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1 July 2021 | See disclaimer

How at-risk is your car of being stolen? We’ve compiled the most recent data on car thefts in Australia, and run our own research to find out just how car theft is affecting Australians.

Quick stats

  • A passenger/light commercial vehicle is stolen approximately every 13 minutes in Australia[1]
  • 39,400 passenger/light commercial vehicles were stolen in 2020
  • Half of all car thefts occur with the car at home[1] (either in a driveway, car port or garage)
  • Over 50% of Australians keep their car keys within plain sight, making car thefts simpler for criminals.

1.0 Australian car theft statistics

1.1 Passenger/light commercial vehicle thefts in 2020

Total thefts
Per 1,000 registrations
State Total thefts
Vic 11,598
Qld 11,148
NSW 8,498
WA 3,739
SA 2,239
ACT 963
Tas 696
NT 519
Australia 39,400
State Thefts per 1,000 registrations
Vic 2.41
Qld 2.83
NSW 1.60
WA 1.82
SA 1.67
ACT 3.25
Tas 1.59
NT 3.70
Australia 2.15

Data from the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council (NMVTRC)[2] shows the amount of passenger/light commercial vehicle thefts in the 2020 calendar year, as well as the rate of thefts per 1,000 registrations.

Victoria and Queensland had the highest amount of individual car thefts, each with over 11,000 cases in 2020. Owing largely to their smaller populations, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital territory had the lowest totals of car theft.

However, the Northern Territory had the highest rate of car thefts, averaging 3.7 thefts per 1,000 registrations. New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia were among the safest states across Australia, each with close to 1.6 thefts per 1,000 registrations.

1.2 Passenger/light commercial vehicle thefts over the last 5 calendar years

The NMVTRC[3] also show that the theft of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles decreased significantly in 2020. In the 5 years prior, there was no obvious trend of thefts either increasing in regularity or reducing in frequency. As such, predicting 2021 rates of theft from existing data is near impossible.

1.3 Top 10 motor vehicle theft targets in 2020

For the second consecutive year, data from the NMVTRC[4] show that the Holden Commodore VE MY06_13 was the most stolen single model of car in Australia. As a collective model of car, the Toyota Hilux and Holden Commodore were two of the most targeted cars in 2020.

2.0 Causes of car theft

Easy-to-steal keys

One of the most common causes for car theft is the owner not adequately protecting their keys. Typically, the thief will sneak into a person’s home via an unlocked door or open window, take the keys, and simply drive away. The NMVTRC[1] report that 70% of cars are stolen with their own keys, and half are stolen from their home.

Sneak thefts

A ‘sneak theft’ is when a criminal will steal a car while the owner is home. They will typically use the same method of stealing keys – accessing them through an open window or unguarded door. According to the NMVTRC[1], in 95% of ‘sneak theft’ attempts, there is no confrontation between the car’s owner and the thief.

Putting your details on your keyring

Far too many people put their name and address on their car keys. If you’re ever out and lose your keys, you risk providing a thief with not only an address, but a way into the property. Once they’re in, they can load your belongings into your own car, and simply drive away with it.

3.0 Car theft survey results

Just how well are Australians protecting themselves against car theft? And do we know the real risks, and methods used by thieves? We surveyed 1,007 people to properly gauge how car theft is affecting everyday Australians.

3.1 Where do you put your car key when you get home?

State
Age
Gender

To little surprise, most Australians put their car keys somewhere easily accessible, like a hook or flat surface near a door. While this might be convenient day-to-day, it only increases the risk of cars being stolen.

Women were also far more likely than men to keep their car keys out of sight – owing mostly to storing them in bags.

Participants aged between 35 and 44 also proved to have the safest practices when it comes to key security. Over 30% of respondents keep their keys out of sight, in either a bag, drawer or cupboard.

