Car theft

Motor vehicle theft (sometimes referred to as grand theft auto by the media and police departments in the US) is the criminal act of stealing or attempting to steal a car. Nationwide in the US in 2005, there were an estimated 1.2 million motor vehicle thefts, or approximately 416.7 motor vehicles stolen for every 100,000 inhabitants.[1] Property losses due to motor vehicle theft in 2005 were estimated at $7.6 billion.[2] Since then the number of motor thefts nationally has declined. The most recent statistics, for 2009, show an estimated 794,616 thefts of motor vehicles nationwide, representing property losses of nearly $5.2 billion.[3]


Some methods used by criminals to steal motor vehicles include:

  • Theft of an unattended vehicle without key(s): The removal of a parked vehicle either by breaking and entry, followed by hotwiring or other tampering methods to start the vehicle, or else towing.
  • Theft with access to keys: Known in some places as "Taken Without Owner's Consent (TWOC)". The unauthorized use of a vehicle in which the owner has allowed the driver to have possession of or easy access to the keys. Often, this is the adolescent or grown child or employee of the vehicle's owner who, at other times, may be authorized to use the vehicle. May be treated differently, depending on the jurisdiction's laws, and the owner may choose not to press charges.
  • Opportunistic theft: The removal of a vehicle that the owner or operator has left unattended with the keys visibly present, sometimes idling.
  • Carjacking: Refers to the taking of a vehicle by force or threat of force from its owner or operator. In most places, this is the most serious form of theft, since assault also occurs. In some carjackings, the operators and passengers are forced from the vehicle while the thief drives it away him/herself, while in other incidents, the operator and/or passenger(s) are forced to remain in the vehicle as hostages. Some less common carjackings result in the operator being forced to drive the assailant in accordance with the assailant's demands.[4]
  • Fraudulent theft: Illegal acquisition of a vehicle from a seller through fraudulent transfer of funds that the seller will ultimately not receive (such as by identity theft or the use of a counterfeit cashier's check). Many vehicles stolen in this manner are resold quickly thereafter.

Commonly used tools

  • Slide hammer puller to break into the door locks and the cylinder lock.
  • Multimeters or a test light to find a power source
  • Spare wires and/or a screwdriver to connect the power source to the ignition and starter wires
  • A generic rod and hook toolkit to slip between the car window and car frame and to open the lock behind the window. A common one is called the "Slim Jim".
  • Many keyless ignition/lock cars have weak[5][6] or no cryptographic protection of the unlock signal. Proof-of-concept "thefts" of top-of-the-line luxury cars have been demonstrated by academic researchers using commercially available tools such as RFID microreaders, but is unknown whether the attack has been used for actual theft.
  • A firearm or other weapon such as a baseball bat, or a utility knife or a box cutter to break open a window or threaten a passenger if inside the carTemplate:Or

Vehicles most frequently stolen

The makes and models of vehicles most frequently stolen vary by several factors, including region and ease of theft. In particular, the security systems in older vehicles may not be up to the same standard as current vehicles, and thieves also have longer to learn their weaknesses.[7] Scrap metal and spare part prices may also influence thieves to prefer older vehicles.[8]

In recent years in the United States, some models often on lists of most frequently stolen vehicles include Toyota Camry (best-selling car in USA), Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Acura Integra as they are easiest to resell at higher margins.

In Thailand, the most frequently stolen vehicles are Toyota and Nissan cars, Isuzu pickup trucks, Honda cars, and Honda motorcycles (2007 data).[9]

In Malaysia, Selangor had the highest number of motor vehicle thefts, ahead of Kuala Lumpur and Johor. Since 2005, Proton models are the most frequently stolen vehicles in the country, with Proton Wira being the highest, followed by the Proton Waja and the Proton Perdana.[10]


There are various methods of prevention to reduce the likelihood of a vehicle getting stolen. These include physical barriers, which make the effort of stealing the vehicle more difficult. Some of these include:

  • Devices used to lock a part of the vehicle necessary in its operation, such as the wheel, steering wheel or brake pedal. A popular steering wheel lock is The Club.
  • Immobilisers, allowing the vehicle to start only if a key containing the correct chip is present in the ignition. These work by locking the steering wheel and disabling the ignition.
  • Chances of theft can also be reduced with various deterrents, which give the impression to the thief that s/he is more likely to get caught if the vehicle is stolen. These include:
    • Car alarm systems that are triggered if a breaking and entry into the vehicle occurs
    • Microdot identification tags which allow individual parts of a vehicle to be identified
    • Killswitch circuits are designed to frustrate or slow down the efforts of a determined car thief. Killswitches are often located between crucial parts of the starting system, between the battery source and the coil, or the fuel pump. A car cannot start without first flipping these killswitches to closed position. Savvy car owners hide these killswitches in obscured areas, under the dashboard, beneath the seat, behind a chair, etc.
    • Signage on windows warning of the presence of other deterrents, sometimes in absence of the actual deterrents.
    • VIN etching

Recovery of stolen vehicles

Recovery rates for stolen vehicles vary, depending on the effort a jurisdiction's police department puts into recovery, and devices a vehicle has installed to assist in the process.

Police departments use various methods of recovering stolen vehicles, such as random checks (ANPR) of vehicles that come in front of a United Kingdom.

In the UK, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (

Vehicle tracking systems, such as LoJack, Automatic vehicle location, or Onstar may enable the location of the vehicle to be tracked by local law enforcement or a private company. Other security devices such as DotGuard microdots allow individual parts of a vehicle to also be identified and potentially returned.

See also


External links

  • Auto theft information and statistics
  • List of theft prevention devices
  • Taken WithOut Consent? UK FREE database of stolen vehicles
  • Comparison of Commercially available anti theft solutions
  • A Directory of Devices to Protect Your Vehicle
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.