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As auto theft rises, is your vehicle safe?

Auto theft is surging in Canada—particularly in Ontario and Québec. And according to a new report, it’s adding up to more than $1 billion in insurance claims.

In 2022, auto thefts were up 50% in Québec and 48.3% in Ontario, according to a recent report from Équité Association, a not-for-profit organization that assists in insurance fraud and crime investigations. In Toronto alone, vehicle thefts have soared 300% since 2015, according to another report by the Canadian Financing and Leasing Association (CFLA).

In part, that’s due to continuing supply chain issues and a backlog in vehicle production, which means there’s not enough supply to meet demand. Add rental supply shortages and limited access to neon gas, and you’ve got a recipe for ongoing disruption in the auto industry.

Car theft isn’t just a crime of opportunity—it’s big business, largely orchestrated by organized criminal networks. For these organizations, the profit margins are high and the risks are low, according to the Équité report.


Hot wheels for auto thieves

Currently, the Honda CR-V is the most commonly stolen vehicle in Canada, followed by the Lexus RX series and Ford F150, according to Équité’s annual top 10 list. However, the report points out that all high-end vehicles—regardless of manufacturer—are targets for car thieves, including pick-up trucks, SUVs and luxury cars.

Top 10 most stolen vehicles in 2021

  1. Honda CR-V
  2. Lexus RX Series
  3. Ford F150 Series
  4. Honda Civic
  5. Toyota Highlander
  6. Ram 1500 Series
  7. Chevrolet/GMC Silverado/Sierra 1500
  8. Honda Accord
  9. Jeep Grand Cherokee
  10. Toyota RAV4

See the complete list with year, number of thefts and number of insured vehicles from Équité Association.

“Thieves continue to exploit technology through relay attacks and connecting to the on-board diagnostic port, which enables them to reprogram key fobs,” according to Équité. “Organized crime networks are stealing vehicles in greater volume for export internationally, with Montreal being the principal exit port for stolen vehicles.”

In some cases, vehicles are shipped overseas and resold with the original vehicle identification number (VIN). In other cases, they’re “re-vinned” and sold at auto auctions with false VINs.

However, they could also be stripped for in-demand parts. For example, catalytic converters contain palladium, a precious metal that’s currently more valuable than gold.

Related: Buying a used vehicle? Spot these signs of fraud before you drive away.

Top tips for keeping your car safe

With auto theft on the rise, what can you do to keep your car safe?

While there’s no foolproof method, a multi-layered approach can make your vehicle far less appealing as a target. And while it may go without saying, it’s also important to have the right auto theft coverage for your needs.

1. Park smart when out and about

Park inside a garage wherever possible, and stick to well-lit areas at malls and in public spaces. Always lock your doors, even while driving, and keep anything of value out of sight in the trunk or under the seats. If you have a hatchback with a trunk cover, make sure you use it to keep valuables hidden. And don’t forget to close your windows completely.

Note your parking location carefully, too. In some cases, people will search for their vehicle in a large garage thinking they forgot where it was parked, when in fact it was stolen. You could lose valuable time searching around a parkade, all the while thieves are getting further away and harder to trace. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, vehicles reported stolen to police immediately have a 34% chance of being recovered the same day.

2. Park smart at home

If you have a one-car garage and two or more vehicles, park the car of lesser value outside the garage. It will be less tempting for anyone scouting for targets. Even when your vehicle is inside your garage, keep the doors locked to dissuade thieves from a quick grab and go.

3. Make your home even smarter

Install a home surveillance system with CCTV cameras in your garage, laneway or parking spaces. A ‘smart’ system that comes with alerting capabilities can send a message in real time to your smartphone if suspicious activity is noted, and that activity can be recorded.

4. Don’t be a getaway car

Never leave the vehicle running while unattended, even on cold days. Idling cars are targets for thieves because they can make a quick getaway—no hot wiring required. If you idle the car while still inside it, or leave a passenger waiting in an idling car, make sure doors remain locked until you return.

Similarly, never leave spare keys in your vehicle. Even if the doors are locked, once a thief finds their way inside, they’ll have a quick escape. Likewise, many fob-based systems will let you drive away as long as that fob is inside the vehicle—and you don’t necessarily need to know where.

