Motor vehicle theft

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Vehicle with broken window.

Motor vehicle theft is the criminal act of stealing or attempting to steal a car (or any other motor vehicle). Nationwide in the US in 2012, there were an estimated 721,053 motor vehicle thefts, or approximately 229.7 motor vehicles stolen for every 100,000 inhabitants. Property losses due to motor vehicle theft in 2012 were estimated at $4.3 billion. [1]


Shattered glass marks the spot where a parked vehicle was stolen

Some methods used by criminals to steal motor vehicles include:

  • Theft of an unattended vehicle without key(s): The removal of a parked vehicle either by breaking and entry, followed by hotwiring or other tampering methods to start the vehicle, or else towing. In London the police say that 50% of the annual 20,000 car thefts are now from high tech OBD (Onboard Diagnostic Port) key cloning kits (available online) and bypass immobiliser simulators.
  • Theft with access to keys: Known in some places as "Taken Without Owner's Consent (TWOC)". The unauthorized use of a vehicle in which the owner has allowed the driver to have possession of or easy access to the keys. Often, this is the adolescent or grown child or employee of the vehicle's owner who, at other times, may be authorized to use the vehicle. This may be treated differently, depending on the jurisdiction's laws, and the owner may choose not to press charges. However, this method also applies to criminals who break into a car and find that the owner has left a spare set of keys in the glovebox, and use these to drive the car away
  • Opportunistic theft: The removal of a vehicle that the owner or operator has left unattended with the keys visibly present, sometimes idling. Alternatively, some cars offered for sale are stolen during a 'test drive'. A 'test drive' may also provide a potential thief with insight into where the vehicle keys are stored, so that the thief may return later to steal the vehicle.
  • Carjacking: Refers to the taking of a vehicle by force or threat of force from its owner or operator. In most places, this is the most serious form of theft, since assault also occurs. In some carjackings, the operators and passengers are forced from the vehicle while the thief drives it away him/herself, while in other incidents, the operator and/or passenger(s) are forced to remain in the vehicle as hostages. Some less common carjackings result in the operator being forced to drive the assailant in accordance with the assailant's demands.[2]
  • Fraudulent theft: Illegal acquisition of a vehicle from a seller through fraudulent transfer of funds that the seller will ultimately not receive (such as by identity theft or the use of a counterfeit cashier's check), or through the use of a loan obtained under false pretenses. Many vehicles stolen via fraud are resold quickly thereafter. Using this approach, the thief can quietly evade detection and continue stealing vehicles in different jurisdictions.

Commonly used tools

  • Slide hammer puller to break into the door locks and the cylinder lock.
  • Multimeters or a test light to find a power source
  • Spare wires and/or a screwdriver to connect the power source to the ignition and starter wires
  • A generic rod and hook toolkit to slip between the car window and car frame and to open the lock behind the window. A common one is called the "Slim Jim".
  • Many keyless ignition/lock cars have weak[3][4] or no[citation needed] cryptographic protection of the unlock signal. Proof-of-concept "thefts" of top-of-the-line luxury cars have been demonstrated by academic researchers using commercially available tools such as RFID microreaders, but is unknown whether the attack has been used for actual theft.
  • A firearm or other weapon such as a baseball bat, or a utility knife or a box cutter to break open a window or threaten a passenger if inside the car[original research?]
  • OBD key cloning kits

Vehicles most frequently stolen

Ford Explorer with smashed window.

The makes and models of vehicles most frequently stolen vary by several factors, including region and ease of theft. In particular, the security systems in older vehicles may not be up to the same standard as current vehicles, and thieves also have longer to learn their weaknesses.[5] Scrap metal and spare part prices may also influence thieves to prefer older vehicles.[6]

In Bangkok, Thailand, the most frequently stolen vehicles are Toyota cars, Toyota Hilux and Isuzu D-Max pickups.[7][8]

In Malaysia, Proton models are the most frequently stolen vehicles, with Proton Wira being the highest, followed by the Proton Waja and the Proton Perdana.[9]


There are various methods of prevention to reduce the likelihood of a vehicle getting stolen. These include physical barriers, which make the effort of stealing the vehicle more difficult. Some of these include:

