Vol. 79, No. 3Just the facts

Man trying to break into car with screwdriver.

Auto theft


Stealing vehicles is a lucrative business for criminals in Canada. As a result, auto theft is an unfortunate reality that many Canadians deal with each year. It crosses all boundaries of criminals from petty break and enters to grand theft auto, and after more than 10 years of decline, auto theft is once again on the rise.

  • Each year, automobile thefts cost Canadians close to $1 billion, says the Insurance Bureau of Canada. This can be broken down to $542 million for insurers to fix or replace stolen vehicles, $250 million in police, health care and court system costs, and the rest for correctional services.
  • According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, on average, a car is stolen every seven minutes in Canada.
  • It's estimated that about 40 people die and 65 people are injured as a direct result of auto theft every year.
  • Hamilton Police Service says the most common location for vehicle thefts are large, anonymous parking lots like the ones at shopping malls, automotive dealerships, residential driveways and unlocked garages.
  • Criminals steal vehicles for several reasons, including to sell abroad, often with their vehicle identification number (VIN) intact. These vehicles are immediately packed and shipped to be sold for more than their original market value.
  • Domestically, vehicles are given a false VIN and sold to unsuspecting consumers or they're sold for parts. Some cars are stolen simply to joyride or get somewhere, while others are stolen to commit another crime.
  • Vehicles that are stolen to commit another crime are often recovered — abandoned and damaged — within 48 hours of being stolen.
  • The Insurance Bureau of Canada says an experienced thief can steal a car in as little as 30 seconds.
  • In B.C., a unit was created to deal specifically with auto theft. Twenty-two specialized police auto theft investigators from seven police forces in the Greater Vancouver area, including the RCMP, make up the Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team (IMPACT).
  • IMPACT uses bait cars — cars that are owned by the police and are intended to be stolen — to track the location, speed and direction of travel of the vehicle, which is tracked by police dispatchers. The dispatcher co-ordinates the police response and disables the car with the click of a mouse, which allows for the quick arrest of the thieves.
  • Motor vehicle theft increased in Calgary to 7,684 thefts in 2015 from 4,499 incidents in 2014. The growing number of thefts, including auto theft, has pushed the police-reported crime rate in Alberta up by 30 per cent.
  • The increase in Alberta has contributed to the first increase in the national police-reported crime rate in 12 years, says Statistics Canada. In 2015, there were 78,849 cars reported stolen in Canada. That's a six per cent increase over the previous year.
  • In Coquitlam, B.C., after cracking an identity theft ring, RCMP investigators found that one out of three of the stolen identity documents like insurance papers, driver's licenses and passports being used to create fraudulent ID could be traced back to vehicle theft files.
  • To avoid being an easy target for car theft, the RCMP recommends that car owners lock vehicle doors and keep windows rolled up, park in the garage and lock it, park in well-lit and well-populated areas, take keys, garage openers and vehicle registration papers out of the vehicle when you leave it, and check on your vehicle regularly even if it's not being used.
  • The RCMP recommends that you don't do the following: leave spare keys in the car or leave spare keys in visible spots in your home, leave the car running, leave any purses, backpacks or other items unattended in the vehicle — even in the trunk. Make sure the vehicle has an immobilizer. If it doesn't, consider having one installed or using an anti-theft device.
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