Is Vehicle Theft in the UK on the Rise?

It is one of the more devastating and disorientating experiences a person can have. Leaving the house to begin the commute to work or emerging from the supermarket with a trolley full of groceries, and where your vehicle had been awaiting your return, an empty space glares back at you.

In 2021/22, incidents of motor vehicle theft across England and Wales soared to 108,542, a concerning increase when compared with the previous year. The 48,492 vehicles stolen between 1 January and 31 December 2021 translates to 133 driven away by thieves every single day. Almost a thousand a week.

But what can we take from these figures? Is vehicle theft in the UK on the rise? If so, why? And what can you do to prevent yourself from joining these eye-watering statistics?

In this piece, we answer these questions and more.


Firstly, are more vehicles being stolen?

As with all statistics, those surrounding vehicle theft need to be properly interrogated. It’s true that there was a 3% rise in motor thefts in 2021 compared to 2020 but DVLA figures show that the 58,642 vehicle thefts in 2019 represent a figure that is around 20% higher. Moreover, in 2002/03, approximately 307,000 vehicles were reported stolen: three times that in 2021/22.

Historical context is therefore important for avoiding alarmism – vehicle thefts are down on previous years. However, there is no escaping the fact that the arrow is pointing upwards once again and in the here and now, vehicle theft is on the rise.


What’s causing the uptick in thefts?

It’s likely a combination of factors but the pandemic appears to be the major one. With tight restrictions on personal movement as Covid-19 rampaged through the global population, opportunities to steal vehicles were curtailed, as were the opportunities to find parties willing to purchase them.

However, as restrictions began to ease, the residual financial impact of the pandemic may have driven some towards criminal activity, including vehicle theft, and perhaps partially explains the increase in incidents. There’s also the uncomfortable fact that cuts to police funding precipitated a rise in crime of all types, vehicle theft among them.

Another contributing factor is the value of parts which increased drastically as a result of disrupted supply chains. In previous times, the vehicles targeted by thieves were mostly low-value family cars, taken for the purpose of joyriding’ and typically recovered by authorities soon after. Today, the motivation is based more on economics than exhilaration.

Rather than modest Escorts and Astras, today’s thieves are taking aim at high-end vehicles such as Range Rovers and Audis. Driven away to remote locations, they are stripped down within hours and the various components sold on the black market.

Aren’t modern vehicles supposed to be more secure?

Yes. But the problem with innovating is that it’s not only the ‘good guys’ who do it. Indeed, for every next-generation security measure applied to a new vehicle, shadowy groups immediately begin looking for ways that it might be circumvented.

Currently, the most common way thieves end up in the driving seats of vehicles that aren’t theirs is by exploiting key fobs. The thief will pick a target and position themselves within range of the owner as they press the fob to lock the doors. Using a device which either captures or blocks the signal emitted from the fob they simply wait for the owner to disappear from view and drive away.


Are there certain parts of the country worst affected?

Again, yes, and of the 10 most targeted areas for car theft, seven of them are in the nation’s capital. Generally, crime in London tends to outstrip other areas of the country and with Romford topping the table with 16.38 thefts per 1,000 and Ilford & Barking close behind on 15.71, vehicle theft is no different.

The full geographic list per 1,000 thefts reads:

  1. Romford: 16.38
  2. Ilford & Barking: 15.71
  3. Birmingham: 13.33
  4. North London: 12.61
  5. Enfield: 12.05
  6. Dudley: 11.66
  7. South-West London: 11.32
  8. Bromley: 11.01
  9. Stockport: 10.82
  10. West End: 10.67

If your location doesn’t feature in this list, complacency is not advised. For example, though none feature in the top 10, car theft in South Yorkshire jumped up by a scary 28% in the last year, while in Merseyside it was up 4% and in Greater Manchester, 1%.

What steps can I take to keep my vehicle safe?

Fortunately, there are quite a few and they vary depending on whether you’re reading this piece from the perspective of an individual or a business.

