What cars were stolen most in 2020 according to DVLA data?

Car thefts accelerated by a third last year, according to new data, despite two national lockdowns and more drivers being indoors to keep a closer eye on their motors.  

There were 74,769 vehicles pinched from their owners last year – this is a 33 per cent leap up from 56,288 in 2019, according to Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency figures.

The question is: is your car one of the top 15 that is being most-targeted by criminals?    

The Ford Fiesta is the most stolen car in Britain, which is unsurprising given it's also the most common model on our roads. Some 3,392 were reported as being pinched to the DVLA in 2020

The Ford Fiesta is the most stolen car in Britain, which is unsurprising given it’s also the most common model on our roads. Some 3,392 were reported as being pinched to the DVLA in 2020

Vehicle leasing firm Rivervale Leasing has submitted Freedom of Information requests to the DVLA regarding the most stolen cars on two consecutive years.  

The latest statistics provided by the Government agency show that 18,481 more cars were nicked from their rightful keepers last year than in 2019.

Shockingly, that equates to 205 motor thefts per day, with keyless car crime at the heart of the growing problem.

As well as the increasing rate of stolen cars in Britain, fewer owners are likely to see their motors again than before – with almost three quarters never returned to their owners, says the latest official figures.

According to the most recent Office for National Statistics report on vehicle-related theft, 72 per cent of pinched cars aren’t returned to the keeper.

A return rate of just 28 per cent in the year ending March 2020 is the lowest return vehicle rate for a decade, the ONS stats say.   

There is also a high chance that the smaller percentage of motorists who are likely to get their car back will receive it with some form of damage.

Ford Fiesta is most commonly pinched but high volume of Range Rover thefts suggest keyless car crime is rife

In terms of the motors that are being targeted most by thieves, the Ford Fiesta tops the charts with 3,392 reported cases to the DVLA in 2020.

Top 15 most stolen car models in 2020 

1. Ford Fiesta – 3,392

2. Land Rover Range Rover – 2,881

3. Volkswagen Golf – 1,975 

4. Ford Focus – 1,587 

5. BMW 3 Series – 1,435 

6. Vauxhall Astra – 1,126 

7. Land Rover Discovery – 900 

8. Mercedes-Benz E Class – 766 

9. BMW 5 Series – 678 

10. Nissan Qashqai – 655 

11. Ford Kuga – 620 

12. BMW X5 – 551 

13. Fiat 500 – 358 

14. Mercedes-Benz GLC – 342 

15. Audi A6 – 268

Source: DVLA records for all vehicles notified by the police as stolen between 1 January 2020 and 21 December 2020 – result of an FOI request from Rivervale Leasing

This comes as no surprise, given the Fiesta is the UK’s most popular motor, being the most-registered car in the UK for 12 consecutive years.

However, the disclosed records show that 1,008 more Fiestas were pinched last year than the 12 months prior.

And proving that it isn’t just the most common cars on the road that are most frequently taken from owners, the Range Rover was second on the list again.

There were 2,881 reported cases of the expensive SUVs being stolen from keepers last year – up 50 per cent on 2019.

This is a clear reflection of the ongoing crime wave involving criminal gangs using keyless technology to target high-value premium cars – a problem that has been worsening in recent years.

There is further evidence of luxury vehicles being taken using ‘relay devices’ in the list of the top 15 most nicked motors.

While common cars like the VW Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Nissan Qashqai all featured in rankings for models that are commonly stolen, there were plenty of expensive, premium-brand vehicles among them.

These include the BMW 3 Series, 5 Series and X5 SUV, Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes-Benz E-class and GLC SUV. Audi’s A6 also rounded out the top 15. 

The Range Rover is the second most stolen car in 2020, with 2,881 instances. This is likely the result of gangs targeting the high-value SUVs using keyless thefts

The Range Rover is the second most stolen car in 2020, with 2,881 instances. This is likely the result of gangs targeting the high-value SUVs using keyless thefts

A separate report from Global Telemetrics, a leading vehicle tracking device provider, provided further evidence that Range Rovers are high on criminal gangs’ lists.

Understandably, most of its customers are owners of high-end motors looking to protect their valuable assets.

It found that Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Vogue and Discovery are the three vehicles that triggered its tracking systems last year.

Next most common were the Fiat Ducato and Ford Transit, with thieves also likely to be going after expensive tools locked inside.

The VW Golf, another popular car in Britain, was the third most nicked model, with 1,975 cases

The VW Golf, another popular car in Britain, was the third most nicked model, with 1,975 cases

The Ford Focus was the fourth most commonly pinched model, according to DVLA records given to Rivervale Leasing

The Ford Focus was the fourth most commonly pinched model, according to DVLA records given to Rivervale Leasing

Some 900 Land Rover Discovery models were taken by thieves in 2020, the stats show

Some 900 Land Rover Discovery models were taken by thieves in 2020, the stats show

The BMW 3 Series was the fifth most stolen car in 2020

The X5 SUV from BMW was the 12th most frequently reported stolen car

Expensive models from BMW, including the 3 Series (left) and X5 (right) were among the top 15 most stolen cars

Pricey Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes models also featured high on its list, with most being big SUVs. 

This is Money revealed in 2019 that gangs are sharing shopping lists of easy-target models using keyless relay attacks.

Communication between criminals via messaging apps like WhatsApp include details of how to steal them, their sell-on value and where examples are located.

