Motoring: Make crooks take buses not cars

The UK has the highest level of vehicle crime in Europe, but you can defeat the thief. By James Ruppert

FIRST OF all there is that feeling of uncertainty. "Maybe I parked it somewhere else." Then slowly the pit of your stomach churns and you realise it probably has been stolen. The next person you talk to is an officer of the law. Then it's a cab home. After that there are protracted negotiations with your insurance company and a debate over how much it was worth. Finally there is a wait for the pay-out, usually six weeks if you are lucky.

Car hire, loss of no-claims bonus and having to pay an insurance excess are just some of the other financial implications. Can all this hassle be avoided, or are the odds stacked against the motorist?

It doesn't look good at the moment. Insurers paid out on more than 560,000 claims for thefts of and from vehicles. The total costs of these claims was about pounds 560m with each claim worth an average pounds 1,136. Vehicle-related theft now accounts for a quarter of all crime in Britain, which has the worst record in Europe. A vehicle is stolen roughly every minute, and the car crime industry is calculated to turn over some pounds 3bn annually.

The motor industry itself has responded by installing at least an engine immobiliser on most models. What Car? magazine has just voted the BMW 3, 5 and 7 series as outright winners of its annual security award. Their immobilisers have never been "hot wired" (bypassed) since they were introduced in 1995. These BMWs also have marked parts and a visible vehicle identification number to help police trace them. The music system is unique to BMWs, the wheels are locked in place, and there is plenty of secure storage.

Not surprisingly the company has just received two security awards from the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association. While you would expect that level of security from a BMW, it is good to see that even entry-level Fords such as the Ka also have standard deadlocks and effective immobilisers.

The industry standard for anti-theft devices is those evaluated by the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre at Thatcham. Approved Category 1 systems are those which have a combined alarm and immobiliser, while Category 2s are simply electronic immobilisers. Fitting such devices means that in many cases insurance premiums will be discounted and, with certain performance cars, insurance is unobtainable without a Category 1 or 2 system. To find out which are approved, there is a Thatcham hotline and also a fax-back service, which delivers a 15-page list. The Vehicle Security Installation Board, which provides a list of accredited installers, also operates a hotline.

What about cars built more than 10 years ago, which do not have much in the way of theft protection? A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers was aware that "older cars are much less secure and owners need to be much more careful to guard against the opportunist thief".

However, Russ Smith, the deputy editor of Practical Classics magazine doesn't think that they should be a soft touch. "The door locks are always the weak spot. However, a company called Hykee makes inserts, which have unique key combinations and are screwdriver resistant, from pounds 74 a pair. I'm never keen on bolt-on deterrents like steering wheel locks which advertise to the thief what needs to be done. I would recommend a well-hidden fuel or ignition cut-off switch every time. Older cars are easier to modify in this way and I reckon that slowing down the thief and frustrating them is the best deterrent."

The good news is that the car crime trend is downward and the Government has pledged to reduce car crime by 30 per cent over the next five years. Unfortunately, upto 60 per cent of stolen cars are never recovered. Alarms and immobilisers are not the ultimate deterrents, especially when such devices can be overcome, or the vehicles themselves removed by a tow truck or even car-jacked.

Probably the most effective solution to the problem has been provided by the Tracker system, which was launched in the UK in 1993. It is the only one operated by all 52 UK police forces. The latest Tracker 24-hour Monitor alerts the owner when it is moved without permission. A sensitive movement detector is hidden in one of 30 places and transmits a unique signal which can be detected by police patrol cars, helicopters and at fixed sites around the country. Tracker prices start at pounds 270 plus an annual subscription of pounds 75 per year, or a one-off payment of pounds 245. They're obviously doing some good: so far more than 3,283 vehicles have been recovered, with a value of pounds 38.1m, and 955 arrests made.

You can never stop a car being stolen, so you'll still get that sinking feeling, but at least you stand a chance of a nice warm feeling when you get it back.

Thatcham Hotline (0990 502006); Thatcham fax-back (0660 666680); Hykee (01843 862952);

Tracker (0500 090909)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

    £17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

    £22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

    Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

    £100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral