Car Security

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May 17, 2021

Car security has always been a serious concern for motorists. Manufacturers know this – that’s why car security has dramatically improved over the years – but not overnight. takes a look at the facts around car security plus the past and present techniques both thieves and manufacturers employ.

Car theft in Australia

sydney street sign

Unfortunately, vehicle theft is still a problem in Australia in 2021, despite the huge advances in car security and general security, like CCTV.

Around 154 car thefts occur each day in Australia. Is that a lot? Yes.

Car thefts are typically measured per 100,000 people. Compared to other countries, Australia doesn’t have many bragging rights. Below are the top 10 countries by private vehicle theft per 100,000 people in the world as of 2018;

1: New Zealand – 1,172 private vehicle thefts per 100,000 people
2: Uruguay – 558.5
3: Italy – 232.8
4: USA – 228.9
5: Greece – 227.8
6: Sweden – 218.7
7: Australia – 214.1
8: Netherlands – 162.6
9: Chile – 129.7
10: Puerto Rico – 121.7

New Zealand? But why?

It’s difficult to pin down specific reasons but opportunity, ease of access to a high number of vehicles in quiet areas and a large number of vehicles compared to the population all play a role.

Top ten countries with lowest private vehicle theft per 100,000 people in 2016 – 2018 (excluding countries with no data);

10: Honduras – 34
9: Sri Lanka – 30
8: Azerbaijan – 25
7: Pakistan – 21
6: Indonesia – 10
5: Dominican Republic – 8
4: Jamaica – 7
3: Myanma – 6
2: Nepal – 4
1: Kenya – 3

But back to car security in Australia

“the most common way vehicles are stolen in Australia is by keys stolen in a burglary”

Fortunately, car theft has been declining over the last few decades. In 2008/9, around 1.1% of vehicles were stolen, that figure steadily decreased to around 0.6% in 2019/20.

In fact, in 2000, NSW reported 54,702 car thefts. Recently, that’s dropped down to around just over 12,000 per year for the state.

Today, the most common way vehicles are stolen in Australia is by keys stolen in a burglary. With keys and car security becoming much more advanced, hot-wiring / forced ignition is less common. To get around this, more thieves are breaking into houses just to steal car keys.

If you leave your car keys lying around at home, keep them hidden – that goes with spares too. Some people like to keep their car keys hanging on a hook near the front door. Think again. This means thieves only need to gain access to the door to steal your car.

Ways thieves are stealing cars in Australia today

In order from most common to least common;

1: Keys stolen in home burglary
2: Keys left in the car (an easy one to avoid)
3: Hot-wiring (more common with older cars)
4: Forged or copied keys
5: Vehicle taken without consent by someone known to the owner (family member / ‘friend’ for example)
6: Forgery or fraud (using fake payment methods)

What types of cars and from where?

Most common makes/models stolen in 2020;

1: Holden Commodore
2: Toyota HiLux
3: Toyota Corolla
4: Ford Falcon
5: Nissan Navara

Check the risk of theft to your vehicle by using Carsafe’s theft risk rating.

Areas with highest reported car thefts in Australia;

1. Brisbane, QLD
2. Gold Coast, QLD
3. Logan, QLD
4. Hume, VIC
5. Moreton Bay, QLD
6. Casey, VIC
7. Townsville, QLD
8. Greater Dandenong, VIC
9. Blacktown, NSW
10. Whittlesea, VIC

Car security improvements

“This means a boundary or perimeter can be set in which the vehicle can operate.”

Like most aspects of cars, security and anti-theft systems have come a long way. Today’s security systems rely on sophisticated immobilisers, GPS tracking and even voice, face and fingerprint recognition.

For example, Teslas have a ‘sentry mode’ feature that records footage upon detection of movement around and inside the vehicle and can send alerts to the owner’s phone. Many new vehicles have app-integrated technology allowing owners to monitor and control functions.

Car apps offer great protection

BMW’s app for example, like many other car brand apps, allows owners to monitor the location of the vehicle and receive alerts if and when a door is opened or the alarm is triggered. Settings on the app can also limit the car’s speed and even geographic driving range, commonly used as a ‘valet mode’, but also handy for parents of young drivers.

This means a boundary or perimeter can be set in which the vehicle can operate. If the vehicle approaches the perimeter, a warning is displayed/sounded with the car coming to a complete halt if it travels beyond its set limit.

These apps can also allow the owner to sound the horn, flash the lights, turn on the A/C or lock/unlock the doors.

Thieves had it much easier in the past

car thief

The first known and recorded car theft happened in Paris in 1896 – a mechanic stole a Peugeot from a customer. The car was recovered and car security became a ‘thing’.

The first car security

In the early 1900s, removable steering wheels became the first widely adopted form of car security. The idea was to take the steering wheel with you so thieves couldn’t drive the car – not hugely practical, except for Mr Bean maybe.

Lockable doors and keys

It might seem obvious today, but car keys didn’t become standard until the 1920s. These early locks weren’t exactly thief-proof with many being picked with simple tools.

In the early 1980s, car locks began to improve and become more secure but many were still accessible with ‘80’s car thieves’ tool of choice; a screwdriver. In fact, some budget cars were faster to access and start with screwdrivers than their actual keys.

  • The tennis ball trick

Early car door locks were even pickable with a tennis ball. Thieves would cut a small hole in a tennis ball, place it over the lock then force air into the keyhole by hitting the ball, pushing the lock open with the sudden burst of air.

In the 1980s and 1990s, steering wheel locks (club locks) became a common anti-theft option. The devices ‘locked’ across a car’s steering wheel, making it impossible to drive without removing it. They have become a symbol of 1990s car nostalgia.


Despite dating back to 1918, immobilisers didn’t become mandatory in Australia until 2001. These electronic devices work by disabling the engine ignition until a matching key fob is used to start the car. This greatly reduces the ability to hot-wire a car.

Keep your car safe

There are a few simple things you can do to deter car thieves and increase car security. 

  • Avoid leaving your keys in obvious places, even at home.
  • Never leave valuables, bags or anything ‘interesting’ viewable through the windows.
  • Don’t park in dark areas on the street and avoid street parking at all if possible. Friday afternoons/evenings are a prime time for car theft, so be extra careful where you park if you go out for dinner on a Friday night.
  • If you have to park on the street, turn your wheels to the kerb to make it harder for the car to be pushed/towed.
  • Use aftermarket anti-theft devices like alarms, GPS trackers and kill switches if your car is getting old.
  • Beware of strangers engaging in conversation with you while you’re sitting in your car. Sometimes, criminals even intentionally bump cars from behind to gain access to the driver.
Not safe enough?

If your car is lacking modern security features, it might be time to upgrade to a more modern vehicle. The average age of stolen cars is around 12 years.

Fortunately, offers fast and simple car finance with competitive rates. Our large lender panel allows our clients to select and compare multiple finance options matched to their budget and needs.

Find out more about car security.

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