Motor theft: what trends should you beware of in 2019?

Estimated Read Time: 4 mins

Vehicle theft is on the rise throughout the UK. Alongside more traditional types of theft, there’s a worrying trend of criminals taking advantage of new motor tech by carrying out so-called “keyless” theft.

But what’s the difference between these types of crime? And what do you need to know to keep your vehicle safe from all forms of theft this year?

Here’s what all vehicle owners should be aware of in 2019…

2019 Overview

While motor thefts have generally been on the decline, a sudden upturn made 2018 the worst year for thefts in a decade[1]. This was driven by increases in both keyless and more traditional types of theft.

Keyless thefts affect newer vehicles that use keyless fobs for entry and ignition, while traditional thefts can affect almost any vehicle but rely on “old-school” forced entry methods.

In terms of geography, at NIG we’ve seen a significant spike in vehicle thefts in London, particularly in East London – Romford is now the no.1 area for motor theft nationwide[2]. And in terms of timings, we’ve noticed a particular increase in the number of crimes occurring at weekends.

We believe vehicle owners, especially those in London, should take additional steps to protect their vehicles, and should be aware of the risks of both forms of theft, particularly if they have a newer vehicle. To help you stay one step ahead of the criminals, here are some of the car theft trends we’ve noticed and what they mean for you.

Keyless theft

Newer cars fitted with keyless entry systems, which replace the traditional car key with a contactless fob, are at particular risk of theft.

What makes keyless theft such a significant risk is that thieves do not need to be holding the fob itself. Instead, they can use a signal receiver to pick up the radio waves (so long as they are within range of the real fob), beam them to a receiver near the car, then activate the signal from the receiver. This creates a copy of the fob close enough to the car to unlock it and start the engine.

NIG has seen a particularly sharp increase in the number of four-wheel drives being stolen by this form of theft. While the most recent models of Land Rovers and Range Rovers have proven resilient to keyless theft in independent tests[3], the London Evening Standard[4] published a video showing how older 4×4 vehicles could be stolen in under 30 seconds.

How to protect against keyless thefts

With electronic compromise now a factor in one in four vehicle thefts[5], Richard Billyeald, CTO of Thatcham Research, has called for the government to regulate devices that can be used to facilitate this type of crime.

Until these devices are taken off the market, Thatcham has published these recommendations for keyless vehicle owners:

1. Drivers should switch off keyless fobs at night and speak to their dealers about software upgrades to ensure fobs are up to date with security standards

2. Keys should be stored as far away as possible from household entry points

3. Drivers should invest in a shielding device for their fobs, such as a Faraday Bag

Traditional theft

More traditional forms of theft don’t necessarily just affect older vehicles – instead this term simply refers to crimes that rely on forced entry or other physical means to break into the vehicle.

NIG has recognised a particularly sharp increase in the number of van owners reporting ‘peel and steal’ claims. ‘Peeling and stealing’ is where the door or side walls of a van are hacked away with cutters or a sharp instrument, granting a thief access to the van. This form of theft has been around for a long time but continues to be effective, even against newer van models.

Meanwhile, we are also making drivers aware that a number of high-quality vehicle skeleton keys and lock-picking devices are now easily available to purchase online, including on Amazon. After purchasing one of these kits and watching a simple YouTube tutorial, almost anyone could break into an older car or van in minutes.

There is industry pressure for these devices to be more strictly regulated so that they are only available to professional locksmiths and mechanics. In the meantime, vehicle owners should take extra steps to protect themselves from traditional forms of theft.

How to protect against traditional theft

We advise all vehicle owners to take steps to:

1. Remove expensive tools and other valuable items from vehicles overnight, especially in the case of vans

2. Keep vehicles parked in a locked garage or well-lit residential area and report any suspicious activity to the police

3. Go ‘back to basics’ and invest in a steering wheel lock

NIG is on-hand to offer brokers advice for the safety and security of their clients. To learn more about the range of insurance products we provide for the motor trade sector, speak to your Senior Business Development Manager.

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