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Car theft in the UK

Jun 2, 2021

Having your car stolen is a horrible experience. There’s the shock of finding that you’ve been a victim of crime, the inconvenience of suddenly being without a vehicle and the time it takes to make a claim on your car insurance.

It’s worth doing all you can to minimize the risk of being a victim of car thieves. In this article, we’ll find out how telematics insurance could help.

Vehicle theft is on the rise in the UK

Car theft is a huge problem in the UK. In England and Wales, car theft rose 50% in six years to 2019, when 106,291 vehicles were taken. Around 300 cars are stolen each day in England and Wales.

Many of these vehicles are targeted by organized criminals, with an efficient system for shipping vehicles to Eastern Europe or Africa for resale, or breaking them down into parts to be sold off.

Criminal gangs can process stolen cars very quickly, so by the time a theft is reported to police and they begin to investigate, the vehicle has either been dismantled or exported in an untraceable shipping container.

The conviction rate for car theft in the UK is very low. Despite there being over 100,000 incidents of car theft in 2020, just 666 criminals were convicted, representing 0.6% of the total. Of these, 243 were jailed.

The rise in the use of finance packages to purchase cars has also altered the attitude people have towards car theft. Many people now buy cars using a finance deal that means the insurance company simply replaces a car in the event of a theft.

This may have resulted in the perception of car theft being a crime that has a less severe impact on individual victims.

In England and Wales, car theft rose 50% in six years to 2019, when 106,291 vehicles were taken.

A man using a screwdriver to break into a car
The most stolen cars in the UK

Some cars are more of a target for thieves. According to a Tracker survey, large top-of-the-range vehicles are the most likely vehicles to be taken without the owner’s consent in 2020; Land Rovers and Range Rovers accounted for 37% of all stolen vehicles.

Almost all vehicles are now taken by hacking their keyless entry system in a so-called ‘relay attack’ – keyless car theft now accounts for 93% of the total.

The top 10 most stolen cars are:

  1. Range Rover Sport
  2. Range Rover Vogue
  3. Range Rover Autobiography
  4. BMW 15
  5. Land Rover Discovery and BMW 3 Series
  6. Mercedes-Benz C-Class
  7. Range Rover Evoque
  8. Mercedes-Benz C-Class AMG
  9. BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class
  10. Land Rover Defender, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 6 Series
Where are the UK’s top car crime hotspots?

Data gathered by Tracker confirms that the UK’s capital is the worst place for car crime. Here’s the full top 10:

  1. London
  2. West Midlands
  3. Greater Manchester
  4. Essex
  5. Kent
  6. South Yorkshire
  7. Surrey
  8. Lancashire
  9. Hertfordshire
  10. West Yorkshire

Some local areas also have higher theft rates than others. The postcodes with the highest car theft rates in the UK are:

  1. IG (Ilford and Barking)
  2. RM (Romford)
  3. B (Birmingham)
  4. N (North London)
  5. BR (Bromley)
  6. SW (South West London)
  7. HX (Halifax)
  8. DY (Dudley)
  9. E (East London)
  10. SS (Southend on Sea)

People living in the IG postcode area have a shocking rate of 20.32 car thefts per 1,000 people. In contrast, the postcode area in the UK with the lowest rate of car theft is KW (Kirkwell), with a tiny 0.55 car thefts per 1,000 capita.

Insurers are all too aware that where you live affects the likelihood of you being a victim of car crime.

As car theft is one of the risks insurance companies have to weigh up when calculating insurance premiums, drivers may be asked to pay more when they live in a high crime area compared to a less risky one.

When you’re already paying out for costly insurance premiums as a young or new driver, paying more because you live in an area with a higher car theft rate can seem like taking the biscuit.

After all, you can’t exactly move to a remote island to cut your risk of car theft. Insurance with a black box is one way to bring down the cost of your premiums without moving house – see below for more details.

People living in the IG postcode area have a shocking rate of 20.32 car thefts per 1,000 people.

A flashing police siren
What can you do to keep your car safe?

There is no 100% foolproof way to ensure car criminals do not target your vehicle, but there are many measures that can help to deter would-be thieves.

Let’s look at the best ways of making sure your vehicle doesn’t add to the crime statistics.

  • Keep your car fob in a safe bag

Smart car keys use a unique frequency to identify themselves to your vehicle. This saves you from having to fumble around to find your key, but unfortunately the criminals have outsmarted the smart cars.

Tech-savvy thieves use a gadget to identify the frequency of your key and replicate it, fooling your vehicle into unlocking. If you keep your keys in a secure Faraday bag, criminals can’t pick up the signal and take your car.

  • Park in a safe place

Criminals like to target cars that can be whisked away with minimal risk of interruption or surveillance. A car parked on a road in a quiet place is perfect for them.

If you can, leaving your vehicle in a secure garage or driveway helps with security. If this isn’t possible, parking in a well-lit area with regular passers-by should help.

When you park on an incline, turn your wheels in towards the kerb – this will make it harder for criminals to tow your car away.

