January 16th, 2020 at 10:39 am
Stealing cars has not lost its allure whether a criminal is stealing your car because he wants it, whether it is theft to order for involvement in another crime like robbery or it could even be theft of particular parts of the car rather than the actual vehicle itself. And that’s not forgetting stealing some valuable item that has been left in the car. So what are the latest targets on the car thief’s Christmas wish list, we take a look.
These are the latest nickable object from cars, removed from the underside of the vehicle in just a matter of minutes. Catalytic Converters or ‘cats’ as they are known in the trade, clean up harmful gases before they exit the vehicle via the exhaust pipe. They have been around a long time so why the recent trend to steal them?
They contain precious metals – rhodium, platinum and palladium – and the cats on new hybrid vehicles often contain higher concentrations of these metals and have generally suffered less corrosion because, for a lot of the time, the car is running on battery power. There is not a large quantity to be had from one catalytic converter but the current price for these metals is higher than gold and silver so it’s well worth the effort, particularly as it only takes a matter of a few minutes for an experienced thief to remove. A canny car thief can make around £200 per time either selling the metals or offering the complete item as secondhand to people who need to buy another catalytic converter!
Ironically, one of the main markets is for palladium particularly in China and India both of which are now taking steps to combat their extreme levels of vehicle pollution. Some drivers have been targeted more than once with sufficient inconvenience to prompt a switchback from hybrid to a conventional engine. A new catalytic converter can cost anywhere from £500-£1,0000. Certain vehicles are on the target list and these include the hybrid models, the Honda Jazz and the Prius, and also vans and SUVs which are higher off the ground offering easier access to their exhaust system.
You may know from the sound of the engine that the cat has gone or you may remain blissfully unaware until your vehicle is next in the garage or in for MOT if your vehicle is old enough whereupon it will fail on its emissions output. In London, police have reported 3,000 converter thefts in just the first six months of 2019 compared with a total of 1,500 for all of 2018 and only 170 the year before.
Some manufacturers are catching it from angry customers who have been on the receiving end of the cat burglars particularly Toyota where there has been a lot of annoyed online ranting about the ease with which the cats can be removed from both the Auris and Prius models.
Toyota has devised a ‘catloc’ designed to make the catalytic converter harder to steal but motorists have had to front the cost of fitting these which can result in a garage bill of several hundred pounds. Police are reluctant to point the finger at any one car manufacturer in particular but word on the ground is that Toyotas are the main target for thieves. In response to mounting criticism, Toyota has also reduced the cost of new converters down to between £200 and £250 but currently, demand is outstripping supply.
Keyless technology is thought to be behind the increase in luxury car theft as figures show an alarming rise in activity amongst car stealing gangs at the higher end of the market.
Utilising the benefits of modern technology, gangs reputedly share information via apps like WhatsApp, details like lists of cars to target and data on how to gain entry to the vehicles and the removal of tracking devices. The thefts are sophisticated with stolen cars quickly receiving a new identity and wearing false plates belonging to a near-identical vehicle somewhere in the UK thus keeping them under the ANPR radar for long enough to usually ship the vehicle overseas before it can be recovered. The alternative destination for these vehicles is what is called, ‘the chop shop’ where the car is taken apart and converted into lucrative spares. Keyless technology is definitely thought to have contributed to this rise in car thefts the figures for which show a steady upward incline in the last five years. Data reveals a total of 75,308 cars stolen in the UK in 2013/14 increasing to 112,000 in 2017/18.
Keyless technology works via a radio signal which is triggered when you put your hand on the door handle. Providing your car key is within range then the car door will open, ideal if your key is in your pocket or your bag and your hands are full of shopping or other things. New technology inevitably creates a following crime wave where thieves and hackers work out how to circumvent it, in this case using a signal booster so the car thinks the key is in closer proximity than it actually is, for example when it is hanging up in your kitchen and the car is outside on the drive. It can take as little as a few seconds for the car to be stolen by experienced thieves.
The car insurer, Direct Line, revealed statistics showing a year on year increase of prestige car thefts facilitated by this new technology which tends to be on the higher end, higher specification vehicles. Will this see a return to the old days of clunky steering wheel locks and tyre clamps? 71% of all prestige vehicles are stolen from the registered owners home address so should motorists be taking more active steps to protect these valuable cars? There are lots of safety devices and safety tips which can help you keep your precious car where it belongs, outside your home. This involves a mix of physical devices and just good habits.
