Disclaimer: Data on this website was sourced in August 2019 from the latest available data August 2019. Auto & General Services Pty Ltd does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the data and accepts no liability whatsoever arising from or connected in any way to the use or reliance upon this data.

Car Theft in Australia

  • There were 53,564 vehicles stolen in Australia in 2018, or one every 10 minutes
  • Victoria had the most car thefts with 15,457 29% of all thefts in 2018
  • Holden Commodores were the most stolen car in Australia with 990 thefts from 4/2018-3/2019
  • Friday evenings from 4pm-10pm was the most common time for vehicle thefts with 2,451 vehicles stolen
  • 14,996 out of 53,564 (28%) vehicles that were stolen were never recovered

Motor Vehicle Theft in Australia

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 ten minutes. This is a serious problem. In 2018, 53,564 registered vehicles were stolen in Australia, and increase of 1.6% from 2017. 38,568 of these thefts were classified as ‘short term thefts’ (stolen and recovered) while 14,996 were classified as ‘profit motivated thefts’ (stolen and not recovered).

The average age of stolen cars in Australia is around 12 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). If you’re a motorcycle owner, the news gets worse: although motorcycles only account for 5% of vehicle registrations, they made up 16% of all motor vehicle thefts in 2018.

People often believe their vehicle will not be a target for thieves as they do not have a new or expensive car, but 81% of stolen vehicles are 5 years or older, 44% are between 10-19 years. 39% of short term thefts were valued at less than 5% and 45% of profit motivated thefts were valued at less than 5%.

Your chances of having your vehicle stolen depend on where you live in Australia. Victorians experienced the highest rate of car thefts at 29% or 30 thefts per 10,000 regos, followed by Queensland at 23% or 29 thefts per 10,000 regos and New South Wales at 22.8% or 22 thefts per 10,000 regoes. The Northern Territory saw only 1.6% of all car thefts but had the highest rate of thefts per regos at 52 thefts per 10,000 regos.

The following graph shows the breakdown of vehicle thefts in 2018 by state.

Car Theft Rates by City 2018

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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 are among the top 5 most stolen cars in Australia. Often, Commodores make the most stolen cars list more than once, depending on the model.

Most stolen cars in Australia in 2018

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In 2018, the Holden Commodore VE MY06_13 was the most stolen car in Australia with 990 reported thefts. Next came the Nissan Pulsar N15 MY95_00 with 729 reported thefts, while the Toyota Hilux MY05_11 (667 reported thefts), Holden Commodore VYMY02_04 (496 reported thefts), and Ford Falcon BA MY02_05 (482 reported thefts) were also popular targets for car thieves.

How do thieves steal your car?

Keys stolen in a burglary (37%)

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

Keys left in the car (18%)

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 as 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.

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%)

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

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 another 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 can all deter would-be thieves. Vehicle tracking devices are also 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.

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 car-jackings. 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.

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.

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