The most stolen cars of 2020 | Axon’s Automotive Anorak
It’s a sad fact of life, but one of the many negative consequences of the UK’s sporadic lockdowns and restrictions caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic over the past year has been an increase in car crime in Britain.
There were almost 20,000 more cases of car theft reported in 2020 than in the previous pre-virus year, taking place while Britain’s streets were uncommonly quiet and empty as we were all encouraged not to leave home.
Although car security has come on in leaps and bounds during the early 21st Century, with standardised vehicle alarms becoming commonplace, along with locking wheel nuts, unique-fit infotainment systems and keyless entry also cascading down to more affordable cars, the sharp decline in vehicle use over the past 12 months has seen our cars just sat around more often.
The latest data issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) finds that the DVLA recorded 74,769 stolen vehicles in 2020, around 20,000 more than 2019, this equating to over 200 car thefts per day nationwide across the UK. The majority of vehicle thefts (81 per cent) took place under the cover of darkness, with 72 per cent of them happening on a weekday, up from 67 per cent a decade earlier.
Thefts from vehicles also grew, with valuables such as handbags and wallets being the most commonly stolen items taken from a car at 39 per cent (a sharp increase from 16 per cent ten years earlier), with exterior car fittings attracting 19 per cent of reported thefts. These were followed by electrical equipment (13 per cent), tools (10 per cent) and other vehicle parts, including catalytic converters (eight per cent).
Thefts of catalytic converters are alarmingly on the increase in the UK, with a used ‘cat’ worth several hundred pounds on the black market today, hence it’s not a huge surprise to learn that they are increasingly being stolen throughout the world, particularly in the USA!
Catalytic converters contain rare and precious raw materials, such as palladium and rhodium. Due to increased demand, these raw materials have become overpriced: five years ago, an ounce of palladium cost around $500 (around £360 Sterling). Today, the value is typically between $2,000 and $2,500 (£1,430-£1,785)! Last year, at one point the price even reached $2,875 (£2,050). The price of rhodium went from $640 per ounce (£460) to $21,900 (£15,625) in five years, an increase of more than 3,000 per cent. Rhodium is used to reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the exhaust gases of combustion engines. In comparison, an ounce of gold is worth less than $2,000 (£1,430) today.
This price explosion is fueling a new black market where no questions are asked about the origin of a catalytic converter whose ends bear obvious hacksaw marks. In the USA, catalytic converter thefts have now become so prevalent that some car owners are now going as far as deflating their vehicle's tyres every night so thieves can't crawl under their cars, with others welding a metal cage around the thing! In some American cities, scrap metal dealers are no longer allowed to accept a catalytic converter before having verified its serial number. Bizarrely, catalytic converters of Toyota Prius are particularly sought after, the low emissions of the model meaning that the car’s metal is less degenerated than on other typical cars.
The huge value rise of the rare materials found in for catalytic converters means that they will weigh more and more heavily on the production costs of an internal combustion-powered (ICE) car. That's why some expert analysts expect ICE vehicles to be as expensive as electric cars soon.
Unsurprisingly, the new UK data reveals that almost half of the top ten cars stolen in 2020 coincided with 2020’s best-selling new cars, with Britain’s constant new car favourite, the Ford Fiesta, also being the country’s most stolen car in 2020, with 3,392 examples taken without consent.
According to the DVLA’s statistics, the Range Rover was the UK’s second most-stolen car last year, with 2,881 examples taken. The dependable but dull third-most stolen machine was the C-segment Volkswagen Golf (1,975 examples) with its Ford rival Focus in fourth-position, with 1,587 ending up in the wrong hands. The ubiquitous BMW 3 Series become the UK’s fifth most stolen car last year at 1,435 examples.
Overall, according to the DVLA’s records, the UK’s top ten most stolen cars in 2020 were as follows, with no Toyota Prius to be seen. Four of the UK’s most stolen models also appearing in last year’s ten best-selling new passenger cars, as noted below.
The most stolen cars of 2020
Ford Fiesta – 3,392 examples taken (no. 1 2020 UK best-seller)
Range Rover – 2,881
Volkswagen Golf – 1,975 (no. 3 2020 UK best-seller)
Ford Focus – 1,587 (no. 4 2020 UK best-seller)
BMW 3 Series – 1,435
Vauxhall Astra – 1,126
Land Rover Discovery – 900
Mercedes E-Class – 766
BMW 5 Series – 678
Nissan Qashqai – 655 (no. 6 2020 UK best-seller)
Theoretically, stealing a car in 2020 would and should have been considerably more difficult that it would have been at the turn of the 21st Century, when the anti-theft security items to be found on a regular vehicle in the UK would have been far less secure and tamper proof than today. At a time, 20 years ago the majority of vehicles in Britain were simpler and more basic, with fitted alarms, robust anti-theft door locks and locking wheel nuts still a rarity on the glut of earlier Ford Fiestas and Escorts, Austin Metros and Vauxhall Corsas that still littered our roads. Back then, my classic old Citroën Mehari lacked lockable doors all together and could be started with a screw driver, whilst the keys to my mother’s Rover could also be used to unlock and start my elder brother’s aging Ford!
Thankfully today the new cars we drive are considerably more secure. That said, despite vehicle makers best efforts, the ONS still reports that over a third of all reported car theft cases in 2020 involved cars with keyless entry systems. If the car key is within range of the vehicle its coded to, its signal can be simply copied and used to open and start the vehicle, even when a physical fob is not present, hence two keyless Land Rover products appearing in last year’s top ten most stolen cars. To help combat potential keyless car theft, owners are strongly recommended to consider buying a specialist shielding ‘pouch’ to store the keys away safely when they are not in use.
A further 24 per cent of car thefts happened as a result of keys actually being taken, with the thieves often breaking into the house or using a hook device to grab the car keys carelessly left on display near the front door or windows.
It is therefore logical that all vehicle keys should be securely hidden out of sight and away from windows, letter boxes and dog/cat flaps, whilst ideally the car should also parked in an illuminated area with a visible security device, such as a robust steering wheel or handbrake/gearshift lock and wheel clamp to help reduce the temptation and risk of theft, given that over 80 per cent of cars were stolen at night last year.
Should the worst happen though, a vehicle tracking device is also worth serious consideration, especially for more expensive vehicles such as a Range Rover or something more costly and exotic. Granted, you might be using the car less than in pre-Covid times, but still, can you really afford to risk losing your car?