How to keep your car safe from vehicle thieves
The advent of new technology and design heralds the arrival of a fresh generation of car thieves. As cars develop and alter so the people who make their living out of criminal activity also metamorphosise and create new ways to gain access to vehicles. This could be for any number of reasons – to steal some of the contents, to steal lucrative car pats or to steal the whole car in its entirety.
Gone are the days of hot wiring a Ford Cortina or slipping a coat hanger down the door jamb of a Ford Sierra, car theft and the cars that thieves target is changing. By being aware of the trends, you can take proactive steps to protect your vehicle and minimise the risks. Here are some general and quite specific steps you can implement to keep your vehicle safe.
- Weekday theft, usually whilst owners are asleep at night or have commuted to work, is more common than theft at the weekends when car owners tend to be at home and using their vehicles
- Make sure you lock your car – sounds so simple doesn’t it but its easy to overlook this if your car is right outside the window or you are busy taking stuff in and out. Thieves are opportunist and can easily target an unlocked car whilst the owners back is turned
- Most modern cars are fitted with the latest in security devices but more old-fashioned physical deterrents can prove just as, if not more effective. Steering wheel locks, gear stick securing devices and pedal locks are cumbersome and fiddly and will slow down if not put off a car thief. Thieves are always one step ahead of electronic devices and alarms
- Increase your security overnight – stats reveal that nearly half of all cars stolen are taken between midnight and 9 am with nearly half again stolen between 6 am and 9 am. If you have a desirable vehicle then block it in with other cars, park it next to a wall or other immovable object and park a car behind it and one next to it. Nearly three-quarters of cars stolen are taken from the owner’s home address so merely putting it on your drive is not a sufficient deterrent
- If you can, put the car in the garage, this is a double layer of security which you can secure as well as the car inside it and it will slow thieves down if they have to gain access plus hopefully, make quite a lot of noise
- Keep your keys hidden away so they cannot be accessed by remote signal and also to stop them falling into the hands of housebreakers – the easiest way to gain access to a car is to find the keys and most people are boringly predictable in where they leave their car keys. Buy a fake baked bean tin and pop them in there in a kitchen cupboard – try to avoid hanging them up somewhere obvious and visible or leaving them in a bag or communal key dish
- For those with keyless entry to their vehicle, particularly prestige cars which are a real target, there is a technique called ‘relay theft’ which thieves are using to access vehicles by deceiving the car into believing that the car keys are physically present or within sufficient range. In response, some manufacturers are producing keys where you can disable or turn off the signal when you are not using the car. If that isn’t possible then consider a Faraday pouch or a Faraday bag. Car thieves can use digital devices to read the car key from outside your house which will allow them instant access to your vehicle. Faraday bags have layers of metallic material which effectively block an external device from reading the signal and they can also be used for mobile phones and credit and debit cards
- Catalytic converters mostly on hybrid cars and vans are a new target for car thieves because of the precious metal they contain. They are either sold for the metal content or go back into the secondhand market which is a classic example of theft creating its own demand. Certain manufacturers and models have been specifically targeted, the Toyota models, the Auris and the Prius and also, the Honda Jazz. Speak to your dealership or garage about how you can protect the cat on your hybrid – thieves can remove them in less than a minute. There are devices to make it harder to remove the catalytic converter – Toyota has designed a ‘catloc’ but these are not cheap
- Try a wireless baby monitor, many of these have night vision and obviously audio so you can hear as well as see what is going on. Turn it up to maximum so you can still hear even the quietest of thieves
- Install an immobiliser or kill switch, this basically disrupts the power supply to the battery which means the vehicle won’t start unless you can locate and flick the switch. This is a common feature on horseboxes which may only be used weekly and which are conversions from commercial vehicles with tachographs. The tacho even on slumber mode can eventually drain the battery so most of these boxes are fitted with immobilisers to be switched on when the vehicle is not in use. It is important to locate the switch in a location that is accessible to you and inaccessible to thieves
- Don’t forget the simple principles of keeping your car in an area that is well lit particularly if the location is quiet after dark. Thieves target cars in secluded, dimly lit areas because they are far less likely to be disturbed and it affords them the luxury of a few extra precious minutes to circumvent alarms and security devices
- Always park in a safe or safer area even if it means you take longer to walk to your home or intended destination
- Never leave valuables visible on display in your car
- Install a GPS or tracking device which means if your car is stolen then it can be potentially located by police even in the deepest, darkest countryside or hidden away in a garage somewhere
No vehicle is 100% theft-proof but with a little care and forethought, it is possible to significantly reduce the likelihood of your car being stolen. Remember, that good old-fashioned practical steps like good lighting and physical obstacles to slow down a thief, still hold as true today as all the electronic wizardry of car alarms and immobilisers.