In this section we look at the different methods used to steal cars. This recent graph from car theft in the UK shows the popularity of each different way, and we’ll look at each method below.
This is where the criminal has broken into the vehicle, and has proceeded to break the ignition/steering lock and has then gained access to the switch that the ignition barrel turns, or has pulled out the wires to this switch and connected them themselves to start the car, popularly known as hot-wiring. This was once one of the prime methods of stealing cars but now due to increasingly sophisticated standard fit immobiliser systems fitted on cars by manufacturers, this method is only usually successful on older cars without immobilisers, hence its low showing in the ratings. This also shows the effectiveness and importance of fitting an immobiliser to your own car if it does not already have one.
Pushed / Towed Away
This one is quite self explanatory, the and the authors parents have been a victim of this sort of crime. This can either be done by hitching the car to a tow truck ( sometimes under the guise of enforcing a parking fine to avoid suspicion) and towing away, or by simply pushing the car away after forcing entry to the car to release the parking brake. It is possible to make life more difficult for the thieves by leaving the car in gear in cars with an automatic gearbox, turning the wheels towards the kerb before applying the steering lock, and by applying the parking brake, although the parking brake can be sub-vented either by breaking into the car to release it ot typically cutting the brake cable / hose underneath the car. Sometimes pushing the car away can be a secondary method of stealing a car if the forced ignition does not work.
Forgery / Fraud
This method is usually carried out during the purchase of a car, any recently has been made more popular due to a spate of forged bankers drafts. The criminal poses as a genuine buyer for a car up for sale, agrees to buy the car, and pays the customer with a bankers draft, usually at a time like an evening or weekend when the banks are closed so that the seller cannot phone the bank to verify that the draft is genuine.
Keys Stolen In Burglary
This is by far the most common method of car theft and has risen due to the advances in standard fit immobilisers meaning modern cars, especially higher value ones are very difficult to steal without having access to the keys. Thieves will regularly break into houses just to steal the car keys, and will sometimes use the car as a getaway method using it to carry other stolen items from the house at the same time. This can be minimised by not leaving keys visible through windows or doors, and keeping the keys hidden when in the house, and not near the front door for convenience like a large percentage of people do.
Keys Stolen In A Robbery
This differs from the above in that the criminal confronts and threatens the car driver for the keys. This can be at the home – either by breaking into the house when the owner is in, or simply turning up at the front door with a weapon, or when the driver is approaching or leaving their car when parked, or even when a driver is in the car and stopped at traffic lights or a junction, known as carjacking. This can be a traumatic time for the driver, but in all cases it is better to release the keys to the robber than to risk injury, and at all times try and ensure that yourself or anyone else does not stay in the car with the robber.
Keys Left In Car
The surprisingly large percentage of overall car thefts that this section represents shows just how many opportunist car thieves are out there, and the importance of never leaving your keys in the car. This can be stopping for fuel, or at an ATM or convenience store, or leaving the car running on the drive to warm up on a cold morning. All of these are easily avoidable. Other instances occur where the thief does something to make the driver get out of the car whilst leaving the keys in the ignition, like placing something under the car to make a noise as with the video on our homepage, or by running into the back of the target car gently while stopped in traffic – the driver gets out to see the extent of the damage and the thief jumps in and drives off.
Taking Without Consent
This is where a friend, work colleague or family member takes the keys for the car and drives away without the owners agreement. It can typically be a son or daughter taking their parents car without the parents knowing, and them reporting it stolen, or sometimes even knowing the individual concerned has taken the car and still reporting the crime. In all cases the owner will know the person taking the car, and would not normally try to hide or keep the keys from them, and the person taking the car may at other times have easy access to it or permission to use it.
Other Using Keys
This category covers all the other times the car is stolen using the car keys, for example in organised crime some gangs will discover the registration and the VIN number of a car they are looking to steal and approach a dealer of that make of car, and order a key for that particular vehicle. Dealerships should officially ask to see the cars registration documents for proof of ownership but a less scrupulous dealership may not. This gives the criminal access to the key who then steals the car.