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Key to preventing car theft begins at home

8th April 2010 Print

Figures announced in a parliamentary answer given by the Rt. Hon Alan Johnson MP, Home Secretary last month, show that in 2008/09 over 19,400 cars were stolen in this way, more than 1,600 per month: a 19 per cent increase over similar figures announced last year.

A further 2,700 car keys were stolen by robbery of individuals, a slight but welcome fall over the previous year.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance says he is alarmed by this by this trend.  "It's almost impossible to steal a modern car without first obtaining the keys.                                                  

"Our own insurance claims statistics show a similar trend with an average value of cars taken using stolen keys just over 10,000 - which underlines the increasing determination, patience and ingenuity of thieves targeting upmarket cars, even though the total number of cars stolen is falling. 

"Although some cars are quickly recovered, particularly if they are fitted with a tracking device, many just disappear.  It's believed that they are either taken out of the country in freight containers or broken up for the lucrative overseas spares market."

Douglas points out that this means car insurers are potentially facing claims of over 190m as a result of domestic burglary.

He adds that often home owners make it easy for burglars to get hold of keys.  "A common tactic for thieves is to take keys off hall tables or from convenient key racks near the door, simply by ‘fishing' for them with a pole through the letterbox.

"Burglars are also adept at opening doors secured with conventional slam-shut barrel locks.  Once in the house, they'll often find the keys left on a table or sideboard and can make a quiet getaway in the stolen vehicle and it could be some time before the family realises that their car has gone after a frantic search for their keys."

Recent claims at AA Insurance have included keys stolen:

While the owners were asleep at night
While owners have been in the garden or have ‘popped out for five minutes'
Keys left in front door locks
Keys ‘fished' through the letter box or through open window fanlights
Homes comprehensively burgled and the family car used as a getaway vehicle
Three cars stolen out of a locked garage following burglary of all the family's keys, while they were on holiday
Keys stolen from workplaces, gym lockers and changing rooms
Keys quietly picked out of unwatched bags or pockets
Smaller numbers stolen by way of threats, muggings or carjackings

The latest figures show that London is again the car key theft capital, followed by Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and the Thames Valley (full table below). The data covers England and Wales only.

Simon Douglas says: "The British Crime Survey suggests that half of stolen cars are over 10 years old.  These and these are the easiest to take because they aren't necessarily equipped with the security and anti-theft devices that come as standard on modern vehicles.  Fewer than 20 per cent of stolen cars are under five years old - but it's these that are most likely to be stolen after the thief has first stolen the keys.

"Keys are the weakest link in the car security chain and you should treat them as cash.  You wouldn't leave 10,000 or more in banknotes lying around - yet that's exactly what many people seem to do with their car keys."

AA Insurance offers the following advice:

Where possible, keep your car in a locked garage when it is not in use (this will bring insurance discounts, too)

Keep the keys in a secure place inside your home, ideally a drawer or in your bedroom at night - not on the hall table or hanging from a convenient hook by the door

Ensure your ground floor doors and windows are locked and bolted when you retire at night. Use a 5-lever mortise lock on your main exit door. Bolt doors at night

Don't leave spare keys in the house if you are going away without your car

Consider improving your car's security, for example by having a tracker fitted (this will also bring an insurance discount). Even a simple ‘crook-lock' type device could stop a thief who has the car keys

Park in public, well-lit car parks particularly where there is good security such as CCTV

Carry your car keys in a secure place about your person and not in a handbag which can easily be taken

Never, ever, leave your car unattended with the keys in it. Cars still disappear from drives, filling stations and car parks while the owner is distracted - for example popping back indoors for something you've forgotten or while feeding coins into a car park meter. Insurers may not meet a claim in such cases.