5th October 2016

Company vehicles, Christmas presents and the fight against high-tech criminals

Despite overall vehicle theft across the UK having fallen over the last couple of decades, the latest figures released by the police identify a concerning increase in reported car thefts, which have risen 8% in the year to March 2016, notably in London.

When it comes to the most-stolen models in the UK, the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service’s (NaVCIS) most recent data clearly shows that desirable vehicles are foremost in car thieves’ minds, the Audi S3 topping the list, followed by the iconic and now discontinued Land Rover Defender, the full-fat Range Rover finishing in third place. The Audi A5 and Q7 along with the BMW 5 Series and X5 also make it into the top ten. A large proportion of high-end vehicles are stolen to order by organised gangs and often end up overseas.

It’s a reality of life that while cars’ default security systems are becoming more advanced, criminals are also continuously increasing in knowledge and ‘skill’, many of them investing in incredibly intelligent technology to hack their way into prestigious vehicles in particular, using on-board diagnostic ports to clone keys and start engines.

A year ago, one insurance comparison website calculated that over 8 million Brits intended to hide Christmas presents worth around £1.5 billion from prying eyes by locking them in the boots of their cars. It is understandable why parents in particular will try to do all they can to preserve the specialness of Christmas for their young children, but such tactics can backfire if, for example, the gifts stored in their car boots aren’t covered by their motor insurers.

To minimise the chance of a car being nicked, it’s advisable to park it in a well-lit area if possible, ideally near other cars and people. One positive aspect to the prevalence of CCTV these days is that it can help keep cars more secure in supermarkets, leisure centres and other car parks. Criminals are now able to block the signal transmitted by a car’s key fob, so double-checking that a vehicle has indeed been locked is nothing to be ashamed of – although keyless entry can turn this into a comedy at times. Make sure the windows are all fully closed, even if the vehicle will only be left for a short time, and avoid keeping a spare key inside the car, or leaving valuables on display. It’s recommended to leave car keys somewhere other than a hallway at home, to prevent them from going walkabout through the letterbox.

Business owners and fleet managers should prick their ears up, too, as data from APU recorded over a six-year period by all but two of the UK’s police forces shows that 10.8% of vehicle theft and taking without consent (TWOC) cases involved company vehicles, costing firms a combined total of over £50 million per annum.

Thatcham, the bods in Berkshire who test and rate vehicles for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Euro NCAP, very recently published an infographic of seven thief-beating measures that would give a vehicle the best chance of staying where it should do. Double locks on all the doors, secure wheel nuts, protection against diagnostic and key fob hacking, barcoding of major components and unique chip embedding all make their list.

We were glad to also see 24/7 tracking systems included in their seven recommended deterrents, because stats from various sources such as the Home Office, APU and Thatcham themselves point to UK stolen vehicle recovery rates perennially topping out at no more than 50%. Trak Global Group’s portfolio of products, services and brands includes Swiftrak, our Thatcham category 6 assured car tracker, which is linked to a control centre manned 24 hours a day. As well as the reactive tracking capabilities private and business vehicle owners now expect, Swiftrak also operates proactively using motion-sensing technology to combat unauthorised movement of a vehicle. It can also be used to track motorbikes, caravans, motorhomes, agricultural and plant vehicles.

There’s no denying that the UK’s police forces are becoming increasingly stretched, having to prioritise other crimes, so we look forward to the day when the combined efforts of vehicle OEMs and aftermarket security device manufacturers result in the tide turning against criminals, a large proportion of vehicles simply not being stolen in the first place, or else recovered much more easily.