  • Devices used to lock a part of the vehicle necessary in its operation, such as the wheel, steering wheel or brake pedal. A popular steering wheel lock is The Club.
  • Immobilisers, allowing the vehicle to start only if a key containing the correct chip is present in the ignition. These work by locking the steering wheel and disabling the ignition.
  • Chances of theft can also be reduced with various deterrents, which give the impression to the thief that s/he is more likely to get caught if the vehicle is stolen. These include:
    • Car alarm systems that are triggered if a breaking and entry into the vehicle occurs
    • Microdot identification tags which allow individual parts of a vehicle to be identified
    • Killswitch circuits are designed to frustrate or slow down the efforts of a determined car thief. Killswitches are often located between crucial parts of the starting system, between the battery source and the coil, or the fuel pump. A car cannot start without first flipping these killswitches to closed position. Savvy car owners hide these killswitches in obscured areas, under the dashboard, beneath the seat, behind a chair, etc.
    • Signage on windows warning of the presence of other deterrents, sometimes in absence of the actual deterrents.
    • VIN etching

Recovery of stolen vehicles

Abandoned vehicle after a joyride. Edmonton Alberta, Canada

Recovery rates for stolen vehicles vary, depending on the effort a jurisdiction's police department puts into recovery, and devices a vehicle has installed to assist in the process.

Police departments use various methods of recovering stolen vehicles, such as random checks of vehicles that come in front of a patrol unit, checks of all vehicles parked along a street or within a parking lot using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) or keeping a watchlist of all the vehicles reported stolen by their owners. Police departments also receive tips on the location of stolen vehicles through[10] or[11] in the United Kingdom.

In the UK, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) provides information on the registration of vehicles to certain companies for consumer protection and anti-fraud purposes. The information may be added to by companies with details from the police, finance and insurance companies. Such companies include CarFax[12] in the US, AutoCheck[13] and CarCheck[14] in the United Kingdom, and Cartell in Ireland, which then provide online car check services for the public and motor trade.[15]

Vehicle tracking systems, such as LoJack, Automatic vehicle location, or Onstar may enable the location of the vehicle to be tracked by local law enforcement or a private company. Other security devices such as DotGuard microdots allow individual parts of a vehicle to also be identified and potentially returned.


Motor vehicle thefts, by country

Using data supplied by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,[16] the estimated worldwide auto-theft rate is 65.8 per 100,000 residents. Before reading on, note that; (1) there is not data on every single country in the world and, (2) the crime rate reflects each of these countries most recent year of reported data. For the 4,429,167,344 people these countries represent, there were a total 2,915,575 cars stolen. Uruguay has the highest auto-theft rate for any fairly large country in the world, at 437.6 per 100,000 residents in 2012. However Bermuda in its most recent year of reported auto-thefts (2004), reported a rate of 1324.0 per 100,000 people. But the small population of Bermuda (65,000) is smaller than many cities in countries such as the USA or Canada. Some cities have higher rates than Bermuda, such as Newark, NJ which had an auto-theft rate of 1420.6 in 2012.[17]

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime notes "that when using the figures, any cross-national comparisons should be conducted with caution because of the differences that exist between the legal definitions of offences in countries, or the different methods of offence counting and recording". The last thing to note is that crime will vary by certain neighborhoods or areas in each country, so, just because a nationwide rate is a specified rate, does not mean that everywhere in that country retains the same amount of the likelihood of a car to be stolen.

See also


  2. "FindLaw for Legal Professionals - Case Law, Federal and State Resources, Forms, and Code". Retrieved 2014-01-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Biham, Eli; Dunkelman, Orr; Indesteege, Sebastiaan; Keller, Nathan; Preneel, Bart (2008), How To Steal Cars — A Practical Attack on KeeLoq, Eurocrypt 2008<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Bono, Stephen C.; Green, Matthew; Stubblefield, Adam; Juels, Ari; Rubin, Aviel D.; Szydlo, Michael (2005), Security Analysis of a Cryptographically-Enabled RFID Device, 14th USENIX Security Symposium<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Car Theft Stats" (PDF). Gold Coast City Council. Retrieved 27 Aug 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Thefts of older cars driven by rise in scrap metal price". Fairfax Media. 25 Mar 2010. Retrieved 27 Aug 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. รู้ยัง? ...5 อันดับรถยนต์ และ 10 สถานที่ ที่ถูกขโมยมากที่สุดในกรุงเทพฯ และโอกาสได้คืน !! (in ไทย). Matichon Online. 2015-07-08. Retrieved 2015-07-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 5 อันดับ รถยนต์ที่ถูกขโมยมากที่สุดในกรุงเทพฯ (in ไทย). Thai Rath Online. 2015-07-10. Retrieved 2015-07-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. PROTON HOT WITH THIEVES at the Wayback Machine (archived December 5, 2009)
  10. "". Retrieved 2014-01-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "". Retrieved 2014-01-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "". Retrieved 2014-01-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "". Retrieved 2014-01-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "". Retrieved 2014-01-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Car check
  16. 16.0 16.1 Crime and criminal justice statistics, used table: motor vehicle theft. Retrieved May-24-2014
  17. FBI Crime 2012 Retrieved May-31-2014

External links