Did you know car theft can occur in under 30 seconds? In 2021, about 80,000 vehicles across Canada were reported stolen. With stolen vehicle trends on the rise, it’s never a bad idea to take extra precautions to ensure your vehicle is safe. Let’s examine what is driving the increase in theft, and why protection from car theft requires a multi-layer approach.

Car theft continues to rise in Canada

According to a 2023 report from the Canadian Finance and Leasing Association, on average a car is stolen every six minutes in Canada. Équité Association reports that the insurance industry lost more than $1 billion in 2022 in vehicle theft claims. This is up from $ 700 million in 2021! In the last year, Ontario and Quebec have both seen about a 50% increase in auto thefts. However, Atlantic Canada and Alberta have seen increases in theft by 34% and 18%, respectively. These increasing stats prove even more why it’s important to implement car theft protection. But first, let’s take a look at why this is happening in the first place.

What is behind the increase in car theft?

Involvement in organized crime

The idea that the rise in auto theft is spontaneous couldn’t be further from the truth. Car thieves do not steal vehicles at random. They are usually linked to organized crime, and the stolen cars often end up in Europe. However, some vehicles tracked by Interpol show up as far as South America, Africa or Australia. The cars, or individual car parts, are sold by domestic and international criminal organizations. The proceeds are used to finance domestic drug trafficking, arms dealing, human trafficking, and international terrorism.

Research by the IBC finds that thieves try to steal your vehicle for one of five reasons:

  1. To sell abroad. Police in Peel Region say that 80 to 85 percent of stolen vehicles are in connection to organized crime and will most likely be sent overseas. Destination ports typically include countries within West Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean.
  2. To sell to local unsuspecting customers. Thieves give these vehicles a false VIN and then sell them to unsuspecting consumers here in Ontario.
  3. To be sold for parts. “Chopping” or dismantling vehicles for parts is a common practice for converting your car into cash.
  4. To get somewhere. Also known as “joyriding”. Your car might be taken for no more than a night’s entertainment.
  5. To commit another crime. Thieves are frequently in need of vehicles to help them commit other crimes—usually robberies.

How often your make and model is stolen is one of the factors insurers consider when determining insurance premiums.

Car theft protection: How to keep yourself from becoming a victim

The best way to prevent your vehicle from being stolen is what experts call a ‘multi-layer approach’, consisting of a series of common-sense measures

Primary layers of protection

  • Install visual or audible anti-theft devices.
  • Lock your doors at all times.
  • Make sure you close your windows completely.
  • Park in a well-lit area or a secure garage, if possible.
  • Don’t leave your car unattended with the engine running, especially in the winter.

Secondary layers of protection

  • Use a steering wheel and/or pedal lock.
  • Consider purchasing a video surveillance system and ensure you properly place your cameras. Be sure they function for 24-hour use.
  • Attach stickers, decals, or other unique identifiers to your car to make it stand out. In addition, cover or block your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) when you park your car. 

Additional precautions for car theft protection

1. Vehicle immobilizer systems

Thieves can bypass your ignition by “hot wiring” your car. Thieves start the engines using a piece of wire rather than the key. Experts profess that you can help prevent this by using a vehicle immobilizer system. Immobilizer systems may incorporate smart keys, kill switches, and wireless ignition authentication. They’ll essentially disable the vehicle so a thief cannot make off with it.

Install a kill switch, a switch the driver manually turns to the off position, severing the electrical connection between the battery and the onboard electronics.

2. Protect your key fob

Owners of vehicles with electronic or keyless entry cars have become vulnerable to theft. They become a target because thieves have developed methods of amplifying key fob radio signals to unlock and start cars. Keyless entry works by using short-range radio waves that transmit a signal to a receiver in your car, which unlocks the doors. Thieves can use technology to hack those signals and trick the car into thinking the key fob is close by.

Then, thieves can unlock and start the car. This method is known as a “relay attack.” DO NOT keep your key fobs near the front door or a window. It’s better to keep them as far away from your driveway or garage as possible to prevent car theft. You can also purchase a bag or pouch, such as a Faraday Pouch, that blocks radio signals when storing keys at home. Car theft protection starts with your key fobs!

3. Video telematics devices

It’s not just car manufacturers who are trying to come up with ways to stop people from stealing vehicles. Security companies are designing technology to help deter thieves. Raven Connected offers a video telematics device that connects to the vehicle’s internal computer. When the device detects motion, a camera that sits on the dashboard records and transmits the images to an application on your cell phone. The device also transmits a GPS signal so the user can track the vehicle. “Having that real-time visibility to the front and cabin-facing camera makes a really big difference,” says Travis Gray, Director of Business Development for Raven Connected. Gray states that owners can track the car, as well as capture videos and images, that they can share with local police.

4. Use port blockers

Your car’s computer receives a low-frequency signal from a key fob to operate the vehicle remotely. This computer can be accessed by a port (think of it as a USB port for your vehicle). Criminals can plug into this port to reprogram the key fob. If or when they sell the vehicle, they can make it only operate with a new fob they provide. Criminals can also perform some of the vehicle’s operations by using this port. Port blockers are “plugs” you insert into the port that can only be unlocked through a coded key that you possess. This is a very effective tool for protection from car theft.

5. Invest in a tracking device

Installing a tracking system might be one of the best ways to deter car thefts, but can also help law enforcement if your car is stolen. A GPS tracking device will emit a signal to the owner, or monitoring service, and may be able to locate the vehicle from a distance. Recently, experts now recommended against using an Apple AirTag, a small and popular tracking device that uses Bluetooth to locate items in your car. These tags are easy to identify, and thieves know how to find them and throw them away.

Protection from car theft – Final thoughts

Several insurers, such as Aviva Canada and Intact Insurance offer incentives to policyholders in certain areas. You are also eligible if you own a  ‘high-risk’ vehicle. They will install tracking devices for free, which is a cost that can add up to $400 in some cases. The best way to protect your vehicle from being stolen is multi-layered. There is no one perfect solution to keep your ride safe. With a little bit of planning and acting proactively, you can enforce proper protection from car theft, and maybe even lower your insurance premiums, too.

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