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PCC warns car manufacturers on targeted vehicle theft

A huge demand among cash-strapped motorists for cheap spares is leading to organised car thefts, data from the West Midlands PCC has revealed.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands has urged carmakers to up their game on security.

Former labour transport minister David Jamieson, who has a host of manufacturers on his doorstep, has warned West Midlands officers were dealing with hundreds of crimes where a car had been stolen in as little as 10 seconds – and demanded manufacturers take action.

He said: ““Despite the lockdown, there has been an unequal impact on vehicle theft figures depending on the make of vehicle people own. 

“Police will continue to pursue and arrest car thieves and the organised criminals fuelling thefts in our region, but there is a lot manufacturers could do to ensure their vehicles are more secure.”

Although car crime in his area has fallen, nationally the number has increased despite cars now having sophisticated anti-theft systems.

According to the DVLA, 74,769 vehicles were stolen last year – up by around 20,000. That’s around 200 per day. And the ONS revealed 80% happen at night.

Analysis by the PCC’s office revealed a major factor is that financial pressures mean motorists can no longer afford main dealer prices – just at the point as major reliability issues occur.

Vehicles that have had their identity cloned with new number plates have also been used by gangs for their activities and then passed on to other gangs within a few days.

West Midlands Police have been working with the industry to improve security by passing on recovered vehicles so that manufacturers development teams including Ford UK – can assess how the thieves by-passed the technology.

They have also carried out targeted operations that resulted in 2,500 arrests and the recovery of 1,000 vehicles.

But the PCC has warned some manufacturers have not kept up with developments and have become a thieves’ favourite as a result.

Mr Jamieson said Nissan cars were becoming a more regular target. Where many vehicle makes saw thefts stabilise or fall, Nissan thefts rose from 194 in 2019 to 402 in 2020.

The thefts made up the bulk of national cases for that make. Nationally the Nissan Qashqai is in the top 10 most stolen cars, with 655 offences.

The national car theft top 10 last year was:

The West Midlands data also shows that thefts of Land Rovers fell by 40% whilst thefts of Audi vehicles fell by almost a quarter in the region.

Mr Jamieson said: “I am concerned about the large rise in thefts of Nissans. It is outrageous that manufacturers are still producing vehicles that can be stolen in a matter of seconds, often by teenagers.”.

With immobilisers and alarms becoming more sophisticated, thieves have changed their approach.

The majority of cases involve a house burglary where the keys are found by the offender.

A second method has been the growth of copied keys – often starting with someone who works for a car dealer who is able to steal the range of keys for a model and get copies cut. The deadlock key enables the offender to re-set and then de-activate the alarm before making off. Keys have gone into circulation on the black market.

The third method is more hi-tech. Scanners can be bought that detect the key fob sender unit and calculate the code needed. This is transferred to a sender unit that fools the car’s system into deactivating.

Professional units are available on the open market with prices ranging from £10,000 and £25,000. Code calculator advice is openly available on the web.

A critical weakness is that at the moment, anyone caught with a scanner can only be arrested if the officer can prove intent to steal.

For those that own keyless cars, the main solution is a Faraday pouch – a box that prevents scanners connecting with the car’s fob.

Fitting after-market tracking devices and steering clamps approached by the Thatcham Research centre are two other options.

For home owners that are some basic preventative measures: creating gravel drives plus installing CCTV, lockable posts and security lights.

But Mr Jamieson, who was a transport minister from 2001 to 2005, says manufacturers need to do more by offering retro-fit fixes – especially supporting people with older cars such as the Ford Fiesta which is the thieves favourite nationally.

“We know that Ford have the technology to stop keyless car thefts and include it on some of their newest models.” Mr Jamieson added, “But they must take more responsibility for vehicles they have sold in the past that have serious security flaws which can see them stolen in under a minute. All models should have this high level of security.”

He added: "This is why I have continued to push motor manufacturers to improve their security."

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