There was a 3 per cent rise in motor thefts in Britain last year, official records show – and we can exclusively tell you which models were targeted most.
Almost 48,400 vehicles in 2021 were recorded by police as stolen, up from 46,800 in the previous year, according to records held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
While some of the most popular motors on our roads, like the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, are among the most stolen, the data shows that criminals are purposefully targeting high-end Range Rovers and other premium marques, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Is your car in the top 10?
The Ford Fiesta is the most stolen car in Britain, which is unsurprising given it’s also the most common model on our roads. Some 3,909 were reported to the DVLA in 2021 as being pinched
The latest car theft data has been obtained by leasing firm LeaseLoco via a Freedom of Information request to the DVLA – and the data has been shared exclusively with us.
The total number of pinched cars last year – based on record provided by the police for 1 January to 31 December 2021 – was 48,492, which is 1,617 more than the year previous.
It means an average of 133 cars are stolen every day in Britain – or 933 per week.
However, motor thefts are still not as high as they were pre-pandemic, with DVLA figures showing 58,642 motors had been stolen from owners in 2019 – a fifth higher than last year.
Most-stolen car models in 2021
1. Ford Fiesta: 3,909
2. Land Rover Range Rover: 3,754
3. Ford Focus: 1,912
4. VW Golf: 1,755
5. Mercedes-Benz C-Class: 1,474
6. BMW 3 Series: 1,464
7. Land Rover Discovery: 1,260
8. Vauxhall Corsa: 1,218
9. Vauxhall Astra: 1,096
10. Mercedes-Benz E-Class: 818
Source: DVLA records provided to LeaseLoco. Figures are for 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2021
Topping the list of the most commonly pinched cars in 2021 was the Ford Fiesta, with 3,909 reported stolen to the police.
With millions of examples of Ford’s super-popular supermini on Britain’s roads, it’s no surprise to see it topping the chart of nicked vehicles.
But other cars prominently placed in the top 10 list are proof that criminals are targeting high-end models as well as those that are readily available.
In second spot in the overall rankings was the Range Rover, which is significantly less common, though far more valuable than the Fiesta.
There were 3,754 reported cases of the expensive Land Rover SUVs being stolen from keepers last year.
It’s a reflection of the ongoing crime wave involving criminal gangs using keyless technology to target high-value premium cars – a problem that has been worsening in recent years.
There is further evidence of luxury vehicles being taken via keyless ‘relay thefts’ in the top 10.
While common cars like the Ford Focus (1,912), Volkswagen Golf (1,755) and Vauxhall’s Corsa (1,218) and Astra (1,096) all feature, there are plenty of expensive, premium-brand vehicles in the order.
The Ford Focus was the third most commonly pinched model, according to DVLA records provided to LeaseLoco following an FOI request last month
The VW Golf, another popular car in Britain, was the fourth most-nicked model, with 1,755 cases
The Range Rover is the second most stolen car in 2021, with 3,754 instances. This is likely the result of gangs targeting the high-value SUVs using keyless thefts
These include the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (1,474) and E-Class (818), BMW 3 Series (1,464) and Land Rover Discovery (1,260).
A separate report from specialist vehicle security product provider, Tracker, gives further evidence that Range Rovers are high on criminal gangs’ lists of desirable vehicles to go after.
Stolen vehicles reported in Britain
Source: DVLA data provided to LeaseLoco following FOI request
The Range Rover Sport topped its ‘stolen-and-recovered’ league table for 2021, which was the third consecutive year the desirable SUV has been at its number one spot.
It said Range Rover and Land Rover models dominated its vehicle recovery activity last year, with the British brand’s cars accounting for an astonishing 44 per cent of all stolen cars recovered by Tracker over the course of the 12 months.
It was followed by Mercedes-Benz with 18 per cent of recorded thefts.
The company does not provide exact figures for the number of models fitted with its equipment that are stolen, both for privacy and market competition reasons.
However, its must be kept in mind that the data is skewed towards high-end motors, with Tracker customers tending to be owners protecting expensive four-wheeled assets.
Car thieves are targeting more prestigious marques, such as Mercedes and BMW, especially slightly older models with keyless entry systems that are easier to infiltrate
Some 1,260 Land Rover Discovery models were taken by thieves in 2021, the stats show
John Wilmot, chief executive of car leasing comparison website LeaseLoco, said: ‘The Ford Fiesta may have lost its crown as the best-selling new car in the UK but it still retains the unenviable title as being the most stolen car in Britain.
‘Close behind is the Range Rover, one of the most popular luxury SUVs on the market, which has been targeted by sophisticated criminal gangs who have the knowledge and keyless tech to gain entry.’
Clive Wain, head of police liaison for Tracker, said a rise in thefts in 2021 has been Covid related.
‘Due to the pandemic, global demand for car parts created a boom in ‘chop-shops’ – buildings which house stolen vehicles for stripping down so their expensive parts can be sold on,’ he says.
‘In addition, the lack of parts for new car manufacturing resulted in a surge of sales in the second-hand car market, creating a lucrative business for car thieves to fill the shortage.
‘Prestige models have always been the go-to for criminals who exploit the demand for these desirable cars in territories like Europe, Middle East and Africa.
‘We are continuously intercepting shipping containers packed with stolen vehicles at ports around the country and 2021 was no different. However, due to the pandemic lower value cars have also seen an increase in theft rates.’
While thefts are of obvious concern to owners who directly fall victim to vehicle crime, rising cases of pinched motors also pose a greater risk for unassuming car buyers.
James Fairclough, chief executive at AA Cars, said those who inadvertently buy stolen vehicles face ‘disastrous’ consequences, which likely sees them losing both the vehicle and money they paid for a vehicle they didn’t know had been pinched.
