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The State of Car Theft in Australia

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The State of Car Theft in Australia

Just how safe is your car in the Lucky Country?

When it comes to vehicle theft in Australia, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that car theft has been steadily declining over the past decade, largely thanks to improvements in car security technology – especially immobilisers in newer model vehicles. The bad news is that thieves are still having a field day with older cars, motorcycles and heavy vehicles.

It is estimated that a car is stolen in Australia every six minutes. It’s a serious problem.1

In 2014, there were 52,965 thefts of registered vehicles in the country, with 36,579 of these classified as ‘short term thefts’ (stolen and recovered) and 16,386 described as ‘profit motivated thefts’ (stolen and not recovered).

The average age of stolen cars in Australia is around 13 years. Fortunately, 70% of the cars involved in short term thefts were recovered within a week (‘recovered’, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean the car is in the same condition as when it was stolen). Profit motivated thefts cost the community over $100 million. If you’re a motorcycle owner, it gets worse: although motorbikes only account for 4% of registrations, they make up 16% of all motor vehicle thefts2 .

How do thieves steal your car?

If you had to guess, what do you think the most common method of stealing a car is? A study done on the most common car theft methods in the UK indicated that the number one method is to steal your car keys while burglarising your house. Here’s a breakdown of car theft methods by percentages:

Keys stolen in a burglary (37%)

Thieves will often break into houses for the sole purpose of stealing car keys, which many of us conveniently leave in plain sight on a table not far from the front door. This not only lets thieves steal your vehicle, but gives them a handy place to store additional stolen items from your home. If you must leave car keys in your house, hide them very well.

Keys left in the car (18%)

Leaving keys in the car is a silly habit,but a lot of drivers still do it at the ATM, while ducking into a shop or when paying for fuel at a petrol station.

Leaving keys in the car is a silly habit,but a lot of drivers still do it at the ATM, while ducking into a shop or when paying for fuel at a petrol station. An opportunistic thief only needs a few seconds to jump behind the wheel and drive off in your car, so don’t give them the chance. If you’re not in the car, make sure your keys are in a safe place.

Forced ignition/hot-wiring (14%)

20 years ago, hot-wiring cars was a favoured method for car thieves (and Hollywood scriptwriters). These days it doesn’t happen quite so often because of the sophisticated immobilisers present in newer vehicles. However, older model cars (without immobilisers fitted) are still susceptible.

Other – using car keys (12%)

This category covers all the other situations where keys are used to steal a car. For instance, thieves might learn the VIN and registration of a particular car they want to steal, and approach an unscrupulous dealer to order a key made.

Taking the car without consent (7%)

This is when someone the driver knows (friend, family member, work colleague etc.) uses the car without the owner’s knowledge or permission. A classic example is the teenager who sneaks off in their parent’s car, crashes it and then tries to hide their dubious deeds by reporting it stolen.

Keys stolen in a robbery (5%)

This is a scary one – when you’re confronted and threatened by a criminal who demands your car keys. This can happen while you’re in the car (carjacking), just getting into or out of your vehicle, or even at your home with a weapon or threats of violence involved. When in doubt, hand over your keys and save your life.

Forgery/fraud (5%)

This usually occurs when a ‘buyer’ hands over a forged bank draft or other bogus payment to a car dealer, often late on a Friday so they can make their getaway over the weekend before the dealer gets to the bank on Monday to discover the payment is worthless.

Car stolen by being pushed or towed (2%)3

Sometimes, thieves will use a tow truck to steal your car. Your parked vehicle may even be broken into (to release the park brake) and physically pushed to a less visible location (often a nearby garage) and later sold for parts.

How to protect yourself from car theft

Never leave valuables in plain view in an unattended car – it’s an open invitation to thieves.

There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of your car being stolen. When you leave your vehicle, close all the windows, lock the car and take the keys with you. Never leave valuables in plain view in an unattended car – it’s an open invitation to thieves. And don’t bother with those ‘clever’ magnetic key holders that let you attach a spare key to the underside of your car. Thieves know all about these not-so-secret hiding places.

Park your car in well-lit areas whenever possible. Turn your wheels toward the curb to make it harder for your car to be towed by a thief. If you’re parked in your own garage, lock the car (and close the windows) and lock up the garage. Make sure garage windows are secured too. If your car has an alarm or other theft prevention device, make sure you use it – even at home. You may want to use more than one anti-theft device for even more protection.

If circumstances require leaving your car unattended for an extended period of time, consider disabling it by removing the rotor, distributor, electronic ignition fuse or other crucial part (but make sure you know what you’re doing!).

Don’t think that just because you drive an old car, you’re somehow immune from theft. In fact, older cars are often easier for thieves to steal because they lack immobilisers. However, they can still be profitable when sold for parts. And speaking of parts, it doesn’t hurt to engrave major parts and pricey accessories with a personal ID number or VIN. You can even have the VIN etched on your windows.

Several anti-theft options are available. Steering wheel locks, ignition kill switches, floorboard locks (that disable the floor pedals), gearshift locks (that prevent shifting of the transmission) and wheel locks all deter would-be thieves.

Vehicle tracking devices are becoming more popular these days, These can be activated when your car is stolen to aid police in quickly tracking its location.

