Guide: Reduce Car Theft

Filed under Information Centre

Car theft is awful, there are no two ways about it. In this article, we take a look at the stats and the things you can do to keep your car safe.

The stats in brief

  • Every 13 minutes (roughly), a vehicle is stolen in Australia (in the US, it’s around one every 43 seconds)
  • The ACT has the highest RATE of car thefts at 254 thefts per 100,000 residents
  • In 2020, Victoria had the highest NUMBER of auto thefts
  • In 2021, Queensland has the highest NUMBER of auto thefts
  • Most common car stolen: VE Holden Commodore
  • Second-most common car stolen: N70 Toyota HiLux
  • Stealing keys is the most common way cars are stolen which accounts for 70% of thefts
  • In 2016, 52% of all car thefts occurred from homes, it’s now at 55%
  • Luckily, car thefts are slowly declining in Australia since peaking in 2016
  • On average, car theft victims are left $3,000 out of pocket

How cars are stolen

“Today, the most common way cars are stolen are by thieves actually stealing the keys.”

Back in the ‘90s, crime reports often told us that “hot-wiring” was the most common way thieves stole cars.

Hot-wiring means accessing and connecting wires to complete circuits to power components needed to start a car like the fuel pump and ignition system. Different vehicles have different wiring systems but the schematics can often be found online.

Modern cars are more sophisticated as manufacturers have taken steps to prevent car theft. For example, immobilisers, which have been mandatory in Australia since 2001, require the correct key fob present in order to start the car.

Today, the most common way cars are stolen are by thieves actually stealing the keys.

This can happen in a home burglary or bag theft for example. In some cases, thieves know of homes where people leave car keys on hooks or tables near the front door, perhaps from peering through windows or even visiting the home previously.

What about breaking into cars?

Some thieves simply look to break into cars to steal what’s inside, rather than stealing the whole vehicle.

This is common on the street and in public car parks, especially poorly lit or out-of-sight areas.

Some opportunistic thieves wander the streets at night, trying dozens, if not hundreds, of car doors. Even if just one is unlocked, it might make it all worth it for them.

Other times, thieves use a ‘smash and grab’ technique which simply means smashing a window, grabbing what they can and running off. This is usually the case when people leave visible valuables (or anything worth stealing) in sight.

If you’re the victim of a car break in

It’s disgusting coming back to a car to find it broken into with things missing with many victims left feeling violated and traumatised.

Here’s what to do if you car is broken into

  1. Call the police immediately before touching things too much. Hopefully, the police might get evidence and you’ll be able to photo everything for insurance or records.
  2. Check your wallet and remotes. If your valuables are missing, cancel bank cards immediately. Also, if your garage remotes or house keys are stolen, you may need to call a locksmith.
  3. Check for any personal information missing that the thieves might be able to use against you. For example, receipts with your name and address or car service logbook. You may need to update passwords or seek professional advice to avoid identity theft.
  4. Look for witnesses and/or CCTV. This might assist the police and help prevent future crime.

Some people leave spare keys to cars in plain sight in homes or even inside the car itself - a huge mistake. If your spare car keys are stolen, you might need to take drastic measures like removing the car battery or fuses to prevent thieves from returning and stealing the vehicle.

Why do thieves steal cars?

This may seem obvious - to get a free car. But there are a few reasons why thieves steal cars. The reasons below are in no particular order.

Part them out

This means taking the vehicle to pieces and selling the parts. Sometimes, the parts are worth more than the vehicle as a whole. They sell the parts online, on social media and even to wreckers. Some parts have serial numbers and some don’t. Some buyers and wreckers check and some don’t.

Some thieves have a “shopping list” of parts from specific cars from criminal networks. For example, someone might have purchased a damaged vehicle for cheap, needing parts to repair it and sell it for profit and may “put out an order” for parts required.

To get around

It may seem strange, but many cars are stolen simply so the thieves can get around for a while. This can include joy riding too

To commit other crimes

Another common reason is to use the vehicle in other crimes like drug trafficking or breaking into more cars and homes. The stolen vehicle acts as transport for thieves to move around to different areas to commit crimes.

If they own a vehicle themselves, they may want to avoid using it for a variety of reasons, including it being known to police.


This means removing vehicle identification information to hide the fact that it’s stolen or using parts from stolen vehicles to repair written-off vehicles to sell as profit.

Sometimes, identification is taken from a wrecked vehicle and put on a stolen vehicle to “prove” it’s not stolen.

One tactic involves stealing a car, removing all valuable and identifying parts then leaving the car in a public place. Once it’s reported as stolen and removed, thieves actually buy the shell only to put the parts back on and sell the vehicle on - at huge profit, of course.

Other reasons

There are many other reasons why people want to steal cars, for example, just for the thrill of it. Some organised crime rings even sell the vehicle overseas, although not so common in Australia.

Stay safe

Take these precautions to ensure your vehicle is as safe as it can be.

Don’t tempt thieves

We know that many car thieves are opportunistic which means they’ll target a car with visible bags or valuables inside when they walk past. They may also try car doors and stumble upon an unlocked one.


Park safely

We know that street parking, especially in quiet or poorly lit areas can attract thieves. Apartment car parks with easy access are also a problem, especially from 2am to 5am as are car parks near public transport during the day as thieves know owners are at work.


Store keys safely

As mentioned, 70% of car thefts occur with their own keys. This is usually because the keys have been stolen in a burglary or bag theft prior to stealing the car.


Extra precautions

Some people put their name and address on key tags in order to help people return them if they are lost. Unfortunately, thieves can use this information to find your home and car if they come into possession of the keys.

  • Avoid putting these details on your keys

Get to know your neighbours too, they might keep a lookout for anything suspicious (or anyone suspicious). More eyes and ears can really help.

There’s good news

On the bright side, car theft is decreasing in Australia as cars become more sophisticated and more difficult to steal and/or break into.

There’s been a nearly 80% reduction in car theft over the last 20 years, partly thanks to the mandate of immobilisers, but also more awareness and CCTV.

Here are some car theft stats in Australia over the last two decades. The Figures are approximate.

2000: 129,700
2003: 100,900
2006: 75,000
2009: 61,300
2012: 58,800
2015: 51,500
2018: 52,700
2021: 47,800

Older cars are typically more attractive to thieves as they're easier to break into and have less-sophisticated anti-theft measures.

If your car is feeling insecure, it might be time for an upgrade. The Positive team can help.

Start with a quick quote to see what the numbers look like for your circumstances.

Quick Quote

By clicking Get My Quote, I acknowledge and accept the Terms & Conditions.

Did you enjoy this article?

We can deliver articles like this one straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the box below and we'll take care of bringing you the best content.

Email Sent!

Please enter a valid email.

We make finance a Positive experience