Kevin Birrell is a 34-year-old graphic designer who lives in east London. He would like a new car but is paranoid about having it stolen. What is a safe choice, but still a stylish one, for about £10,000?

Yes, Britain has the worst vehicle theft problems in Europe, and with 1,100 being taken a day that is almost one a minute. But most contemporary cars are difficult to steal, unless the thief has the key.

Buy a car built in the past few years and it will have a unique key and immobiliser system that means it is impossible to move the car without it. What Mr Birrell ought to worry about is having his car broken into. Thieves do not worry about overcoming locking systems when all they have to do is smash a window.

Glass is still fitted as standard to most cars and side windows can be shattered easily. But synthetic films professionally stuck to the windows prevents them being broken. Companies such as Pentagon Glass Tech (0800 279 2795) can help, but the cost will be several hundred pounds for most models. Of course, Mr Birrell should not leave things on show in the car, such as plastic bags, coats, CDs, or even small change, because thieves will always want a closer look.

A car for the head

Mr Birrell probably wants to know which is the most secure car and the best indicator has been What Car? magazine's annual independent survey.

The winner of the 2003 Security Award is the Lexus. All their models are hard to break into and almost impossible to drive away. Trouble is, you cannot buy a Lexus for £10,000. But the good news is Toyota, who also make the Lexus, offer other models that performed strongly in What Car? tests.

Overall, the Toyota Corolla is wonderfully efficient, economical to run and proved to be among the most secure cars on the market. Toyota is constantly modifying their models and has an ongoing commitment to security, which is encouraging and explains why the insurance group starts at 3 for the Corolla. Prices for this model though for the entry level T2 1.4 3 door start at £10,800.

Mr Birrell can take heart, because if he shops around dealers and brokers he should be able to cut that price down to £9,500. Best of all, being a Corolla, this Toyota will not attract much attention which is good news if Mr Birrell wants it to be left alone in the street.

A car for the heart

As Mr Birrell may have gathered by now, the premium marques such as Lexus and BMW are the hardest to steal, but that does not mean he cannot have an affordable and secure car which is also stylish.

The What Car? Investigation showed Nissan scored 80 per cent ratings across the range. As a graphic designer, Mr Birrell should appreciate the Nissan Micra which has fabulous detailing and loveable small car styling. It is no surprise it has been shortlisted for European Car of the Year.

Every Micra is fitted with an immobiliser and keyless entry, so there is no fumbling in the dark, and an anti-hijack protection that allows you to open only one door at a time.

What the Micra does not have is deadlocks. This is what makes the Toyota Corolla's doors so impregnable. The Nissan Almera has deadlocks but this is not a car you can love. The Ford Ka is loveable, costs under £10,000 and the Collection and Luxury models have deadlocks. Only the tiny boot could put Mr Birrell off and perhaps the rather more conventional Ford Fiesta will have to do. Small, stylish and unstealable cars are hard to find.

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