You can also buy locks that prevent criminals from accessing your steering column or raising your car’s bonnet. Vehicle tracking devices are becoming more popular these days too, and can be activated when your car is stolen to aid police in quickly tracking its location.

For your own personal safety, always lock your doors and keep your windows up when you’re in the car. This sensible habit offers better protection against road rage assaults, abductions and carjackings. Be wary of strangers coming up to your car window asking for directions, distributing flyers or otherwise engaging in conversation. Don’t roll down your window to talk to them.

If you’re bumped from behind by another car and believe it’s a ploy to get you out of your vehicle, ring the police immediately from your car. Gently nudging the rear of a car is a commonly used technique by criminals – don’t fall for it, especially in an isolated, poorly lit area.

Which car models are more likely to be stolen?

One thing you might not appreciate about Australian car thieves is just how loyal they are to our own home-grown brands. Year after year, Holden Commodores make the list of Top 5 Stolen Cars in Australia – often more than once, depending on the model.

In 2013 for example, the most stolen passenger vehicles in the country were the Commodore VT (966 thefts), Commodore VE (830 thefts), Hyundai Excel X3 (758 thefts), Commodore VX (600 thefts) and the Toyota Hilux, coming in at number 5 with 573 thefts. Data from the same year showed that aside from passenger cars, 92 buses, 43 forklifts, 7 rollers, 59 tractors, 4 bulldozers and one crane were also stolen!

Does your car insurance cover you for theft?

Despite technological advancements in car security, there is probably no single, 100% guaranteed way to protect your car from theft. Whenever a new type of anti-theft system is introduced, it stops thieves in their tracks for awhile, but they often find a bypass solution eventually.

For example, immobilisers installed in new vehicles are a major reason why car theft in Australia is decreasing, but a quick check on the Internet will turn up plenty of ‘helpful advice’ on how to circumvent certain types of immobilisers.

And so it goes with other types of theft prevention devices: they may be highly effective, but determined and experienced thieves usually manage to find a way of getting around them in the end.

That’s why many Australians consider theft cover as a ‘must-have’ for car insurance. There are several types of car insurance in Australia, and it’s important to know which ones cover you for car theft and which don’t:

If you’re unsure about the extent of your car theft cover, ask your insurance provider. Always read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement so you know what’s covered and what isn’t.

Compulsory Third Party (CTP)

This the minimal level of insurance required by law in Australia. It’s pretty basic – it only covers your liability if you cause personal injury or fatality to another person in an accident. However, it doesn’t cover vehicle or property damage. CTP does not cover the theft of your car.

Third Party Property

This only covers your liability for damage caused by your car to others’ property. It may also offer a limited amount of cover if your car is damaged in an accident with an uninsured vehicle. Third Party Property insurance does not cover you if your car is stolen.

Third Party Fire and Theft

In addition to providing Third Party Property cover, Third Party Fire and Theft also covers your own car if it’s damaged by fire or is stolen.

Comprehensive Car Insurance

This covers repair costs to your vehicle (and others) if you’re involved in an accident, and also covers you in the event of vehicle theft. Policies vary, but Comprehensive cover may also include use of a hire car if your car is stolen and even repair or replacement of damaged or stolen personal possessions left in your car when it is stolen.

If you’re unsure about the extent of your car theft cover, ask your insurance provider. Always read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement so you know what’s covered and what isn’t.

Some points to ponder

With common sense and a few basic precautions, you can make car thieves’ lives just a little bit harder.

You would think the safest place for your car would be at home, right? If it’s locked up tight in the garage this may be the case, but if it’s out on the street (or even in your driveway), think again.

According to recent figures by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 58% of all car thefts occur either at the home or while your car is parked at someone else’s house. And if personal items are going to be stolen out of your vehicle, that’s more likely to happen at your home as well (63% of all thefts from vehicles occur at the owner’s home).

Over the past 20 years, Australia has featured on several official lists of ‘worst countries in the world for police-recorded car thefts’ but at least for the moment, we’ve managed to slip out of the top ten (currently, the top 5 nations for car theft are (1) Italy, (2) France, (3) USA, (4) Sweden and (5) Belgium. But there is certainly no room for complacency, because car theft is here to stay.

Do your research on the most effective methods of car theft prevention and then make the choices you feel are right for you. If you’ve got a garage, keep your car there when you’re at home.

And it helps if you’ve got quality car insurance that covers you in case your car is stolen. With common sense and a few basic precautions, you can make car thieves’ lives just a little bit harder.

1 http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/previous%20series/crimprev/1-11/car.html

2 http://ncars.on.net/docs/infographic_what_was_stolen_in_2014.pdf

3  http://www.car-theft.org/theft-methods/

4  http://www.caradvice.com.au/301436/australias-most-stolen-cars-revealed/

5  http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4530.0~2013-14~Main%20Features~Motor%20vehicle%20theft%20and%20theft%20from%20a%20motor%20vehicle~26

6  http://www.countryranker.com/ten-countries-with-highest-car-theft-rate/

7  http://www.aic.gov.au/crime_types/property%20crime/motor%20vehicle%20theft.html

8  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-17/proximity-keys-car-theft-hackers-raa-freezer/6399650