Last year (2021) saw £71.2 million of car parts stolen. This is the stark revelation from research conducted by Direct Line Motor Insurance.

 Over the past three years, the total value of stolen cars and parts has reached £744 million, the equivalent of nearly £680,000 being stolen every day.

Protection is key

With many drivers returning to the road post pandemic, the insurer is urging motorists to take extra steps to protect their vehicle and its parts. The research, obtained from local policing authorities in the UK via a Freedom of Information Act, found that last year an estimated 474,600 parts were stolen from vehicles.

The most common car part stolen is the number plate, with a huge 53,400 stolen from vehicles last year. The rise of CCTV and ANPR cameras has led to a rise in criminals stealing number plates to put on another vehicle, which they may use to commit an offence, trying to minimise the risk of detection.

The second most stolen parts were catalytic converters, the exhaust emission control device also known as CATs, with 39,900 taken by car thieves. It was catalytic converters that were found to be the most expensive part stolen, with the total value of items taken since 2019 costing over £16 million. According to the Metropolitan Police Service, catalytic converters are often targeted by thieves as they contain valuable metals and can be removed in less than a minute. 

Part of the problem

Direct Line has partnered with the University of Huddersfield on a new ‘Truth about Car Theft’ campaign, which includes detailed academic research amongst prolific car thieves to understand the motive, means and opportunities for vehicle crime, to help motorists reduce the risk of falling victim to these criminals.

The academic research found that vehicle parts were key targets for car thieves, considered by some to be more profitable method than selling a car on, without the effort of concealing the vehicle’s identity.

The increase in value of catalytic converters in recent years has seen these become a greater target. One convicted car thief said: “CATs are worth good money all day long. I know…ones…minimum £150.  Even if you’re just doing them in a night, you could get 30 or 40.”

“Our research shows that theft of parts from vehicles is a common offence, as criminals see it as high reward and low risk,” says Professor Rachel Armitage, Professor of Criminology, University of Huddersfield. “Many of the convicted thieves in our study were returning to the crime as it is an easy to commit opportunist offence, especially with many cars being left unsecured. Ease of entering or stealing vehicles was a recurring theme, with a streamlined process of selling parts and property stolen from unattended vehicles to gain cash.”

Driving crime

In 2021, nearly 112,000 cars were reported as stolen to police forces across the UK, with a combined value of over £260 million. The Metropolitan Police Service received the greatest number of reports of stolen vehicles in 2021, with almost 31,000 cars stolen across the capital. West Midlands Police came in second, with over 10,100 cars stolen, while Greater Manchester Police (7,400), Hertfordshire (5,100) and Essex Police (2,800) complete the top five.

Top 10 police forces by stolen vehicles, 2019-2021

Rank Police Force 2019 2020 2021 Total
1 Metropolitan Police Service 36,746 29,938 30,924 97,608
2 West Midlands Police 9,042 8,374 10,167 27,583
3 Greater Manchester Police 7,531 6,507 7,452 21,490
4 Essex Police 4,022 2,890 2,820 9,732
5 West Yorkshire Police 3,739 2,709 2,588 9,036
6 Hertfordshire Constabulary 1,941 1,663 5,127 8,731
7 Kent Police 3,427 2,637 2,543 8,607
8 Avon and Somerset Constabulary 2,488 1,971 2,207 6,666
9 Surrey Police 1,510 1,428 1,495 4,433
10 Merseyside Police 1,133 1,125 1,220 3,478
  All police forces 125,645 101,704 111,715 339,064

 Source: Direct Line Car Insurance 2022

Lorraine Price, Head of Direct Line Motor Insurance, states: “A car and its parts can be one of the most expensive items we purchase in our lifetime and unfortunately this makes them highly desirable to thieves. The total value of cars and parts stolen over the past few years is truly staggering and a wake-up call to all of us to make sure we’re taking the right precautions when it comes to securing our vehicles. The research shows the most popular car parts stolen, number plates and catalytic converters, are both on the outside of the car, meaning it is simply not enough to just double lock your vehicle. Motorists should make sure to park in well-lit, populated areas and look out for CCTV cameras.”

Night sights

The academic research found car thieves often target vehicles during the night. Insight from one convicted car thief currently serving a custodial sentence suggested that they only target quiet areas. Another said: “I prefer doing them (stealing cars) on a night when it’s quiet and everyone’s asleep” and agreed that residential areas were preferable.

Previous research from Direct Line Motor Insurance4 found that Range Rovers made up nearly two fifths (38 per cent) of all stolen cars identified insight from convicted car thieves, suggesting a rise in cars stolen to order. Ford (10 per cent), Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover (all at eight per cent) make up the top five.