How To Keep Your Car Safe From Theft

How To Keep Your Car Safe From Theft


A recent survey revealed vehicle theft has risen 56% in the last four years, so it has never been so important to be vigilant and put appropriate measures in place to protect your car. We asked the experts to share their advice on how best to keep yours safe.

First off, why has there been such a significant increase in car theft?
“One reason for the increase in thefts is the widespread availability of keyless entry systems on cars. Most new cars are fitted with keyless entry systems, so old-fashioned hot-wiring simply wouldn’t work. Instead, thieves use a signal receiver to pick up the radio waves in 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, giving them the ability to unlock the car and commit the crime. Despite this, a car key is used to steal almost half of all vehicles in the UK. So, being vigilant of where you keep your key is one of the best ways to prevent theft.”  – Karl Chopra, founder of Design 911

“Back in the mid-90s, car theft was hugely prevalent, with 650,000 vehicles stolen every year. It decreased in 2015 to about 75,000 but what we’ve seen in the last five years is an increase up into the 100,000s. Now, we’re dealing with a different type of theft than back in the 90s. Cars are stolen now as part of larger organised crime. We now have to deal with the parts market, which is where criminals will buy cars from a salvage yard and then steal the equivalent model, but a fully working version, and strip it for its parts in order to repair the old vehicle. That then gets sold on for a hefty profit.”  – Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research

Have you seen any trends appear in relation to car crime?
“Yes. The Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) released the figures following a Freedom of Information request by Rivervale Leasing, which listed the cars most likely to be stolen. The most popular models are a Ford Fiesta and Land Rover Range Rover, while the least likely to get stolen are Audis and BMW 5 series. This is most likely because the parts for a Ford Fiesta and Range Rover can easily be sold and exchanged.”  – Karl

“I think the increase in general is largely because car crime doesn’t have strong enough penalties. It’s a risk that lots of criminals are willing to take because the punishment doesn’t worry them.”  – Richard

Are all cars tested for security before hitting the market?
“Yes. However, it is recommended you carry out your own vehicle security check too. The government has released a vehicle security checklist including checking for roof, lock and external compartment damage. MOT tests could soon be set for digital checks to ensure cars cannot be hacked by fraudsters either.”  – Karl

“We undertake a vehicle security assessment on every model that comes into the UK. The assessment is effectively a points system, and we pass on the final scores to the insurers. We check everything mechanical and physical, like whether you can jig the locked door open with a screwdriver. Lots of manufacturers also choose to ID parts, which means they stamp an ID number on the parts so they’re easier to identify should the vehicle be stolen and the parts sold on. We also do an electronic assessment, where we check the functionality of the back-up battery on alarms, how long the alarm goes off for and how long it takes to set it off. This part of the assessment also involves checking keyless entry.”  – Richard

“We’re dealing with a different type of theft than back in the 90s”

What type of tech do cars have to help keep them secure?
“It depends on the car. Luxury vehicles tend to have more anti-theft tech features, but they are also much more expensive. For instance, Porsche has a Classic Vehicle Tracking System, an autonomous sensor package that is integrated at concealed points on the vehicle. This device communicates with a security network that covers the whole of Europe so that if a car is stolen, it is easier to track down.”  – Karl

“Jaguar and Land Rover have good security features because they are well aware their cars are targeted more than other brands. If someone really wants to steal your car, they will do it, because cars will always technically have a vulnerability as they need to be usable by the consumer. Some features that premium brands are introducing are keys that ‘go to sleep’. At a certain time your car key will stop working, unless you reactivate it via code or app, so if someone were to steal your keys after midnight, for example, they wouldn’t work. There’s lots of new tech out there such as car alarms that link to your phone, better GPS systems, and apps that lock your doors if you’ve forgotten to do so. Often these high-tech security features start with the big, premium brands and then filter down into the more affordable models.”  – Richard

What are some extra measures you can take to ensure your vehicle is safe?
“Don’t leave valuables inside and park in as well-lit an area as possible. You can buy a crook lock or steering wheel lock, which act as deterrents but they aren’t always that convenient to use.”  – Richard

What's window etching and can it prevent your car being targeted?
“Window etching, also known as registration etching, is the permanent marking of your car's registration number on your vehicle windows. Once marked, the etched glass is permanently identifiable to your vehicle. While this is a strong deterrent to car thieves, be aware that sophisticated criminals can break and replace the windows.”  – Karl

