Security test puts Skoda first and Mercedes 46th

Skoda, once the subject of snobbish jokes by motorists, has topped a survey on car security released today.

The Czech manufacturer's£10,800 Fabia model was found to be the toughest car to break into in Britain in a trial of 50 vehicles by Auto Express magazine. Locks experts found it impossible to open the doors in the five minutes most thieves allow themselves before fleeing.

Some other mass-market cars such as the Vauxhall Astra 2.0Dti, the Nissan Primera 2.0 and the Ford Galaxy 2.3 Ghia were among 20 cars that also exceeded the crucial five- minute barrier, but the experts thought the Skoda was the toughest to crack.

Unfortunately for those with deeper pockets the £45,640 Mercedes CLK 430 Elegance was opened in just three seconds. The locksmiths used the "tools of the trade" available to the most amateur of thieves, including coat hangers.

The easiest car to break into was the Fiat Multipla, which holds several car of the year awards. It was broken into in just 1.25 seconds. The Peugeot 206 1.1LX and the Daewoo Nubira 2.0 CDX were the second and third easiest with 2.28 seconds and 2.78 seconds respectively.

The best-selling Ford Focus 2.0 Zetec kept the locksmiths out for 1 minute 22 seconds, although the Ford Galaxy passed the five-minute test. Half the 50 models were broken into in less than 25 seconds and one in three was opened in under 10 seconds. Alarms and other devices were not seen as a significant barrier to thieves who wanted to get into the car rather than drive it away.

James Foxall, associate editor of the magazine who organised the trials, said that motorists were being short-changed. "The problem is that security is not very sexy. It doesn't sell cars. Manufacturers will concentrate on showing that their cars are safer and faster."

He said that car manufacturers were aware of the problems, but were not doing enough to rectify them. "It is remarkable how easy some of them are to break into. Lots of them don't require specialist tools. For some all you need is an old coat hanger."

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