As an individual

Check door handles are locked after using a key fob

As described earlier, key fobs are not infallible and merely pressing the button is no guarantee that the doors are locked. Listen out for the locking noise, watch for the indicators to blink, mirrors to fold, and then check the handles anyway.

Be wary of prying eyes

Ensure valuables such as bags, electronic devices, and tools are not on display. The only gadgets that serve a purpose by being visible are physical immobilisers such as steering wheel locks or gear clamps. Not only do these remain effective methods of disrupting attempts at theft, they are powerful visual deterrents.

Consider installing modern alarm and immobiliser systems

Thatcham Research-certified alarm and immobiliser systems are widely recognised to be the industry standard. Installing an aftermarket alarm with inclination sensors, immobilisers, or tracking systems with the Thatcham accreditation adds a potent layer of security.

Think twice before parking

If you can, leave your vehicle somewhere secure and well-lit and preferably monitored by CCTV – especially at night. In the absence of a garage or lockable driveway gate, parking your vehicle close to your home or in such a way that it’s difficult to drive away quickly may be enough of a disincentive to would-be thieves.


As a business

Obviously, the above tips apply to businesses as well but where fleets of vehicles are concerned, more robust measures may be necessary to protect what is are high-cost assets – especially when they are held in central locations. As such, deploying a range of security services from a proven and accredited security company is recommended. Such services might include:

Barriers, Bollards, and Gates

Your site may require a wide range of fencing solutions to secure your entrances and exits. Bollard solutions prevent vehicles from leaving your site unless they have been approved. Barriers and boarding solutions also clearly demarcate your perimeter and safeguard your site from criminals and intruders.

Intruder Detection Systems

Combining barriers, bollards, and gates with sophisticated detection technology provides an extra layer of protection for your site. Utilising the latest technology, including infrared motion sensors, RADAR, and electric fences, intrusions can be detected 24/7/365. Adding an alarm response service to this combination means that trained professionals will also arrive on site to respond to alarm activations.

Security Guards

Security guarding is still one of the most proven measures to ensure the safety of your premises, personnel, and vehicle fleet. Whether you need dedicated gatehouse security or guards to patrol the whole site, an accredited security company will supply multi-skilled officers able to perform roles as varied as completing risk assessments to physically detaining intruders.

CCTV Security

CCTV provides a simple but highly effective security solution and can be supported by 24/7 screen monitoring. Once strategically installed, CCTV systems may also be used in conjunction with a rapid response solution whereby a team of first response officers are deployed to either attend an incident or contact law enforcement. Even if a thief manages to escape with a vehicle, the footage retrieved can be used to identify and prosecute them and supports the subsequent insurance claims.

With a leading security company, specialist security technicians will carry out a full assessment of your site to establish an optimal CCTV installation strategy that addresses your security needs and maximises camera coverage.

Mobile Patrols

If your site is large, hazardous underfoot, and/or vehicles are randomly distributed within the perimeter, mobile patrols of SIA licensed security guards is a highly effective security measure.

Using branded vehicles to safeguard your site and detect any criminal activity, mobile patrols act as a strong visual security presence. As effective as CCTV systems are, cameras can only record an incident. In the event that fleet vehicles are tampered with in any way, you need trained guards on the scene. And quickly.


Why choose Churchill for your security?

Founded in 1996 as Churchill Security, Churchill Support Services provides an extensive range of security services to public and private sectors across the UK.

Our processes and solutions have been recognised by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) as being “industry-leading”, and we are currently ranked in the top 1% of all approved contractors. We are committed to the provision of unmatched, expert security solutions and customer service and dedicate much time to attaining external accreditation from renowned certifiers to prove this.

Whatever the size of your vehicle fleet or whatever type of vehicle it comprises, Churchill Support Services will tailor a security solution that ensures all risks are mitigated.


John Melling

Group Chief Executive Officer

John has a proven track record for motivating and leading high performance teams and has helped mentor and develop many people at Churchill who now hold key or senior positions within the business. John is committed to delivering only the finest services, exercising compelling leadership, maintaining good internal morale and striving to resolve any challenges efficiently and effectively.