Are there any gadgets you can buy to help keep your care safe?
“We recommend investing in a portable tracker. This gadget offers real-time tracking – you can call the tracker and it texts you its location. The tracker is often small and discreet, so it can be easily stored out of sight in your car. Alternatively, you can purchase an independent immobiliser, which is an electronic security device fitted to a motor vehicle that prevents the engine from running unless the correct transponder key is present. This prevents hot-wiring as a form of theft.”  – Karl

How often should you get your car alarm checked and how do you do that?
“Most car alarms rely on power from the battery. If your car alarm is connected to your car battery, and your car battery is dead, your alarm won’t work either. To check if your car alarm is working, get into your car and lock it using your keyless fob. Attempt to open the door while inside of your vehicle and the car alarm should go off. If it does not go off, the alarm is not functioning. You should test your alarm system at least once a month.”  – Karl

“There’s lots of new tech out there such as car alarms that link to your phone, better GPS systems, and apps that lock your doors if you’ve forgotten to do so”

How do you check the key fob battery?
“Some car alarms are connected to your key fob. When you lock your car, the alarm should sound, indicating that your car is armed and secured. If no sound is heard, it is likely unlocked. Key fob alarms can also have indicator lights to show if there is a short in the system (depending on the brand). As the battery wears out on your key fob, the range and signal strength will be reduced. If you notice this, it's probably time to replace the battery.”  – Karl

If your car is stolen, will the insurance cover it?
“Most insurance providers will only pay the current market price of your car at the time of theft. Even if your vehicle is brand new, it will have decreased in value by 20% as soon as you take it out on the road.”  – Karl

Anything else can you do?
“Ask the people in the know such as the garage, the dealer and the specific brand. They will know what security features your car has and can advise you on how to use them correctly. If you’re buying a second-hand car, call up the brand and ask some questions about the model. They should still share all the need-to-know information. You should also get an independent security check – for example by the RAC – to make sure there aren’t any faults with any security features. For new cars, talk to the car dealer and make sure you understand the features your potential car comes with. For example, it may have double locking, which means you can’t break the window and open the door from the inside. Arm yourself with knowledge, which is the best thing you can have to avoid theft.”  – Richard

Check out some more top tips for keeping your car safe below…

Beware of illegal tow trucks

Illegal tow trucks are used by thieves to lift cars off the street. Most often, tow-away crews have uniforms and branded vehicles when towing a car. If they are acting strangely, it is wise to report this to the police. If you can, park in car parks with height-restricted entrances as this helps to prevent illegal tow trucks from stealing your vehicle.

Secure your port

This form of crime is often referred to as keyless theft and consists of thieves stealing a vehicle using equipment that plugs into the OBD (On-Board Diagnostic) port. Not all vehicles have this port, but it is important to check if yours does so you can consider fitting a lockable cover onto it.

Watch out for test drive thieves

If you are selling your car, you need to be extra careful who you allow to test-drive your vehicle. In this type of theft, the thief pretends to be a genuine buyer, test-drives the vehicle but never returns with your car. Go with any prospective buyer on their test drive, and never leave them alone with the vehicle and its keys. Always ask for their contact details and verify their driving licence and insurance.

Double-check electronic locking

Although electronic locking can be a convenient way of locking your car, thieves can use electronic devices to jam the electronic signal from your key fob to your car. Before you walk away from your vehicle, you should always check manually to see if it is locked.

Park vigilantly

When parking your car, avoid dark and isolated areas. Another pro tip is to turn your wheels towards surrounding vehicles in a car park or turn them towards the kerb if you are parked on the road. This deters criminals looking for an easy getaway.

Fit good in-car security locks

Built-in steering locks aren’t necessarily thief proof and many can be broken if force is used. Fitting a high-security, solid, secure steering wheel can give you the added protection, however. If you want to go one step further, use tyre locks to prevent carjacking if you are parking for an extended period of time.

Lock your vehicle

Perhaps the most basic advice, but the most important. The quicker a thief can steal your vehicle, the more attractive it becomes. The easiest way a thief can get access to your car is by you leaving it unlocked. Opportunist thieves look to see if doors, windows and sunroofs are left open. Your insurance policy could also be invalidated if you leave a car unlocked.

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