5. Consider classic anti-theft devices

Although an anti-theft device like a steering wheel lock isn’t invincible—with the right tools, thieves can remove them—they do act as an additional deterrent. Thieves need to have the right tools on hand, and they need time to wield them.

You can also buy a protection shield for your catalytic converter. Again, while it isn’t invincible, it’s a deterrent—and anything that makes your vehicle less of an easy target will be beneficial.

6. Level up your theft protection

Other anti-theft devices include audible alarms, brake pedal locks and on-board diagnostic (OBD) locks, which work by blocking unauthorized access to the OBD port on your vehicle. Even unique decals and stickers can act as a deterrent, though this won’t necessarily prevent thieves from stealing your car to strip it for parts.

For those with a high-net-worth vehicle, it could be worth hiring a professional engraver to etch your VIN on visible parts of the car (and car parts), making it more difficult for thieves to resell. Note the serial numbers for any high-value aftermarket parts or accessories.

These steps are particularly important for vehicle owners who rely on street parking, which is the case for many homeowners in Ontario and Québec.

7. Block signal hijacking

These days, most vehicles come with key fobs, not keys. But vehicles can be hijacked by amplifying the key fob radio signal to remotely unlock and start a car—a method known as a relay attack.

To avoid this, keep key fobs away from your front door or window. Better yet, purchase a signal blocking bag such as a Faraday pouch to use when storing keys at home. Key fobs can still be replicated though, so you may want to consider additional measures.

8. Beyond the key fob

Even without your key fob, some thieves have a sneaky way to create one. Using a pick lock to get inside your vehicle, they can plug a key programmer into the OBD port to program a blank key fob. That’s where vehicle immobilizers come in, such as fuse cut-offs, kill switches, starter and ignition disablers, as well as wireless ignition authentication systems.

9. Track a stolen vehicle

Hidden GPS trackers add another layer of protection, and while they won’t prevent a theft, they can help police potentially recover your vehicle through satellite or mobile tracking. Since stolen vehicles might only have about 24 hours before they’re loaded onto a shipping container, this service could be invaluable.

One Toronto man’s stolen car was found about 8,500 kilometres away, in a used car lot in Ghana! Many stolen vehicles are headed for an international market within hours of being stolen.

Wawanesa works with two approved tracking and recovery service providers: TAG and Domino. Visible markings are etched on the vehicle windows to alert thieves that the vehicle is equipped with an anti-theft and recovery device. Then, tiny GPS trackers are installed in random spots throughout the vehicle, making them difficult to locate and remove. These trackers are installed by certified mechanics or dealers.

Both TAG and Domino collaborate with law enforcement when a police report is opened about a stolen vehicle and provide law enforcement with the specific location of the vehicle. They’re able to detect the location of a stolen vehicle across North America and provide 24x7 support.

10. Be aware of your surroundings

Carjackings are on the rise in major cities—Toronto saw a 78% increase in these violent thefts from 2021 to 2022. It’s never worth risking your life to prevent a carjacking, but there are ways to become a less attractive target.

Don’t stop for strangers signalling you for help on the road or roll down your window to speak to them. If you believe someone is in danger or in need of assistance, drive a safe distance away and call 911. If someone approaches your vehicle and you are concerned, lock the doors, and if equipped activate the alarm with the key fob. Do whatever you can to draw attention to yourself.

If a carjacker gains access to your vehicle or you are threatened with a weapon, comply with demands and vacate the car. If possible, keep your mobile phone on your person so you are able to contact police immediately.

While no combination of these measures can prevent vehicle theft 100% of the time, it’s important to remember one thing: thieves are looking for the easiest target.

Obvious security measures, locked doors and inaccessible fobs make your car less attractive to thieves because of the time it will take to steal it—and the increased likelihood of getting caught in the process. Following these tips can help keep your car where it belongs.

Talk to your broker about auto theft coverage and whether you may be eligible for lower rates by implementing certain security measures. For more information about vehicle insurance options, visit our Wawanesa Auto Coverage page.

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