The Crime Prevention Website


Car theft has decreased

All new cars sold in the UK Since October 1998 have been fitted with passively setting electronic immobilisers.  This means that they set themselves (switch on) when the engine is turned off, but you need a coded or transponder key to turn them off.  This single requirement massively reduced the theft of the newer vehicles overnight, but meant that the car thieves had to change their tactics.  What they now needed, of course, was the car key and so it wasn’t surprising to see a steady increase in the proportion of burglaries and thefts where the car keys were the main or only target.  Car thieves had to become burglars, robbers, pick pockets and all-round multi-talented thieves. 

Along with the emergence of the government’s Car Theft Index and an ever increasing improvement in vehicle security the numbers of vehicles stolen across the UK has fallen from around 700,000 at its peak in the 1990s to fewer than 100,000.

‘Keyless’ vehicle thefts*

In spite of all this good news about car crime, in January 2015, the Metropolitan Police in London reported that there had been an 8% increase in vehicle theft across London in the previous year, believed to be the result of organised criminals increasingly targeting keyless or remotely controlled vehicles.

During 2014 over 6,000 cars and vans across London were stolen without the owners’ keys - an average of 17 vehicles a day representing 42% of all thefts of cars and vans.

The majority of such thefts appear to be the result of organised criminals using key-programming devices to create duplicate keys for vehicles, but it can include towing vehicles away.

Thieves use a device which ‘reads’ the vehicle’s electronic information off the key as the owner uses it, or they break into the vehicle and connect a device to the OBD port, downloading the vehicle’s information onto a blank key in a matter of seconds. The new key is then compatible with the vehicle, so it disables the alarm and the vehicle can simply be driven away.

The vehicles are targeted based on the desirability of their parts and range from prestige cars to vans. Motor engines fetch anything up to £1,000 when sold on the black market, and entire vehicles make up to £10,000.

Intelligence suggests activity peaks between 2200hrs and 0400hrs, Sundays to Thursdays. The vehicles are then taken to the Home Counties, where most are stripped down into their component parts and then shipped abroad.

Vehicles owners can find information and advice about keyless vehicle theft on the Metropolitan Police website page:

As with reducing theft from vehicles you can do things to make your vehicle less attractive to the thief and reduce the opportunities for it to be stolen

*See also the extra advice below - 'Further advice about car key vulnerabilities'

So let’s see what can be done with the car itself:

  • Have the windows of the car and other component parts marked with a registered code and contact number using a marking system and database approved by Thatcham or one that is certified to LPS 1225: Issue 3.1 Requirements for the LPCB Approvals and Listing of Asset Marking Systems and LPS 1224: Issue 2.1 Requirements for secure database registers.  (See  Property Identification – marking, tagging and tracking, Standards for property marking products and services ) Some vehicles have already been marked like this because of an insurance requirement. By marking a vehicle in this way you are making it much more difficult and costly for the thief to alter the vehicle’s identity. Take a look at the systems approved by Thatcham  under the heading 'Whole vehicle marking systems’
  • If your vehicle does not have an immobiliser or alarm then have them fitted.  Always insist on a  Thatcham  approved system
  • Consider having a tracking device installed into a more expensive or high performance car. Should your vehicle be taken you will report the matter to the police and the tracking company.  The tracking company's monitoring station will be able to track the car and in most cases it will be recovered. If you have inherited the tracking device on a used vehicle you will have to register yourself with the tracking company and pay the monthly charges as otherwise they will not help you if the car is stolen.
  • If yours is an older vehicle, without an electronic immobiliser, you should at least use a physical immobiliser, such as a steering wheel lock or gearbox lock.  Take a look at Sold Secure  
  • Consider getting an on-board diagnostics lock (OBD) professionally fitted
  • See also the newly added advice below

Reducing the opportunity for the vehicle to be stolen is very much in your hands and there’s a lot you can do:

