Theft from motor vehicles

Theft from unoccupied motor vehicles

With the exception of specialist theft of car parts such as catalytic converters, most theft from motor vehicles is opportunistic.  This often involves forced entry to vehicles but it is surprising just how many cars are left unlocked.  This might be as a result of forgetfulness or incorrect use of key fobs.

You can reduce the risks by following some simple advice:

  • Make sure you have locked your vehicle and your windows are closed too, even for short stops.
  • Use your garage or park in well-lit, well-populated and overlooked areas.
  • Use car parks that have parking attendants and ones with Park Mark accreditation. These car parks are designed to be safe environments and are approved by the police.
  • Remove your valuables.  Even bags, jackets, cases and toys have a value to thief.  A jacket could contain cash or cigarettes that may encourage them. Lock them away in your boot but only if you cannot access the boot from the rear seats and you cannot unlock the boot from a switch in the cabin.
  • Remove loose change from view. Its presence may tip the scales in any decision on whether to attempt to break in.
  • Remove electronics such as sat-navs.  You should also remove any holders or chargers and wipe clear suction cup marks.  Any evidence could encourage a thief to look further. Consider buying another means of holding your device such as a weighted mat holder.  
  • If you have expensive in-car entertainment, consider a better alarm. Most car alarms rely on the doors of the vehicle being opened. If you have expensive aftermarket systems or a security cubby, consider fitting a Thatcham approved alarm that also detects entry into the cabin of your vehicle.
  • Keep your vehicle tidy. Clutter in the foot wells could make a thief feel it’s worth a look whilst envelopes left on seats could contain something worth stealing.
  • Keep your glove box and centre console cubby tidy and open. If you have nothing inside that's worth stealing, show that this is the case.
  • Keep ID badges on your person. Criminals know that they may be with electronic passes to buildings.  They may also be attractive to fraudsters.

Theft from occupied motor vehicles

Theft from vehicles in slow moving or stationary traffic also often occurs in the UK.  Much of the theft relies on surprise, with items snatched from seats or the hands of occupants. This can be upsetting especially for young children or elderly persons. It can also be avoided by taking a few simple precautions: 

  • Use your central locking on all journeys. Most modern cars can be locked using an in cabin switch. We advise that you use it. In the event of an accident, this switch will release automatically. If your car does not have this, use the child locks on the rear doors and lock your front doors manually. The front doors will still open when the internal lever is pulled.
  • Close your windows. Make sure that your passengers do the same.
  • Maintain your vigilance. Watch for people approaching your vehicle and give them eye contact. This will take away any element of surprise and may well stop a snatch thief in their tracks. 
  • Don't use your phone. As a driver it is illegal anyway, but passengers should also take this advice.  Using a phone reduces your awareness.  Having the phone in your hand can also make it easy to grab.
  • Lock your valuables in the boot or store them under your passenger seat.  This is especially if you drive a convertible with the roof down.  And if you do drive with the roof down, keep your windows up in slow moving or stationary traffic.  Never store items under the driver’s seat.  They could become dislodged and interfere with the pedals.

Theft of parts from motor vehicles

It is common for wheels, number plates, roof boxes, bicycle racks and catalytic converters to be stolen from unattended vehicles.

See specific advice about catalytic convertor theft here.

Wheels and tyres

Locking wheel nuts are commonplace on newer vehicles but lower value models may have cheaper steel rims that may not be locked. The average cost of four tyres can cost over £200, so we recommend you fit all your wheels with locking wheel nuts.

Spare wheels

If your vehicle has a full-sized, externally mounted spare wheel consider buying a specialist lock for it.

Registration (number) plates. 

Criminals steal number plates regularly. This is because they are now much harder to have manufactured unless you have all the right documentation. The chances of it happening to you are slim but do increase if you drive a vehicle that is currently popular with criminals and gangs. Number plates can be stolen for use in petrol thefts through to cloning stolen cars for resale.

Whilst the platea themselves are inexpensive, it can cause you a lot of inconvenience.   You may need to prove your own innocence in civil parking infringements, congestion charges and speeding offences.  Or you may be subject to more serious criminal investigations.  To help reduce the risk, fit number plates using tamper proof screws. Also fit Sold Secure approved plates. These plates are designed to disintegrate if removed. They won’t stop the loss of the plate but they will stop its use in criminal activity.  See the Secure By Design website for more information.

Defensive parking

Use your garage or reverse your vehicle up to a wall or other vehicle to prevent easy access to your number plate. Although you can only defend one plate, thieves will always prefer to take a set and the rear number plate is the most obvious marker on any vehicle.

Roof-top boxes

There is not currently a security approved product available. Buy from a reputable manufacturer and look for items that use internal locking mechanisms that are not easy to access from the road.  Pay similar attention to roof bars too.        

Bicycle racks

Unless they are designed so that they can be securely locked to a tow bar, cycle racks left on unattended vehicles are prone to theft. We recommend that tail gate or boot mounted racks are removed and locked away when not in use.

Report it

If you have been a victim of theft from your vehicle and are in immediate danger, call 999 as soon as you can.

If you have discovered that your vehicle has been broken into, or that parts have been stolen, call us on 101 or complete our online crime reporting form.

More help and support

For further advice or recommendations, contact our Crime Prevention Advisers



Master Locksmiths Association
The Master Locksmiths Association can help with vehicle keys & locks

29 Jun 21 10:56 AM

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