Official data from the Home Office reveals that the number of car thefts has nearly doubled over the past five years.
It’s now the equivalent of one car being stolen every five minutes in Britain – or 300 a day – with nearly 120,000 cars stolen in 2017-2018. Now compare that to over 75,000 stolen in 2013-2014 and it shows that we have a serious and mounting car crime problem.
Gone in 18 seconds
There are several reasons for the rise. First, a recent study carried out by the German General Automobile Club (ADAC) discovered that four of the most popular UK car models including the humble Ford Fiesta and Nissan Qashqai – two popular choices for new drivers – can be broken into and driven off in as little as 18 seconds thanks to their keyless ‘entry and go’ systems.
These systems are designed to allow the car owner to walk up to their car with the key fob in their pocket, open the car door without pressing anything, and press a button on the dashboard to start the car.
The problem? By carrying out a ‘relay attack’, car thieves can do the exact same thing – but without the need to have the key fob on them. Instead, they are exploiting keyless systems by relaying the fob’s signal from inside, say, your locked home to the car outside, using equipment easily sourced online.
It means the thieves can fool the car into thinking the key fob is near the car when it isn’t, enabling the thieves to open the car’s doors, start the engine and drive off (see video).
Worse still, the German research shows that out of the 237 car models it tested, only SEVEN could not be stolen via the keyless entry exploit.
Policing the problem
Motoring organisation, the RAC, claims that as well as the keyless entry issue, the car crime problem is being compounded further by falling police numbers: “From 2013 to 2018, we lost 5,975 police officers,” explains RAC Insurance director Mark Godfrey, “but looking further back to 2006, the story is even worse with 21,958 fewer officers which represents a 15% reduction.”
This lack of police might also explain the findings of Auto Express Magazine’s recent investigation into stolen car recovery rates. It uncovered that 45.31% of stolen cars are never returned to owners and in some regions, the recovery rate is even worse. For instance, the West Midlands police only has a recovery rate of 11.73%.
Ultimately, this is creating the perfect environment for car theft to flourish in Britain – and with car crime rates expected to climb even further this year, the future looks grim.
What it means for us
First, we can all expect an increase in our premiums to cover the uplift in thefts – never mind the premiums of the poor folk who actually have their cars swiped. There’s also the emotional impact; that feeling you’re not safe from either opportunistic thieves or organised criminal gangs.
So the question is – what can you do to protect your car?
Theory Test Pro’s Top Tips for Fighting Car Crime
1. Wake up to the fact that car crime does happen. That might sound obvious but a poll carried out by the AA reveals that one in four of us don’t think about car crime at all; in fact, some of us still leave our cars unlocked.
2. Experts recommend that if you do have a keyless system, you buy a ‘faraday’ pouch to put the key in; this blocks signals from being transmitted or received by the key fob. Alternatively, you could ask your car dealer to deactivate your car’s keyless system.
3. Weigh up the benefits of having a tracker fitted so if the worst does happen, there is an increased chance of the car being recovered. If you want it back, that is; many people don’t.
4. If your car doesn’t have a Thatcham-approved electronic immobiliser fitted, consider having one installed.
5. Get a steering wheel lock; yes, it’s a decidedly old school solution – plus they can be cumbersome to put on and take off – but such visible security can act as a deterrent to opportunistic thieves.
6. If you are lucky enough to have a garage, make sure you use it every night. If you don’t have access to one, park in well-lit streets that ideally have CCTV if at all possible.
7. Be sure not to leave keys out in the hall when you head off to bed. It makes it a cinch for thieves to reach them via the front door. That said, never take your car keys up to bed with you. As thieves become more emboldened, they are breaking in and confronting car owners in their beds, often at knifepoint.
8. Location also matters. For instance, if you live in the West Midlands, London, Greater Manchester or West Yorkshire, you’re most likely to be the victim of car theft – but living in West Mercia, Lincolnshire or Sussex means you’re more likely to keep hold of your hard-earned car.
9. Finally, realise that if you buy a car that is popular with thieves – say, a Ford Fiesta ST (if you are prepared to pay the premiums) – then accept you are increasing the chances of becoming a victim of car crime. Ask yourself: is that car you really want worth the financial cost and emotional fallout if it is stolen? It’s a question none of us should ever have to ask ourselves but sadly, many of us now have to as we wait for the police – and critically, the government – to get a handle on the growing car crime epidemic.