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Car thieves gaining from global parts shortage figures show

Disruption to global car part supplies is driving a spike in car crime.

Vehicle thefts have rocketed across the UK as the demand for new vehicles and expensive parts has increased – helped by security weaknesses including keyless entry.

New figures revealed 88,915 thefts of a vehicle during the 12 months to 7 March this year were recorded by the 34 police forces that provided full figures in response to Freedom of Information requests from the PA news agency.

An average of 244 vehicles are being stolen every day – one every six minutes – with parts being sold on websites and social media within hours.

One force warned thieves are switching away from home thefts to retail car parks in a bid to beat security measures.

Unsurprisingly, the Metropolitan Police recorded the highest figures with 28,277 thefts in the twelve months to 7 March 2022.

Owners of 10,812 vehicles in the West Midlands – the hub of UK car manufacture - were victims and Greater Manchester recorded 7,737 car thefts. West Yorkshire recorded 5,367 offences.

Forces should expect current rates of offending to continue, the industry’s lead organisation and insurers have warned.

Driving car crime up has been the shut down during COVID-19 and the move to electric cars created a perfect storm of challenges for the car industry – which won’t be resolved any time soon.

Analysis by the Association of British Insurers revealed four pressures the industry is facing:

Dealers and suppliers added that the switch to electric vehicles was adding to pressure as parts firms gear up for the new technology needed.

And the rise in metal prices means vehicle shells can also be sold as scrap for a higher price.

In an update, the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders said there are “a myriad challenges affecting the industry and a high level of market distortion due to restricted supply of all vehicle types and technologies”.

As well as parts, the cost of living crisis has led to a drop in new car sales meaning there is a limited supply in the second-hand market.

New UK car registrations fell 20.6% to 124,394 units in the second weakest May since 1992.

Offenders are tapping into that demand thanks to two security weaknesses; the ability to clone alarm codes from key fobs and plug-in sockets that offer direct access to engine management systems.

Thieves are stripping cars “in a matter of hours” so they can sell the parts on the internet for high prices, according to a senior officer.

Superintendent Jim Munro of West Midlands Police said the force was dealing with a huge black market.

Supt Munro said: “What we’ve seen in the West Midlands is likewise what we’ve seen across the piece nationally – there is a desire for certain vehicle parts, and this is fuelling the theft of motor vehicle crimes.”

He said: “Vehicles are stolen, sometimes taken to nearby industrial units, people will work through the night in industrial areas, and sometimes these vehicles have been stripped in a matter of hours.”

Vehicles are being targeted according to demand for spares, mirroring the just-in-time supply method pioneered by car firm Toyota.

Supt Munro explained: “The parts are then being sold on and the shells have been waiting for scrap. Some of those parts are being sold for quite high prices due to the demand.”

Forces – and car security firms are fighting back.

Essex Police’s specialist vehicle team is focusing on organised crime gangs targeting high value vehicles.

And more than 2,000 suspects have been arrested by West Midlands Police over the past 12 months as part of Operation Cantil, which has also seen 1,000 stolen cars recovered.

But Supt Munro also warned that the increase in owners buying Faraday pouches for car keys to block scammers has led thieves to change tack.

They are now using devices to clone key signals in retail car parks where owners think vehicles are safe due to CCTV.

“Criminals are exploiting this,” he explained. “They’re using devices in order to block signals where people are trying to lock their cars with their fobs.”

Here is a breakdown of the figures:

– Avon and Somerset 2,358

– Bedfordshire 1,276

– Cambridgeshire 1,011

-Cheshire 915

– City of London 45

– Cleveland 743

– Cumbria 161

– Derbyshire 1,354

– Devon and Cornwall 542

– Dorset 684

– Durham 705

– Dyfed Powys - Did not provide full figures

– Essex -Did not provide full figures

– Gloucestershire 256

– Greater Manchester 7,737

– Gwent 748

– Hampshire

Did not provide full figures

– Hertfordshire 1,743

– Humberside 1,067

– Kent - Did not provide full figures

– Lancashire 1,951

– Leicestershire 1,590

– Lincolnshire - Did not provide full figures

– Merseyside 2,471

– Metropolitan Police 28,277

– Norfolk 424

– North Wales 436

– North Yorkshire 508

– Northamptonshire - Did not provide full figures

– Northumbria - Did not provide full figures

– Nottinghamshire - Did not provide full figures

– South Wales 1,972

– South Yorkshire 4,003

– Staffordshire - Did not provide full figures

– Suffolk 427

– Surrey 1,314

– Sussex 1,688

– Thames Valley - Did not provide full figures

– Warwickshire 795

– West Mercia - Did not provide full figures

– West Midlands 10,812

– West Yorkshire 5,367

– Wiltshire 448

– Scotland 4,034

– Northern Ireland 1,053

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