Theft of motor vehicles

Greater efforts by vehicle manufacturers and the government has seen vehicle theft decrease over the last twenty years.

It is now harder for criminals to steal a vehicle without stealing the keys for it first. Whilst this has resulted in a rise in burglary-related vehicle theft, vehicle theft levels are still far lower than in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Better vehicle security has also led to criminal using more sophisticated ways to attack them. For example keyless thefts, where criminals use a device to clone a vehicle's key by accessing its engine management system.

Because of this, a combination of advanced and traditional security measures (such a steering wheel locks) will often be the most effective. 

Burglary and vehicle theft

Vehicle theft from a burglary is much more likely to happen because keys are easy to reach through an open door or window.

It is unlikely that a criminal breaks into your home and demands the keys to your vehicle.  If this does happen, do not resist.  Hand over the keys and call 999 when it is safe to do so.  The safety of you and your family is the most important thing.

If you have the correct insurance, you should be able to get an identical replacement.

Avoid leaving any valuable items in your vehicle to keep your losses to a minimum.

See our section on theft from motor vehicles for advice on protecting your vehicle from break-ins.

Reducing the risk of vehicle theft

Criminals steal vehicles for a variety of reasons.  They might steal it for its part, as a means of transport away from a burglary or used to commit crime at a later date.  There are some simple things that you can do to avoid becoming a victim of car theft.   


  • Don’t leave your keys in the vehicle unattended. This includes on winter mornings while “warming up” the vehicle.  Your insurance company is unlikely to compensate you if your vehicle is stolen in this situation.  
  • Keep your keys out of reach and out of sight when at home. They are vulnerable to being snatched in sneak-in burglaries.  Keys hung up or placed near front doors could be “fished” using a hook and wire fed through a letterbox.
  • Keep your keys secure when out and about.  Keep them on your person if you can. Keys on display in open handbags are easy targets. 
  • Keep spare keys secure and safe at all times.  Consider giving it to a friend, relative or neighbour for safe keeping, especially if you are going away.
  • When using remote locking key fobs check for visible or audible signals that your vehicle locked when you pressed the button.


  • Ensure that you close your windows before you leave your vehicle. 


  • Use your garage if you have one.  
  • On private driveways, keep trees and shrubs maintained so you and your neighbours can see the vehicle from your properties.
  • Consider dusk till dawn lighting to illuminate the area. 
  • When parking on a street, pick a well-lit and populated area.


Marking your vehicle makes it more difficult to sell it on for its parts or hide its true identity behind false number plates.

There are various marking systems for vehicles. 

These range from glass engraving through to full vehicle marking.  Full vehicle marking uses microdots and unique forensic marking products.  

Use systems approved by Thatcham or complies with the requirements of Loss Prevention Certification Board for both Asset Marking Systems and databased registers. 

Ensure that you advertise that your vehicle is marked and registered by displaying warning stickers on your windows.  

Alarms and immobiliser systems

If you drive an older vehicle without an alarm or key transponder, consider having a Thatcham approved product professionally fitted. Even if your vehicle already has a manufacturers security system fitted as standard, extra electronic security is worth considering for the following reasons:

  • Criminals exploit known weaknesses in manufacturer fitted standard security systems. A professionally installed aftermarket product protects the vehicle further and reduces the risk of being targeted.
  • Most manufacturer's security systems are basic and relies on the doors being opened to activate. An alarm system that detects movement may not prevent the breaking of a window but its activation may prevent a more sustained attack.


If you own a desirable, expensive vehicle or unique vehicle, consider fitting a Thatcham CAT5 approved multi-band (GPS /GSM/VHF) tracking system.  Have it installed by a professional fitter and advertise it by displaying window stickers. Effective Thatcham CAT5 systems are expensive to install and have high annual fees.  They also need robust locating networks in place to help in the recovery of stolen vehicles quickly. 

Cheaper trackers outside of the CAT 5 category will not be as effective.  The can be easy to compromise and we do not recommend their use.

Steering locks

Use a steering lock in combination with a steering wheel security disk lock.  It is a cheap and effective way to prevent anyone driving your vehicle away.

Physical security

With the amount of electronic security fitted to modern vehicles it is easy to overlook things such as steering wheel and pedal locks. These items still have great value and offer you a good deal of protection at little cost. 

There are even locks that will protect your on-board diagnostics port.  This is a common way of stealing your vehicle without the keys being present.

We only recommend physical security that meets the Sold Secure Vehicle Secure Silver or Gold standard.

Report it

If you have been a victim of burglary and vehicle theft and are in immediate danger, call us as soon as it is safe to do so on 999.

If you discover that your vehicle has been stolen, report it by calling us on 101 or complete our online crime reporting form.

More help and support


Sold Secure

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

29 Jun 21 10:56 AM

Find your neighbourhood

Use my current location