3.2 Which methods do you think car thieves are most likely to use to steal a car?

State
Age
Gender
  Hot-wiring the car (starting the engine without the key) Stealing spare keys while the owner is away from home Stealing spare keys while the owner is home Car-jacking (taking the vehicle from the driver) Finding lost keys in a public area
NSW 42.6% 26.1% 17.8% 11.2% 2.3%
Vic 32.9% 32.1% 22.6% 9.9% 2.5%
Qld 27.0% 24.9% 37.0% 9.5% 1.6%
WA 26.5% 34.3% 26.5% 10.8% 2.0%
SA 33.9% 37.3% 18.6% 10.2% 0.0%
Tas 50.0% 35.0% 5.0% 10.0% 0.0%
Aus 34.7% 29.4% 23.6% 10.4% 1.9%
  Hot-wiring the car (starting the engine without the key) Stealing spare keys while the owner is away from home Stealing spare keys while the owner is home Car-jacking (taking the vehicle from the driver) Finding lost keys in a public area
18-24 33.9% 40.0% 14.8% 8.7% 2.6%
25-34 28.7% 29.3% 24.7% 14.4% 2.9%
35-44 30.2% 36.4% 21.6% 9.3% 2.5%
45-54 35.6% 28.2% 27.0% 7.4% 1.8%
55-64 38.7% 23.9% 26.8% 9.9% 0.7%
65+ 40.9% 22.0% 24.2% 11.8% 1.1%
Grand Total 34.7% 29.4% 23.6% 10.4% 1.9%
  Hot-wiring the car (starting the engine without the key) Stealing spare keys while the owner is away from home Stealing spare keys while the owner is home Car-jacking (taking the vehicle from the driver) Finding lost keys in a public area
Female 38.0% 26.3% 23.1% 10.6% 1.9%
Male 31.5% 32.4% 24.0% 10.2% 1.9%
Grand Total 34.7% 29.4% 23.6% 10.4% 1.9%

Australians believe that hot-wiring a car is the most common method thieves will use to steal a car. However, data from the NMVTRC[1] shows that 70% of cars are stolen with their own keys.

It seems younger Australians believe that thieves are more likely to use keys – possibly owing to greater security measures installed in modern cars. However, those aged above 65 certainly believed hot-wiring to be the most likely means of car theft.

Women also seem more inclined to believe cars will be stolen via hot-wiring than men.

3.3 Do you keep your car locked when it is parked at home?

State
Age
Gender

Over 12% of Australians don’t lock their car when it’s parked at home. While this might not seem threatening, it greatly increases the risks of personal belongings (or the vehicle itself) to be stolen. Particularly in older-model cars where the keys might not be needed to start the engine, leaving the car unlocked makes things far easier for criminals.

Queenslanders are the most likely to leave their car unlocked, with over 17% of respondents indicating they don’t lock up. Similarly, Australians aged above 65 also seem less concerned about locking their car than younger age brackets.

3.4 Do you think the authorities do enough to combat car theft?

State
Age
Gender

Overall, Australians don’t feel like the authorities do enough to combat car theft. This was particularly apparent in Australians aged between 18 and 24, who had a 72% chance of believing the authorities aren’t doing enough. Interestingly, Australians aged over 65 were more likely to suggest the authorities are doing enough – making them the only cohort of Australians to feel this way.

3.5 Are you more concerned about car theft in your suburb compared to 12 months ago?

State
Age
Gender

Generally speaking, most Australians don’t feel any more or less concerned about car theft than they had previously. However, Australians were more inclined to say they feel more concerned, rather than less concerned.

Queenslanders returned the highest rates of feeling more concerned – with almost 33% of respondents feeling more threatened. This matches what industry trends show us, with Queensland experiencing a greater-than-average rate of car thefts per 1000 registrations.

4.0 Ways to decrease your risk of car theft losses

There are 3 key things you can do to minimise your risk of experiencing losses from car theft:

Pop

Ensure you always pop your keys out of sight. This could be in a cupboard, a drawer, or a bag that’s hidden away.

Lock

Ensure you always lock your doors and windows. Don’t give criminals the chance to window-shop your property.

Cover

If the worst should happen, make sure you’re covered by insurance. If you don’t already have insurance, or you’re thinking of changing policies, Budget Direct customers who switched online told us they saved an average of $189 on their first year’s car insurance premium has saved Australians an average of on their Car Insurance.

Are you buying a new car? With one easy step, you can find out if it’s ever been reported as stolen, written off, had an airbag recall listed against it, or still has finance owing. Check out Budget Direct’s Free PPSR Car History Check tool.



Disclaimer: This survey was conducted by Pure Profile on behalf of Budget Direct in May 2021. The survey was conducted online with a total sample size of 1,007, weighted and representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+) with driver’s licences. All other data on this website is the latest available from the named sources in this article, and was obtained in June 2021. 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.

References:

[1] National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council. 2020. Car theft.

[2] National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council. 2021. Motor vehicle theft summary, 2019-04 to 2021-03.

[3] National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council. 2021. Motor vehicle thefts by 12 month periods and body type, 2016-04 to 2021-03.

[4] National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council. 2021. Top motor vehicle theft targets, 2020-04 to 2021-03.