  • Don’t leave car keys in full view

Many of us like to put down all our outdoor things as soon as we come into our homes – coats on a hook, keys on a table or shelf.

Criminals know that keys are often left close to front doors, making it easy to break in and grab them or even take them through a letterbox.

Putting your keys in a less obvious place will make it less likely that you will be targeted in this way.

  • Check your vehicle is locked

Not all car thieves are sophisticated; there are plenty of opportunists who will work their way through a car park, trying door handles to see if someone has forgotten to lock their vehicle.

The same applies to opportunists who see a car with the engine running while the owner steps away for a moment – that is all it takes for a thief to jump behind the wheel.

Always check your vehicle is locked securely, trying the handles rather than relying on the key fob, as criminals are known to use jamming devices to block these.

  • Put valuables out of sight

Some thieves are happy to break into a car to grab a few bits and pieces they can sell on – electronic devices, handbags, clothing or packages.

Even if you know the item is not valuable, a thief might think it’s worth snatching so it’s best to keep possessions tucked out of sight or removed from the car altogether.

  • Don’t keep your vehicle documents in the car

Plenty of people keep their logbook and vehicle documents neatly stowed in the glove box. They might as well leave a box of chocolates for future car thieves as well!

If someone is trying to sell on a stolen car, possession of the vehicle documents will make the job much easier. They simply sell the car on to an unsuspecting buyer who thinks it is a legitimate sale.

Thieves can also use these documents for identity fraud, which can have serious impacts on victims.

  • Use security devices

Depending on the value and security rating of your vehicle, it might be worth investing in some measures to deter thieves.

From car alarms, strengthened window and windscreen glass, or locks that fit on your steering wheel, gear stick or pedals, if these measures are flagged up with a notice to would-be thieves, they might simply move on to the next vehicle and leave yours alone.

  • Make your car distinctive

Criminals want to be able to take a car and vanish without trace. The more distinctive a car is, the more likely it is to be spotted, helping police to identify the thief.

  • Use a tracker

Vehicle tracking devices are often inexpensive and easy to use. A tracker can help police to find your car if it is stolen, as well as giving you useful information about your own driving style.

You might even want to opt for insurance with telematics, which comes complete with a device that tracks your location in case of accident or theft.

Depending on the value and security rating of your vehicle, it might be worth investing in some measures to deter thieves.

Close-up photo of a thief using a tool to break into a car
What should you do if your vehicle is stolen?

If you discover that your vehicle has been stolen, you should call 101 at once and ask to speak to your local police with the registration number, make and model and colour of your car.

The police will give you a crime reference number which you will need to report the theft to your insurance company.

Before making the call to the police, you should be sure that your vehicle has been taken, rather than you being mistaken about where you parked it.

It is also worth considering whether it could have been towed away – for example, if it was parked illegally or if authorities could have towed it away for a valid reason such as unpaid car tax.

When a car is reported stolen, the police automatically notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that the vehicle is stolen, as well as making the notification if it is found.

You should always call your insurance company as soon as you can, providing them with the crime reference number and as much information as you can to help them process the claim. Some insurance policies provide you with an interim hire car while your vehicle is unavailable.

It can be an unpleasant surprise to learn that you are not covered for all possessions lost with the car – make sure you understand your insurance policy, particularly as it relates to high-value items such as laptops. There may also be an excess to be deducted from any insurance pay out.

What do insurers pay when a car is stolen?

The amount you will receive from your insurer after a car theft depends on multiple factors. Firstly, you will need to pay any excess that applies to your policy.

You should always make sure you agree to the highest excess you can afford, but no higher. A high excess makes your insurance cost less, but it should be an amount you would actually be able to pay in the event of a claim.

If your car is located, you should not drive it away because it may have evidence for the police, or it could have been damaged and be unsafe to drive.

If you find your stolen car, you should call the police, who will recover the vehicle for examination and update the different databases to ensure it is no longer listed as missing.

You will need to pay a fee of around £150 for the vehicle to be recovered, but this is often repaid by your insurer.

Your insurer will then check the vehicle to see if it is a write-off or if you can continue to drive it. If the vehicle cannot be repaired, your insurer will offer you the market value of the vehicle at the time of the theft.

This could be a lot less than you originally paid for the vehicle because of depreciation.

Protecting yourself with black box insurance

As a new driver, your insurer calculates your premiums based on statistics about how someone with your characteristics is likely to drive.

Factors they consider include your age, address, criminal history, job and the type of car you drive. Unfortunately, this can mean you pay a high premium when you are, in truth, a very safe and low-risk driver.

Black box insurance uses a telematics device installed in your vehicle to record the actual data that reveals your driving style.

This includes elements such as speed, acceleration and braking, steering and whether you drive late at night regularly.

When the data recorded by the device shows that you are a safe driver, you will be rewarded with cheaper car insurance premiums.

Opting for black box insurance can also help to protect you against car theft. The telematics device acts as a tracker, helping to discover the location of your vehicle if it is stolen.

Thieves might even be deterred from attempting to steal a car with a black box device fitted because it is not worth the risk.

Why not get in touch with Smartdriverclub today to find out more?