The vast majority of new cars fail to meet tough anti-theft guidelines to be issued shortly by the Government, according to a study released yesterday.
So poor was the security of one car, which was not named by the What Car? magazine team, that the unclipping of a wire under a moulding of the front spoiler triggered the central locking.
That failure was merely an extreme example of a litany of shortcomings that enabled security experts to break into 51 out of the 60 models tested within two minutes.
Thirty of the cars which were easily broken into, some of which were fitted with sophisticated immobilising devices, could be driven away within three minutes.
Only six of the scrutinised cars, priced from pounds 7,000 "superminis" to pounds 70,000 luxury performance models, passed the entry- and drive-away tests in line with the new guidelines.
But only one car, the pounds 34,000 BMW M3, completely beat the magazine's experts, while the other five others fully met the standards, although the experts did manage eventually to get in.
Alarm over the level of car crime has grown, despite Home Office figures that showed a drop in thefts from, and of, vehicles, down from 1,523,000 in 1993 to 1,377,000 last year, representing one car broken into every 20 seconds. The cost of the 377,000 reported car crimes to insurers was pounds 464m. However, heightened concern led the Government to issue draft guidelines at the beginning of the year, to be formally sent to manufacturers in October. They call for new cars be able to hold out against "attack testing" - the concerted use of equipment and skills of thieves - for a minimum of two minutes for entry, and three minutes for driving away.
"We are shocked, and the industry should be embarrassed," said the magazine's editor, Mark Payton. "We have clearly demonstrated that in the real world of car crime, many so-called security measures are a sham. Some car makers are fitting security devices to gain a marketing advantage and curry favour with insurance companies, rather than providing real peace of mind for owners."
A spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders defended the industry's record.
"We believe that we are winning the battle against car crime," he said. "The Home Office has told us that the number of new cars being broken into and driven away is going down dramatically, but it's virtually impossible to make a car totally impregnable."
One factor, however, which slowed the magazine's team during their street testing was an eagle-eyed passer-by with a mobile phone. Six police officers, complete with dogs, showed up and demanded an explanation.
Best in class Time to enter Time to drive away
Superminis Nissan Micra SLX 1min 41 sec Over 3 min
Small hatches BMW 316 Compact 46 sec Over 3 min
Ford Escort LX 1 min.30 sec Over 3 min
Family cars Nissan Primera SE Over 2min Over 3 min
Estates, MPVs, 4x4s Range Rover SE Over 2 min Over 3 min
Luxury/executive Mercedes-Benz S500 Over 2 min Over 3 min
Performance cars BMW MS Over 2 min Over 3 min
Worst in class Time to enter Time to drive away
Superminis Seat Ibiza S 23 sec 36sec
Small hatches Hyundai Accent GSI 2 sec 39 sec
Mazda 323F GLX 17 sec 43 sec
Family cars Citroen Xantia LX 55 sec 49 sec
Estates, MPVs, 4x4s Jeep Cherokee LTD 6 sec 51 sec
Luxury/executive Volvo 850SE 1min 1 sec 1 min
Performance cars Honda Prelude V-TEC 21 sec 39 sec