Theft of new cars takes only seconds

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MOST CARS can be broken into within a minute, making a mockery of manufacturers' pledges to improve vehicle security, a new survey has found.

Tests carried out on 50 top-selling models found that 13 cars took less than 10 seconds to gain entry to, including luxury vehicles such as a Jaguar.

The worst-performing car in the tests was a Daewoo, which took experts just 1 second to break into, while the most secure were several Volkswagen and Volvo models.

Car manufacturers have promised ministers to help to reduce vehicle crime by spending money on installing and improving security devices. In 1997, 407,000 cars were stolen, and 710,000 people had property taken from their vehicles. The Government has pledged to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent in the next five years.

To test whether the motor industry had improved the security on its vehicles, the magazine Auto Express employed a locksmith and a car security adviser to attempt to break into 50 cars using tools available in hardware stores.

The Daewoo Matiz was the cheapest car tested, and the quickest to break into. "The sad fact is that it was quicker to break in than to open it with the key. Virtually anyone could break into this in an instant, using any one of a variety of tools," said the experts.

More expensive vehicles, such as the pounds 19,600 Honda Accord, fared little better, holding out for just 1.72 seconds. The popular Ford Fiesta took 3.5 seconds to break into.

Surprisingly two Jaguar models, the XK8 and the XJ8, which cost pounds 42,000 and pounds 50,700, lasted only about 10 seconds. "We find it disappointing that a pounds 50,000 Jag could be entered more quickly than a [Ford] Cougar costing less than half that price," said the magazine.

The overall winner was the Volkswagen VAG lock system. Range Rover and Peugeot were also praised.

The results were an improvement on a similar set of tests last year, when half of the 50 cars were broken into within 10 seconds. "This year, the figures were reduced to 13 out of 50," said the magazine. "But we still got into 22 cars within 30 seconds, and five cars in under 2 seconds."

The magazine adds: "Manufacturers will protest. They will say that they are doing their best. But... the results from many make dismal reading. We are also concerned that in some areas, the lock-beating fraternity seems to be moving faster than the manufacturers."

The motor industry defended its record yesterday and argued that great improvements had been made to vehicle security, and that the tests carried out by the magazine were unfair.

Al Clarke, of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: "It is one thing for skilled testers to break into cars, but consumers should look at real-life incidents.

"Most cars broken into are those left unlocked on forecourts or those with valuables on view. Thieves tend to avoid new cars and go for older ones. Even on new cars, you cannot turn them into fortresses."