Interactive map reveals worst areas for vehicle theft aross the UK 

Car theft numbers have risen by almost a third since 2020, new figures have shown. 

Data collected under the Freedom of Information Act Media information has shown that over the past three years, car thefts in some areas have increased by at least 50 per cent. 

Unsurprisingly, the greatest number of cars stolen are in London and the West Midlands.  

But with a 29 per cent increase nationwide in car thefts, motorists are facing yet another significant problem which could increase the cost of keeping on the road. 

Worse still, only two per cent of car thefts leads to a successful prosecution according to the Government’s own figures. 

The data was collated by AX Track, who claim there has been a significant increase in the sophistication used by modern car thieves. 

Figures from the insurance industry show that cars with keyless entry and keyless start are twice as likely to be stolen compared with vehicles without the technology. 

Motoring experts believe the days of criminals forcing locks to steal cars are over. They have been replaced by gangs who use modern technology to pilfer vehicles 

Unfortunately, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Essex Police, Warwickshire Constabulary and South Yorkshire Police failed to supply data for the Freedom of Information Request. 

On average, car thefts have increased by 30 per cent, but several areas such as Hampshire, Devon & Cornwall, Kent, Humberside, West Midlands and Northumbria have seen such crimes jump by 50 per cent. 

Neil Thomas of Ax Trak said: ‘Rising values of used cars and vehicle components could be driving increased crime as the techniques criminals use evolve.

‘The technology-driven tactics of today’s sophisticated criminals are a far cry from the opportunist teenagers of the past stealing cars for fun. 

Though last month, a 26-year-old man on the Isle of Wight almost crashed over the edge of a cliff after losing control of a stolen Ford Mondeo during a suspected joyride. 

Other criminals concentrate on stealing catalytic converters from cars parked outside people’s homes using battery powered reciprocal saws. 

While Kevin Moss, from Guildford rang a friend while joyriding in Woking on July 26, 2021, to boast about stealing a car moments before he struck a wall and was later arrested by police. 

Criminals have also noticed the average used car increase in value following a shortage of supply caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, the average second hand car cost £12,800. This rose to £17,654 by February 2023. 

According to Mr Thomas, the 38 per cent increase in second hand car prices is encouraging the crime gangs. 

Many people are resorting to old-fashioned car security measures, such as crook locks,  to stop the criminals.  

Criminals now use laptops and tablets to hack into a car's computer system and override the vehicle's security protocols

Criminals now use laptops and tablets to hack into a car’s computer system and override the vehicle’s security protocols

He said: ‘The ballooning cost of second-hand cars and their components now provides an even more lucrative financial return for criminals. While often sold as complete cars, criminals frequently choose to break them up and sell the parts domestically or internationally. 

‘An attractive market for criminals, the global automotive aftermarket for replacement parts and accessories is estimated at $390 billion.’

He said: ‘Our study shows a huge rebound since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but in many cases we are seeing thefts surge ahead of the pre-pandemic figures from 2019. It’s a worrying trend, but not entirely unexpected given the increasingly sophisticated techniques that criminals are deploying.

How criminals steal cars using relay tactics

To target the latest – and usually high-end – motors, thieves are arming themselves with cheap technology that allows them to take cars without having to step foot into someone’s property to take the keys.

Keyless entry and keyless ignition means a driver only needs to have the car’s key on their body – in their pocket for instance – not only to unlock the doors but to start the engine.

While this is a convenience feature, it is also one that leaves owners susceptible to car crime. 

Usually two thieves will work together when planning to pinch a car with keyless tech. One holds a transmitter and stands next to the car while the other stands close to the house holding an amplifier.

The amplifier can boost the signal from the key inside the property and send it to the transmitter. 

The transmitter essentially becomes a ghost key and tricks the car into thinking the real key is nearby. This then opens the car and allows it to be driven away without causing any damage.

Insurers have estimated that around half of all car thefts are currently conducted in this way because criminals can do it quickly and in near silence, with gangs usually targeting vehicles in the middle of the night without raising suspicion.

‘Equipment costing thousands of pounds can be purchased online, enabling criminals and their associates to steal cars by eitSher cloning or mimicking the original key. Keyless theft can take several forms and it’s prevalent enough that criminals are stealing cars to order, identifying the right car while organising false numberplates before the theft even takes place.’

There are significant differences across the regions when it comes to recovering stolen cars. 

Mr Thomas added: ‘The technology at their fingertips helps criminals to steal cars without having to force entry. And as used car values rise, an undamaged and valuable car is a significant incentive for criminals who often don’t get caught. We’ve even heard from some people in car crime hotspots that they leave their car open in the hope it might be recovered and returned undamaged.

