of all vehicle thefts are carried out between midnight and 6am, with cars often taken from semi-private locations such as driveways or garages not connected to the home, or on the street.
Vehicles were recovered in 40 per cent of cases, although many had been damaged. Keeping your vehicle locked, even at home, may seem an obvious tip, but the smooth locking mechanisms now installed in modern cars can make it difficult to hear if you really have secured your vehicle.
Barrett said: “Doublecheck your car is locked, even if just ducking away for a few minutes and never leave your motor running when not with it .”
Most modern cars are fitted with alarms and immobilisers as standard, but as thieves become more technologically advanced, consider a “belt and braces” approach.
“Steering wheel, pedal and gear locks are inexpensive, easy to install and off-putting to criminals, while trackers or CCTV fitted near your car can help trace a stolen vehicle and even the perpetrator,” Barrett said.
The easiest way for a criminal to steal a car is by taking the keys, so do not hang them near doors or windows. Some manufacturers make it possible to switch your key off. If not, consider putting your key in a signal-blocking “Faraday” security pouch.
Rising car theft could further drive up motor insurance premiums, which have risen 9 per cent in the last year to £481 due to higher compensation payouts, insurance premium tax, more whiplash claims and rising repair bills, said the Association of British Insurers.
Simon McCulloch, head of motor at CompareTheMarket.com, said theft victims often face sharp premium increases at renewal, as their insurer considers them higher risk: “A large number of our customers switch insurer after making a claim, with 44 per cent doing so because their premiums increased significantly.”
Victims also complained about poor customer service and long waits for reimbursement. He added: “The best antidote to poor claims handling is to vote with your feet.”
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