Last Updated: May 2019. Latest available data from March 2018.

Car Theft in Australia

  • 52,858 vehicles were stolen in Australia in 2017, or one stolen every 10 minutes
  • 1 in 5 stolen cars were never recovered, and 53% of stolen motorcycles were never recovered
  • Victoria had the most car thefts with 29% of all thefts in 2017
  • Holden Commodores were the most stolen car in Australia in 2017 with 4,224 reported thefts
  • Motor vehicle theft costs Australia $880 million a year or $6000 per vehicle

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 ten minutes. This is a serious problem. In 2017, 52,858 registered vehicles were stolen in Australia. 38,322 of these thefts were classified as ‘short term thefts’ (stolen and recovered) while 14,536 were classified as ‘profit motivated thefts’ (stolen and not recovered).

The average age of stolen cars in Australia is around 11 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 4% of vehicle registrations, they make up 15% of all motor vehicle thefts.

Your chances of having your vehicle stolen depend on where you live in Australia. Victorians experienced the highest rate of car thefts at 29%, followed by New South Wales at 23% and Queensland at 21%. The Northern Territory saw only 1.9% of all car thefts but had the highest rate of thefts vs population at 399 thefts per 100,000 people. While NSW had the second highest amount of vehicle theft in Australia, when compared to the population of the state, there were only 155 thefts per 100,000 people, the lowest in the country. The Australian average is 215 thefts per 100,000 people.

The following graph shows the breakdown of vehicle thefts in 2017 by state.

Car Theft Rates by City


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 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.

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 2017


In 2017, Holden Commodores were the most stolen car in Australia with 4,224 reported thefts. Next came the Ford Falcon with 1,958 reported thefts, while the Toyota Hilux (1,931 reported thefts), Nissan Pulsar (1,639 reported thefts), and Toyota Corolla (1,405 reported thefts) were also popular targets for car thieves.

Most stolen cars in Australia by state

Looking at the state-by-state breakdown, home-grown brands were again popular with car thieves. While more recent information is not currently available, as of 2014, the most stolen car in Victoria was the 1997 Commodore VT. The 1997 Commodore VT was also the most stolen car in NSW and South Australia. The 2006 Commodore VE was the most stolen car in Queensland and Western Australia as of 2014, while the most stolen car in Tasmania was the 1995 Nissan Pulsar N15. In Canberra, the 1994 Hyundai Excel was the most popular option for thieves and in the Northern Territory the most stolen car was the Toyota Landcruiser 70 Series.

Some points to ponder

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) USA, (2) UK, (3) France, (4) Italy and (5) Canada). 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.

Get a car insurance quote online