London had more cars stolen and recovered than in any other region across 2020.

The latest analysis of data comes from vehicle security firm Tracker.

Perhaps not a total surprise to see the capital at the top of the table. However, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester have moved up the league table to second and third position respectively. It means Essex has slipped down to fourth position.

Other car crime hot spots include Kent, Surrey, and Hertfordshire, as well as Lancashire, South Yorkshire, and West Yorkshire. Hertfordshire and Lancashire join the top ten for the first time, while Herefordshire and Merseyside have dropped out.

Increasing problems

RAC Insurance reports that vehicle thefts have risen to their highest level for four years. More than 150,000 cars, vans and motorcycles were reported as stolen in 2018-19.

Range Rover and Land Rover top the league table for the most stolen vehicles across the UK. In fact the Range Rover models – Sport followed by the Vogue and the Autobiography – occupied the top three.

One £120k Range Rover Autobiography was stolen from a supermarket carpark in Walthamstow, London, in just 80 seconds. Thieves are increasingly taking advantage of weaknesses in keyless entry systems.

The Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Defender also make the top ten. These six models alone account for 37% of all stolen cars recovered by Tracker in 2020.

Don’t be surprised

“It is no surprise that London was the busiest region for vehicle thefts and recoveries in 2020 – it always is,” says Clive Wain, head of Police Liaison for Tracker. “The area accounts for as many recoveries as the next seven regions in our top ten, combined.”

The increase in exploiting keyless systems means that manufacturers are too slow in improving the technology. “Thieves exploiting keyless car technology should ring alarm bells for everyone, regardless of the make and model they drive,” adds Clive. “Thieves use sophisticated equipment to exploit keyless technology by hijacking the car key’s signal, typically from the security of the owner’s home, and remotely fooling the system into unlocking the doors and starting the engine.”

This is commonly known as a “relay attack” and accounted for 93% of all our recorded thefts in 2020. This nudged up from 92% in 2019 but represents a shocking 27% increase in the last 5 years.

Ford fights back

To help prevent vehicle theft, Ford has increased the number of models with security technology which disables keyless entry fobs when not in use to block illegal hacking.

A motion sensor inside Ford’s fobs detects when it has been stationary for longer than 40 seconds. This triggers a sleep mode, which will not respond to attempts to hack its signal via a “relay box”, or through the misuse of other specialist equipment. This mode is only deactivated when the fob is moved and comes within two metres of the vehicle.

The fob was introduced to Ford’s Fiesta and Focus in 2019. Figures from security analysts Retainagroup show that the number of thefts of the latest Fiesta have fallen by two-thirds compared with the number of previous Fiestas stolen.

Lockdowns and lows

Although lockdown measures in Spring of 2020 saw an overall reduction in general crime figures, Tracker said it saw vehicle theft increase once restrictions were lifted.

“Our July stolen recovery figures were up 50% compared to April and May, so car owners need to be extra vigilant as we move out of lockdown in the coming months,” states Clive.