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keys dangling in front of car door

A mix of sensible parking practice, security reinforcement and a little common sense is all you need to dramatically reduce the likelihood of a thief targeting your vehicle. In this section, we look at some car security top tips, including:

    General security tips

    Car theft may be far from being a thing of the past, but it is in decline, partly because cars are increasingly engineered to make theft considerably more difficult. Thieves have reacted to this trend by changing their tactics.

    Preventing key theft

    One of the major advancements in basic car security has been the closing down of simple ways of bypassing the keys. Thieves can no longer expect to hop in a car, easily hotwire and drive away before someone realises what they are doing. Instead, car crime is increasingly a two-part theft: car keys are stolen and subsequently used to steal cars. Theft occurs via:

    • Comprehensive burglary of your home (with car used as a getaway)
    • Keys left by an unlocked front door
    • Keys ‘fished’ through a letterbox
    • Pickpocketing, especially of unattended clothing or bags
    • Mugging
    • Carjacking
    • Keys left in locks

    The counterpoint to many of these bulletpoints is to simply not make obvious mistakes: keep your keys out of sight and out of reach of criminals.

    uk car number plate

    Car identity theft

    Finding that your number plates have been removed initially seems bizarre, until you consider the implications: whoever stole the plates is likely to be using them on another vehicle. This is done for the shadiest of reasons:

    • To give a stolen car, or a car that has been declared unsafe for road use a new ‘clean’ identity
    • To disguise a car used in a crime – be that crime a speeding fine or a ram-raid
    • To evade congestion charges

    It is possible to buy ‘theft resistant’ plates to counter this – this voluntary standard ensures that it takes three minutes to remove a number plate with common attack methods. If your plates are stolen, report it to the police immediately to avoid the legal tangle that can easily ensue.

    Rusty exhaust

    Component theft

    At certain times, the commodity price of materials routinely used in car manufacture can sky rocket, making previously innocuous parts a lot more expensive, even when melted down. In 2008, for instance, the theft of catalytic converters – a component of exhausts which removes harmful pollutants – rose dramatically because of the increase in value of metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium. Cars with larger road clearance (for example 4x4s) were particularly at risk. Custom rims and tyres, which are easily removed especially by organised gangs, are also at risk of theft. Unfortunately, there are no special measures you can take to prevent most component theft – you must simply park your vehicle securely.

    Handbrake and gear stick

    Car accessory and personal item theft

    In the ‘90s, any car with a decent stereo system became a target for theft, usually with the attendant inconvenience of a broken window and an empty glove compartment. Today, it’s rarer to see car stereos stolen for several reasons: good stereos are no longer a luxury, in fact they’re quite common. There has also been a shift to portable MP3 players and an erosion of the market value of even a top-of-the-range system. Or perhaps thieves are just distracted by all the other easy-to-remove items in the modern car. Common targets include:

    • Sat navs
    • Smartphones
    • MP3 players
    • Wallets
    • Aftermarket DVD entertainment systems

    The best way of preventing theft of these accessories is to not leave them in the car at all. Better still, don’t leave any evidence of them – no charging cables, mounting brackets or even the residue that such brackets leave. It may even be a good idea to leave your glove box open, so it’s obvious there’s nothing of worth inside.

    White van and two orange cones

    Labourers and theft

    Vans are popular targets for theft not because the vehicles themselves are especially attractive, but because of their contents. Plumbers, carpenters, builders and other labourers are strongly advised to always lock their van up when walking away for short periods, and to keep all tools in their home or place of business overnight. Remember: tools are expensive to replace, but the time you spend unable to work while you replace them may be even greater.

    Old and rusty vintage car

    Car maintenance and security

    While owners of luxury motors must be wary of theft, they are less likely to invite opportunistic theft than owners of poorly-maintained cars. This isn’t just simply a case of more expensive cars having more security features, either. A window stuck partly open invites intrusion; a rusty door may be more easily prised open. An owner who fails to properly maintain their car may be identified as an easier target, as it gives the impression that they may be more careless, or may not have the money or inclination to fit alarms and a means of tracking their vehicle.

    Two police officers

    What to do if your vehicle is stolen

    Even if you follow all the advice in this section, you can never entirely remove the possibility of your car getting stolen. When this happens, you must tell both the police and then your insurance company straight away (the latter need a crime reference number from the former). In the medium term, you will also want to apply for a vehicle tax refund, and to inform the DVLA if your insurance company pays out. More information on what to do when your vehicle is stolen can be found on Gov.uk.

      Car and van security devices

      Best practice will only get you so far: vehicles are desirable targets and anyone with the right tools, knowledge and available time may target yours. Investing in further counter-measures is therefore important.

      Quick visual guide

      Keys in the ignition

      Electronic engine immobilisers

      Mandatory in all cars since 1998, preventing hot-wiring by requiring a unique binary code to be transmitted by the key when in the ignition.

      Red SOS alarm

      Alarm system

      Audible alarm systems that, when armed, can be triggered by unauthorised entry. Less advanced systems monitor vibration or voltage changes.

      Stopwatch and tyre

      Central locking and automatic locking

      Central locking is now common in all but the lowest of trim levels on low-end models. Systems where all doors lock after a set amount of time are also becoming common.

      Car door interior

      Double-locking doors

      Allows for an extra secure state where the car doors cannot be opened from the inside, deterring thieves from breaking windows to gain access.

      Locked steering wheel

      Steering wheel lock

      When set, the long end of this device prevents turning of the wheel. While an effective deterrent, some examples can simply be removed by cutting sections out of the steering wheel.

      Satellite above earth

      Vehicle tracking devices

      Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are used by many drivers to work out where they’re going. The same principle can be used to find out where a car has gone.

      Person driving car

      How to buy quality security devices

      Consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to security devices – but prices vary greatly. It can also be hard to determine whether you’re paying for peace of mind or a system that will genuinely deter and thwart theft. Thankfully, there are a number of bodies in the UK whose endorsements are worth listening to when considering a purchase:

      • Thatcham test a wide variety of vehicles and security devices, maintaining a database of ‘Quality Assured’ systems
      • Sold Secure are a similar group with their own database and approval mark

      Your insurance company may actually offer discounts on premiums based on whether you have certain approved devices installed. They don’t want you to claim, so it stands to reason that anything they endorse is worth a look.

        Securely parking your vehicle

        Garage

        Where you park your car can greatly affect how secure it is. Home Office figures provide the following proportion of thefts:

        • Private driveways: 37%
        • Street outside home: 29%
        • Other street parking: 14%
        • Public and private car parks: 10%
        • Private garages: 7%
        • Other: 3%

        It would seem to be counter-intuitive that cars parked on a private driveway represent the largest proportion of thefts: there are statistical reasons for taking this list as only roughly indicative of best practice, and private driveways allow us to exemplify why. Firstly, if the majority of cars spend their time on private driveways (which is likely), that will skew the numbers.

        Secondly, private driveways are potentially less secure. Many of the common tactics mentioned in our general tips section (such as fishing keys through the letter box, or breaking into a house and using the car as a getaway) are easier to accomplish with a car that’s parked in a private driveway. Finally, not all private driveways are equally security friendly – they may be out of sight of the public or the owner, for example.


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