  • Whenever you leave the vehicle remove the ignition keys, close the windows and lock the doors, even for a short time, such as when you are paying for the petrol at the filling station
  • Always engage the steering lock
  • When using a remote operating key always double check that you have indeed locked the car.  People often accidentally press the button as they make their way in through the front door and don't realise that they've just unlocked the car again
  • Don’t leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running to warm it up or defrost the windows
  • When at home put the keys in a drawer or cupboard and never leave them on view through a window or door or close to the door's letter plate ( See Door security, Letter plates and mail delivery )
  • When you go out, with or without the car, always take the car keys with you and ensure that your home is properly secured (See Holiday Checklist )
  • Leave spare keys with a trusted neighbour or friend
  • When parking at home use the garage if you have one or park on a well lit driveway or hard standing, rather than in the street.  If you live in a block of flats you will have to make use of the parking facilities provided and if these are not secure enough you and your neighbours will need to approach the landlord or managing agent to ask for improvements
  • When parking away from home try to park in a place that is well lit and overlooked.  When using a public car park try to use one that is supervised or a Park Mark® Safer Parking Facility.  These have been vetted by the police and have measures in place to create a safer environment for you and your vehicle.  Plan ahead and follow this link to search for a  Park Mark® Safer Parking Facility

Further advice about car key vulnerabilities

I am very grateful to Mark Glazer of Redbridge Neighbourhood Watch in the east of London for sending me through the following information, which was originally produced by the police in Hillingdon in the West of London- a sort of East meets West scenario

I think the information (published on my news page on 8th April 2016) is pretty much self-explanatory.......

Over the last few months there has been an increase in the number of 'theft from' and 'theft of' motor vehicles.  Many of these crimes have been reported where there has been no sign of forced entry to the vehicle or the vehicle has been stolen with the lawful owner still in possession of the keys.  I have made contact with PC Pick of Thames Valley Police who has been in contact with an expert at the vehicle testing centre in Thatcham.  He has offered the following information:
There are currently two main locking systems for vehicles.  These are key fob and keyless entry.  Both can leave your vehicle vulnerable to crime if certain precautions are not taken.

Key Fob entry

The system works by sending random combinations of code to the vehicle each time the fob is pressed.  As copying the code is therefore useless the thieves have come up with another way to prevent you from locking your vehicle.

Thieves are jamming the signal from your key fob to your vehicle by using a number of different devices.  These devices can be purchased from as little as £2 from the internet and come in many forms such as garage door openers and house light controllers/dimmers.  Many of these devices act to block your key fobs when you attempt to lock your vehicle.

Thieves are able to block signals in whole areas such as car parks or streets by hiding these devices in bushes with a clothes peg activating the device for long periods of time and without the need for them to be in the vicinity.

There is a solution.  Once you have activated your key fob, YOU MUST ensure the lights have flashed indicating the car has received the signal, and then check the vehicle is locked by lifting a door handle.

Keyless Car entry

The signal for a vehicle with keyless entry cannot be jammed. However, the signal used for vehicles with this form of security system is unchanging and broadcasts continuously between the fob and the vehicle.  IT CAN BE COPIED.

Fobs made by different manufacturers use different ranges and the signal can vary in terms of strength and useable distance.  This is the distance between the vehicle and the range in which the vehicle will be unlocked.  This can be up to 30 feet from the vehicle.  For many people this could be less than the distance between your vehicle and where you leave your keys once inside your home.  YOUR VEHICLE MIGHT NOT BE LOCKED.  Alternatively, if your fob is transmitting continuously, the distance between where the device is in your home and the pavement, driveway etc. may be sufficient for a potential thief to copy the signal.  Once copied the thief cannot only enter your car but also steal it or any property within it.

The advice from Thatcham is as follows:

If you have a vehicle with a keyless entry system, keep the key in a 'Faraday Cage' where the signal cannot escape.  This is the same advice as given to us in relation to tap credit and debit cards.  You can now purchase small metal credit card cases at an affordable price.  You can then remove the plastic card holders and keep your key fob in there.  Search for an RFID blocking case/wallet.

Park Smart tool for safer parking

If you would like to know the level of car crime in a particular street or area click on this link to Co-op Insurance's Park Smart tool 

Updated December 2016, July 2017