Vehicle protection and management technology provider, AX, told us that thieves aren’t just focusing on expensive models but are stealing some of Britain’s most in-demand mainstream cars and selling them on the black market for between £1,000 and £3,000 – which could also explain why the list is a mix of luxury and common vehicles.

Some 766 Mercedes E-class cars were stolen last year, making it the eighth most frequently nicked model

The expensive Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV was 14th in the list, with 342 reported as stolen to the DVLA

Left: Some 766 Mercedes E-class cars were stolen last year, making it the eighth most frequently nicked model. Right: The expensive Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV was 14th in the list, with 342 reported as stolen to the DVLA

What are car makers doing to prevent keyless theft? 

A recent report from insurer LV= suggested that vehicle theft claims in London have increased by 265 per cent between 2016 and 2019, most notably due to the rise in keyless car crime.

Birmingham, Nottingham and Greater Manchester seeing individual increases of over 100 per cent in recent times.  

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at independent automotive research company, Thatcham Research said that while motor crime is back on the rise across the UK, it is still a long way short of the record highs seen three decades ago. 

Speaking to This is Money, he said: ‘Although any increase in vehicle thefts will be a concern to car owners, we are still a long way off from the endemic car crime seen in the early 1990s – where upwards of 600,000 cars were stolen in a single year, with thieves mostly using equipment found in a toolbox.’ 

He warns that the majority of thefts today are predominantly the result of keyless tactics that are the ‘preserve of sophisticated criminal gangs, using digital kit to navigate mechanical security’ and, while vehicle manufacturers are trying to combat it, there is yet to be an established means of preventing cars from being nicked remotely.

‘Keyless entry systems have been problematic and can be exploited by thieves using a technique known as the relay attack,’ he explained.

‘Many carmakers do now offer countermeasures with new vehicles, such as motion-sensor enabled fobs. However, all new cars with keyless systems should have a solution to this long-standing vulnerability in place.

‘It’s also important to remember that the motion-sensor fob, while a good short-term fix, is not the ultimate solution to the keyless vulnerability, which should be designed-out of new vehicles completely in the future.

‘Drivers should go into the dealership with their eyes open to keyless security and if they do intend to specify the system, ask if a fix has been introduced. 

‘Your dealer is there to help with any queries or concerns and will know about system fitment and which type of fob is available.’ 

Thatcham Research’s 8 tips for keeping your car secure 

1. Keep vulnerable items out of sight

Make sure valuables are removed from your vehicle when not in use or kept out of sight. This can include valuables such as bags, laptops, electronic equipment, documents and tools.

2. Make sure you car locks before you walk away

When left unattended, make sure the vehicle is locked and windows are up. Listen for the locking noise and watch for the lights to flash or mirrors to fold. Physically check the vehicle is locked yourself – as criminals can sometimes block the locking signal from your keyfob. Check that the vehicle is secure before you go to bed and where possible ensure double locking is set (refer to owner manual).

3. Alarm and immobiliser is a necessity in 2021

Ensure your vehicle has Thatcham Research-certified alarm and immobiliser systems fitted. Consider upgrading your vehicle security to include aftermarket Thatcham Research certified alarm, immobiliser and tracking systems. Some insurance policies require the fitment of a tracking device. It is important subscriptions to tracking services are maintained

Halfords has reported a big jump in steering lock sales since keyless car crime has become more prevalent in the UK

Halfords has reported a big jump in steering lock sales since keyless car crime has become more prevalent in the UK

4. Consider an old-school steering wheel lock

Consider using a physical immobiliser such as steering wheel lock or gear clamp. These not only offer another layer of security but also act as a visual deterrent to thieves.

Halfords has recently reported a double in sales of steering locks, with drivers looking to take additional precaution to protect their vehicles. 

5. Leave the car near street lights or CCTV cameras if parking on the road

When unattended, keep the vehicle somewhere secure and well-lit, preferably monitored by CCTV. If you have one, store your vehicle in a garage overnight. Lockable driveway gates also provide another physical and visual deterrent to thieves.

Signal blocking pouches can prevent criminals being able to complete relay attacks to steal your car. They cost around £5 and are readily available online

Signal blocking pouches can prevent criminals being able to complete relay attacks to steal your car. They cost around £5 and are readily available online

6. Be mindful of where your keys are and consider a signal-blocking key pouch

Always keep vehicle keys safe:

a. In the cold period, do not leave the vehicle unattended and running with keys in the ignition

b. Store keys, including spares, out of site from windows and doors.

c. Consider where the spare key is kept and who may have access to it

d. You should be aware of the technology in your vehicle and key fob functions. If it uses Passive Keyless Entry and Start (PKES) it may be susceptible to a theft method called the ‘Relay Attack’ and you should therefore consider storing fobs as far away from the outer perimeter of the house as is possible.

e. Consider using a signal blocking faraday pouch for main and spare keys. These cost around £5 and can be bought from Amazon, Halfords and other retailers.

f. It may be possible to clone the vehicle key. Consider this when leaving with untrusted parties or services that have not been used before. Check that the company is a member of an accredited code of practice / professional standard such as:

i. Motor Codes (motorcodes.co.uk)

ii. The British Parking Association’s Park Mark scheme (parkmark.co.uk)

7. Ask your car maker about a key upgrade

Some vehicle manufacturers have produced security upgrades available at their dealerships. Speak to your dealership to see whether the vehicle has security enhancements available.

8. Check your wheels are secure

Ensure the vehicle has locking wheel bolts securing the vehicle’s wheels.

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