“They like nana cars too,” Police Inspector Penny Gifford warns me.

As the owner of a three cylinder, 1,000cc, ‘nana car’, it was a shock to learn I was wrong in my assumption that car thieves wouldn’t want to be seen dead in my battered little shopping cart.

“They steal them because they are easier to take and they think we won’t pay so much attention to a little car,”
she tells me.

The good news is that the number of car thefts has been falling. In 2006, over 8,000 cases were brought before the courts, last year it was around 4,500 – and not just because of police priorities. According to Justice Department crime victimisation surveys, there were an estimated 45,000 cases of stolen vehicles in 2005; by 2013 that had fallen to 18,000. Still, that is one every 30 minutes.

AA Roadside Technical Training Manager Richard Legae says one of the reasons car theft is declining is down to the modern remote locking systems in late model cars. As a master of getting into locked cars (at the owner’s request, naturally) he says getting into locked cars without keys is getting harder and harder. And starting them? Forget it. You have to disassemble the vehicle to do that.

“I go down to the police holding pound at Takanini (in Auckland) and more and more I notice there’s been no damage and no attempt to hotwire the car. That tells me they are stealing the keys,” he says.

“That’s sometimes made easier by people leaving the keys on a hook by the door. Thieves just break into the house and steal the keys,” he says.

Gulp! I do that!

Richard says when high-value cars are stolen, it almost always involves stolen or copied keys.

“Leave the keys out on a pavement café table and it’s easy for a thief to grab them and run. The keys will identify the car too, so it won’t take the thief long to work out which car to drive off in.”

Five in every 100 households will experience car theft. Inspector Gifford says there is only so much police can do after the event. Some thieves are opportunistic, looking for joyrides.

Others want a car for another crime and often those vehicles will be found.

But the most organised are professionals. The cars they steal to order will either be dismantled for parts, or be on a container out of the country in no time.

Another target is trailers. Trailers are valuable in themselves, but some can also be used to steal other cars. Inspector Gifford says wheel locks and keeping couplers separate to the trailer are good ways to keep trailers out of thieves’ hands.

“Police can’t fix this issue on their own,” she says.

“We need the community to work with us to help prevent car theft.”

Reported by Peter King for our AA Directions Winter 2017 issue

More information

AA Insurance tips for car security

Always lock your car, even when parked at home.

Keep all valuables and car keys out of sight, including away from your front and back doors.

When possible, park in a garage, carport or off street.

If you have to park on the street, leave your car under a street light or in a well-lit area.

Choose attended, secure parking buildings and park close to the entrance or exit.

Install visible security, such as an alarm light, immobiliser or steering lock.

Know where your keys are at all times, and never leave them in your car, even at home.

Be extra vigilant over weekends and during warmer weather when there are more thefts reported.

New Zealand’s most stolen cars:

Mazda Demio, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Impressa, Mazda Familia, Nissan Primeria, Nissan Pulsar

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