Most stolen and recovered cars in the UK
Car theft is on the rise in the UK as criminals adopt increasingly sophisticated techniques. But which makes and models are being targeted by thieves and how can you prevent your car from being stolen?
The cost-of-living crisis, combined with shortages of new and used vehicles and spare parts, have been fuelling the number of car thefts taking place across the UK.
One vehicle is stolen about every five minutes somewhere in the UK, according to analysis of DVLA data by Claims Management & Adjusting (CMA), and there has been a rise in the number of car thefts so far in 2023.
The latest data from security and telematics systems provider Tracker shows a 39.5% increase in the number of cars stolen and recovered in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.
Which vehicles are thieves targeting?
Premium models from Land Rover, Range Rover, and Mercedes-Benz frequently feature in the most stolen listings as thieves know they’ll fetch a high value when they sell them on and they are willing to invest in the necessary technology to steal them.
The Ford Fiesta is another popular target. It has long been one of the best-selling cars in the UK, with more than 1.5 million licenced models on UK roads, and it has become a valuable second-hand model since production ended in July 2023.
This has also created a massive second-hand parts market and criminals have been quick to jump on this opportunity, lucratively selling on stolen Ford Fiesta parts on the black market, according to Tracker.
Stolen vehicles are dismantled at so-called ‘chop shops’ so the parts can be sold or used to repair other stolen vehicles. Joint operations between Tracker and UK police forces uncovered 34 illegal chop shops nationwide in the first six months of 2023.
Hybrid and electric vehicles are also likely to become a target as demand for them grows, following the expansion of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone and the increase in the number of clean air zones in England and low emission zones in Scotland.
The Lexus RX450h plug-in hybrid entered Tracker’s most stolen and recovered cars league table in 2022, with thefts rapidly increasing in the second half of the year and that trend has continued in 2023.
Top five stolen and recovered models
Range Rover Sport
Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Range Rover Vogue
BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Evoque
Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Range Rover Autobiography
Source: Tracker, data from January to June 2023
If you’re thinking of buying a car which could be a target for thieves, bear in mind that it could attract a higher insurance premium as vehicle crime is one-factor insurers look at. It’s a good idea to run some comparison quotes before you buy a particular model to see how much it’s likely to cost to insure.
What tricks do thieves use to steal cars?
Thieves have invested in devices, and often work in pairs, to steal cars which have keyless entry (where the vehicleautomatically unlocks when the key fob comes within a short distance of the car).
They use a device which ‘tricks’ the car into thinking the key fob is close by so the car unlocks and they can start the ignition. Thieves only need to be within a few metres of your key fob to pick up the signal from it and ‘relay’ it to the car so even if it’s inside your home they can still steal your car.
Tracker says that keyless car theft (also known as a ‘relay attack’) continues to grow, having increased steadily for many years. Its latest data reveals that 93% of thefts are carried out without using the owner’s keys, up from 80% in 2017.
You should also be aware of less sophisticated ways thieves steal cars. According to the Metropolitan Police it’s not uncommon for car keys to be stolen from inside your home by thieves fishing for them with a stick and hook through the letterbox.
If you’re selling your car, beware of a thief simply stealing it during a ‘test drive’ or cloning the keys to steal it later on.
Thieves even use illegal tow trucks to steal vehicles, according to the Met Police, and don’t assume your car is safe when you’re driving it, another common trick is bump your vehicle from behind and then hijack your car when you pull over.
What to do if your car is stolen
If your car is stolen you should report it to the police. They will give you a crime reference number which you’ll need to give to your insurer.
Whether your insurer covers car theft depends on the type of cover you have. If you have the most basic insurance, third-party only, you won’t be covered, you need to have fully comprehensive and third-party fire and theft (TPFT).
Even with fully comprehensive insurance and TPFT the circumstances around the theft might mean your insurer doesn’t pay out. If, for instance, you leave your car unattended on the street with the engine running (which is illegal) to de-ice the car and it gets stolen you won’t be covered.
Also bear in mind that if your car is recovered but it’s a write-off the insurer will only pay out the market value of the vehicle. If your car is on a finance agreement you might want to consider GAP insurance, which offers protection in exactly that situation.
How to reduce the risk of your car being stolen
Don’t make the thieves’ job easy for them. Read on for a few tips on what you can do to lower the risk of your car being swiped by criminals.
Check your vehicle is locked and the windows and sunroof (if you have one) aren’t open. This greatly reduces the risk of being targeted by an opportunist thief, the Met Police says. It also suggests that thieves look to see if door mirrors are folded - if they’re not it could be a clue that the car is unlocked.
Keep your keys (including the spare key) hidden away at a safe distance from where your car is parked, and from the front door. If your car has keyless entry, use a signal-blocking pouch such as a Faraday Bag and make sure it’s working every few months. You can also turn off the wireless signal on your fob when it’s not in use.
Improve your car’s security by fitting a car alarm or immobiliser (if your car doesn’t have one), which should help lower insurance costs, and also use a visual deterrent such as a steering wheel lock.
Fit a Thatcham-approved vehicle tracker to your car. Consider one that uses VHF technology rather than a GPS tracking system as thieves could jam the GPS signal. Although fitting a tracking or telematics device won’t necessarily deter a thief, it should mean the police can recover the vehicle.
Install security lighting and CCTV at your home (this could be a video doorbell) or park in a well-lit area with surveillance cameras.