‘The risk is real – an average of 30 stolen vehicles are identified every day by used car history checks,’ Mr Fairclough said.
‘That’s why it’s essential that you do your research before parting with any money.
‘Before buying a second-hand car, always carry out an online history check to confirm the mileage, the number of previous owners and whether the car has been stolen, been in an accident or written off.’
Vehicle security expert tells us his top 10 tips to keep your car safe
With criminal gangs increasingly using new technology and methods to steal cars, especially those with a high value on the black market, we asked Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research – the UK’s independent automotive research centre and motor security experts – to give tell us his top 10 tips for owners to keep their motors secure.
Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, provides his 10 top tips to keep your motor secure
‘Although any increase in vehicle thefts will be a concern to car owners, we are still a long way off from the endemic car crime seen in the early 1990s – where upwards of 600,000 cars were stolen in a single year, with thieves mostly using equipment found in a toolbox,’ he explained.
‘Over the years car makers have added layers of security to successfully deter opportunistic thieves. Vehicle theft is now largely the preserve of sophisticated criminal gangs, using digital kit to navigate mechanical security.
‘Keyless entry systems have been problematic and can be exploited by thieves using a technique known as the ‘Relay Attack’. Many car makers do now offer countermeasures with new vehicles, such as motion-sensor enabled fobs. However, all new cars with keyless systems should have a solution to this long-standing vulnerability in place.
‘Drivers should go into the dealership with their eyes open to security and have a checklist of questions prepared around keyless entry, connected systems, apps, alarms and immobilisers.’
1. Always check the handles are locked after using a keyfob
When left unattended, make sure the vehicle is locked and windows are up. Listen for the locking noise and watch for the lights to flash or mirrors to fold. Physically check the vehicle is locked yourself – as criminals can sometimes block the locking signal from your key fob. The Electronic Control Unit (ECU) within can be at greater risk to manipulation when the vehicle has been left unlocked. Ensure (where fitted) that double locking to doors and alarm are active (refer to owner manual).
2. Keep valuables out of sight from prying eyes
‘Out of sight, out of mind’. Make sure valuables are removed from your vehicle or kept out of sight. This can include valuables such as bags, laptops, electronic equipment, documents and tools.
3. Do you have an alarm and immobiliser?
Ensure your vehicle has Thatcham Research-certified alarm and immobiliser systems fitted. Consider upgrading your vehicle security to include a certified aftermarket alarm with inclination sensor, immobiliser and tracking system. Some insurance policies require the fitment of a tracking device, so it’s important any associated subscriptions to monitoring services are maintained.
4. Invest in old-hat security systems as a next-level deterrent
Consider using a physical immobiliser such as steering wheel lock or gear clamp. These not only offer another layer of security but also act as a significant visual deterrent to thieves.
5. Think about where your car is kept when not in use, especially at night
When unattended, keep the vehicle somewhere secure and well-lit, preferably monitored by CCTV. Park the car in a way that makes it awkward for a thief to remove; parked facing close to your house (so that the thief will have to reverse out), or possibly blocking in by other cars. Store your vehicle in a garage overnight, if you have one. Lockable driveway gates also provide another physical and visual deterrent to thieves.
6. Make sure your keys are safe
In cold weather, do not leave the vehicle unattended and running with keys in the ignition. Store keys, including spares, out of sight from windows and doors. And consider where the spare key is kept and who may have access to it. If you have purchased your vehicle second hand with only one working key, visit an approved repair centre to get the missing key(s) deleted and to add a spare as soon as possible.
Be aware of the technology in your vehicle and your key fob’s functions. If it uses Passive Keyless Entry and Start (PKES) it may be susceptible to a theft method called the ‘Relay Attack’ and you should therefore consider storing key fobs as far away from the outer perimeter of the house as is possible. And check your owner’s manual to see if there is a PKES locking function that can be activated at night or when you’re not using the vehicle for long periods.
For additional protection, consider using a signal blocking faraday pouch for main and spare keys – test that it works by inserting your fob into the pouch, walking up to your car and seeing if the door will open. Make sure the pouch you buy is designed to store keys, not credit cards.
Many carmakers have now introduced motion-sensor enabled fobs, which go to sleep when idle and can’t fall victim to the Relay Attack. Speak to your dealership to see whether your vehicle has security enhancements available.
Always be aware that criminals may be able to clone the vehicle key at any time. Consider this when leaving with untrusted parties or services that you have not used before. Check that the company is a member of an accredited code of practice/professional standard such as The Motor Ombudsman (Themotorombudsman.org) or The British Parking Association’s Park Mark scheme (parkmark.co.uk).
7. Make relevant checks so your motor doesn’t end up on bricks
Ensure your vehicle has locking wheel bolts, which secure the vehicle’s wheels.
8. Get yourself a dashcam that starts recording when there’s a security breach
Consider in-vehicle camera options that upload recorded data to the cloud or an app. If it only records to a memory stick, that will vanish with the car if stolen. Those that offer ‘parking mode’ can detect and record movement when parked. This offers supporting evidence for both your insurer and the Police.
9. Many modern cars now have security alert systems – but you need to link them to your smartphone
Does your vehicle offer connectivity? Does it offer theft alert notifications via a phone app? If so, ensure all theft alert notifications are active.
10. Wipe stored info from a car you’re selling
Some vehicle apps and connected systems can provide access to the previous owner. If permissions remain active, ensure that all permissions and data linked to the previous owner are removed. And if you’re selling a car, make sure you wipe all stored information before handing over the keys to a new owner. Connected cars can store all kinds of personal information and still be connected to your devices – these can all be used to identify when your car or property might be vulnerable. Refer to the owner’s manual to remove all stored data.
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