‘While we wouldn’t advise leaving your doors open, there are precautions you can take. Number one is to park the car on a driveway or locked garage if you have one. Otherwise, park your car in a well-lit area, keep your car keys safe and make sure the car is fitted with adequate security. We’d also advise drivers to consider additional security measures.’ 

Mr Thomas said fitting a tracker to your car makes it far easier to recover in the event of theft. 

He said his company has managed to recover cars taken from the UK from Europe and even Africa – including breaking up an organised crime gang from Uganda involved in stealing large numbers of prestige cars. 

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats said the Conservative Party have been overseeing a ‘car theft epidemic’. 

He claimed that four out of five car crimes were unsolved, with criminals allowed to ‘act with impunity’. 

He said his party has been analysing the latest Home Office figures which showed police failed to attend three in four car thefts during 2022.  

Sir Ed said: ‘There is a car theft epidemic across the country, which Conservative ministers are totally failing to tackle.

‘Criminal gangs are being allowed to act with impunity while victims are denied justice. The Government is effectively decriminalising car theft by letting these gangs get away with it.

‘People just want to know that if their car is stolen or house broken into, the police will turn up and properly investigate it. But this Conservative Government has decimated community policing, leaving victims of crime to fend for themselves.

‘The Liberal Democrats want to see a return to proper community policing, making our streets safer and ending this free-for-all for criminals.’ 

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Car theft is a truly distressing crime and we are closely working with the automotive industry and police to ensure our response is as strong as it can be.

‘Recent figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales show vehicle crime is down 22 per cent since December 2019.

‘We expect police to take vehicle crime seriously and investigate thoroughly to ensure perpetrators are charged and brought to justice.

‘Last month we delivered our pledge to put 20,000 more police officers on our streets, and we are supporting police by providing more funding for crime prevention measures, including better street lighting and CCTV.’ 

Five tips to protect your keyless car from thieves

1. Put your keyfob in a Faraday wallet/pouch

For the best level of protection, owners of cars with keyless tech should purchase a faraday pouch or wallet. You can buy these online for as little as £5 (Halfords currently sells one for £4.50). 

The pouch isolates the fob’s signal so it can’t be infiltrated by thieves.

A metal tin or box will also provide similar protective levels, as will keeping your keyfob in a fridge freezer, microwave or oven – just remember they are in there before turning on the latter two. 

Also, don’t forget about your spare keys and apply the same level of care you would to your main keys or fob.

Keeping your keyless fob in a tin will block the signal and prevent thieves from duplicating it to break into your vehicle

Keeping your keyless fob in a tin will block the signal and prevent thieves from duplicating it to break into your vehicle

2. Use old-school theft deterrents

A simple steering wheel lock or wheel clamp might look ugly but are a great tool to deter even the hardiest criminals.

They will act as a visual deterrent for thieves who will likely avoid them.

For a criminal to remove a steering wheel lock typically requires the use of noisy drills or saws to cut through, and therefore they are the ideal first line of defence for owners with models that have keyless car tech.

Drivers should also consider wheel clamps as well as having alarm systems and trackers (read more about these below) installed. 

Owners of vans with keyless technology should also consider fitting deadbolts for additional protection, especially if they store expensive tools and items in their commercial vehicles overnight. 

3. Be mindful when locking your car

It may sound simple but if your vehicle has keyless entry, make sure it is locked every time you’re not in it, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes when you’re paying to park somewhere – thieves can take an unlocked car in seconds.

When it comes to locking, many modern cars have keys with two settings – for single and double locking. 

Many drivers don’t realise that on many models if you press your key fob once your car will only be single locked.

This means that if you smashed the window you could manually open the car by reaching in and pulling the handle from the inside. 

These fobs require a second press of the locking button to enable all security features. It is important to read your car’s manual to understand how to securely lock your car.

4. Think carefully about where you park overnight

Most often, keyless car thefts take place on owners’ driveways. While motorists might think having their vehicle in such close proximity to their property guarantees its security, this is certainly not the case when it comes to relay thefts – quite the contrary, in fact, as it means the car is closer to where they keys are inside your home.

That’s why owners with off-street parking should consider additional measures. 

Driveway parking posts are a cheap and efficient way of deterring would-be thieves. 

Drivers can go one step further and install lockable gates in their driveways, while the addition of CCTV systems can provide further peace of mind. 

For those without off-street parking who leave their cars on the road outside their home, you are also not safe from these criminals.

Consider parking further away from your property than usual so that criminals won’t be able to replicate your fob’s signal from inside your home.

And always try to find a space under a street light so that thieves are exposed when trying to steal your car at night.

If you live on a residential street where there are also business, park outside one with a CCTV camera installed. 

5. Install a tracker

Installing a tracker system in your vehicle, such as a Thatcham approved device, offers an extra layer of security. 

A tracking device won’t stop your vehicle being stolen, but it significantly increases the chances of the police recovering and returning it to you.