Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

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What you can do to keep car thieves at bay

Published on Thursday, 27 October 2011

In the time it takes to read this column, a vehicle somewhere in Canada will be stolen, according to Statistics Canada (2009). That’s about 300 vehicles per day and 108,000 per year.

For anyone in law enforcement, or in the auto and insurance industries, this statistic may not be all that surprising. But for the average car owner, it may be an eye-opener.

Auto theft is big business in Canada. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that auto theft costs Canadians $1.2 billion per year in terms of health care, court, policing, legal and out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles.

Although auto theft has actually decreased by 40 per cent in Canada over the past decade, this criminal activity is still thriving. Actions taken by the federal government, policing agencies, car dealerships and advocacy groups have played a role in reducing the number of stolen vehicles.

In 2007, the federal government made it mandatory for all Canadian auto manufacturers to install electronic immobilizers in new passenger vehicles. This device prevents a vehicle from operating unless the correct key is present in the ignition.

Last year saw the introduction of Bill S-9, Tackling Auto Theft and Property Obtained by Crime Act. This Bill makes it a separate criminal offence to alter, destroy or remove a vehicle identification number (VIN), and to traffic property obtained by crime and possession of property obtained by crime for the purpose of trafficking.

New car dealerships have long been a target for auto thieves — especially thieves with links to organized crime. Thieves will stake out dealerships to find vulnerabilities and steal vehicles at any time of the day or night. Some thieves specifically target car parts (tires, rims, roof racks, etc.).

Dealers understand the risks involved in selling and servicing high-ticket items such as cars in a busy retail environment, and they have taken steps to minimize that risk. For instance, it’s not uncommon for a modern dealership to have more than 100 surveillance cameras monitoring activity inside and outside of the facilities 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

In addition to surveillance cameras and security alarms, dealers work extensively with their staff, policing agencies and private companies to further safeguard their premises against auto theft.

In the late 1990s, Roy Speed and Ross (a Canadian-owned company) developed a theft deterrent system that has become standard among dealers across the country. The system — globali.com — is a vehicle registration, protection and recovery network, which is affiliated with auto theft agencies across North America.

Theft deterrent systems and increased vigilance have contributed to the reduction in auto theft in Canada. But these efforts aren’t foolproof; thieves are skilled at what they do and are always one step ahead of the latest theft-deterrent strategies and technologies.

What can car owners do to reduce the risk of having their vehicles stolen? Auto theft experts maintain that the best defense is a strong offence, starting with basic common sense.

  • Don't leave keys where they can be easily spotted and stolen, and never leave your vehicle running while it’s unattended. Many drivers leave cars idling in driveways and parking lots, which is like an open invitation to thieves.
  • Park in well-lit and busy areas.

  • Always lock your vehicle and roll the windows up when unattended. Twenty per cent of all stolen vehicles have the keys in the ignition. You wouldn’t leave a $30,000 gold ring on your doorstep unattended; why should a vehicle be any different?
  • If your vehicle came with an emergency key, or wallet key, do not leave it in your glove box, or in the owner’s manual kit. It is easy to force entry into the vehicle, break a side window, open the glove box and use the wallet key to start the vehicle.

  • Avoid leaving ownership and insurance documents in your car. Thieves will use this information to steal your identity.
  • On older vehicles, install an immobilizer (late model vehicles are factory equipped). This device shuts down the vehicle’s main circuit and prevents it from being started and driven away without the proper key.

    Statistics show that winter is a peak season for auto theft, and so car owners should be take extra caution during colder months to ensure that their vehicles don’t become another auto theft statistic.

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