- Hot hatchbacks and estates identified as especially desirable by car thieves – Audi S3s, Honda Type Rs, and Ford Focus RSs
- Prolific car thieves steal 60-90 vehicles every week
- Stolen to order – car thieves are given lists of five or six cars to steal each week
New research1 commissioned by Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals thieves typically secure at most five per cent of the value of a stolen car, despite the huge distress this crime causes for the vehicle owner, though it is often just 1.25 per cent. Interviews with car thieves reveal £2,000 is a typical value for a popular performance car such as an Audi S3, or a similar Mercedes and BMW model, that is valued at about £40,0002. A less popular car worth £20,000 would only generate £250 for the car thief.
Performance hot hatches and estates are very desirable for car thieves, especially Audi RS6s, RS4s and S3s along with Ford Focus RSs and Honda Type Rs. These models are sought after due to their usefulness as getaway cars when committing other crimes such as commercial burglaries and their high resale value on the black market. The research reveals the most prolific car thieves can steal 60-95 cars a week.
Stealing to order is common amongst car thieves, with criminals given a list of five or six cars at a time. Interviews with convicted car thieves reveal these orders can be very proscriptive, especially if parts are required to repair a damaged car or change another car’s identity. Orders for export can be very specific too as certain cars are especially expensive to buy legitimately in certain countries due to taxation.
The make and model of a car is the main factor determining financial reward. One offender stated: “Mainly, people are going to target high-end cars…they’ve bought a car that’s seriously damaged, that’s worth £50,000. They’ve brought it for £10,000 because it’s been in an accident, then they send some type of criminal to go steal that same type of car, and swap everything over.”
According to Home Office figures, 108,542 vehicles3 were stolen between April 2021 and March 2022 in England and Wales, equivalent to an average of 279 thefts each day. This also represents a 22% increase from the previous 12 months.
Professor Rachel Armitage, Professor of Criminology, University of Huddersfield, said: “Our research shows that the money generated by car thieves is often a fraction of the value of the vehicle, even if it was being sold legitimately second hand. This in turn drives the need for a volume of thefts for criminals to generate large sums of money. People may be shocked to learn that criminal gangs have specifically targeted their vehicle for theft due to the model and colour of the car.”
To avoid trackers, criminals typically leave stolen cars in a public place such as on a street or in a field for a couple of days before returning. If the vehicle had not been taken, thieves would assume that it was not being tracked. Stealing the highest value, prestige cars such as a Bentley or Rolls Royce is typically seen as only the domain of the most professional thieves. These cars are less attractive targets due to their high level of security and the difficulty concealing the vehicles when stolen.
Lorraine Price, Head of Motor Insurance at Direct Line, commented: “People will be horrified to learn the distress car thieves are causing to secure just a fraction of the value of a vehicle when they sell it, or the parts on the black market. It is not just the victims that pay the price, it has an impact on all motorists in the cost of insurance premiums.”
Direct quotes from car thieves:
“I started stealing cars just for order, just basically: what car did you want and I’ll go and get it for you?”
“Have to go and find five or six in a week and then try and burgle the house for all six of them. You’ll get someone that’ll order an Audi A3; someone will order a non-specific Type R, and then you might get someone who’ll order an A6. When you’ve got three cars to go and get in the night; we’ll go and get them three cars in a night.”
“Well, sometimes it goes down to colour because they’ve got plates that will match that, but other than that it’s, ‘Just get this shape, this model, done.”
Direct Line partnered with the University of Huddersfield on a ‘Truth about Car Theft’ campaign, which includes detailed academic research amongst prolific car thieves to understand the motive, means and opportunities for vehicle crime, to help motorists reduce the risk of falling victim to these criminals.