A person's hand holding and using a remote entry key to unlock a car.

Automobile Theft: Advocating for Change and Education

October 12, 2023 / Sarah Manley with Elliott Silverstein, Director Government Relations

I never thought my car was anything special. It’s my ‘grocery-getter’ and a way to get from point A to point B. But the other day when I arrived home, I noticed a conspicuous vehicle drive up, stop at the end of my driveway, and just sit there. They didn’t get out of their car or turn off the ignition, and the driver didn’t make eye contact with me.

My mind started racing. Could this person be looking to steal my car? Are they hoping to intercept the signal when I lock it remotely? Are they doing their research to see if my ‘grocery-getter’ could be a future target?

I got back in my car, opened the garage, and drove in. As I was closing the garage door, I saw the vehicle drive away.

What’s Fueling the Increase in Automobile Theft?

Several factors have contributed to the rise in auto theft over recent years. I spoke with Elliott Silverstein, Director of Government Relations for CAA Insurance to get his take. “Certainly, since the pandemic we’ve seen an increase in demand of vehicles and their parts and a decrease in supply,” says Elliott. “It used to be that people would only need to wait for luxury cars to be built. Today people wait months for most new cars, which has fueled the demand. Many of the vehicle thefts we’re seeing are models less than 2 years old.”

A shortage of vehicle parts is also driving the increase in theft and export of cars from Canada. “Import and export rules are not as strict in Canada as they are in the United States,” Elliott says. “This means it’s easier to get cars out of our country, which makes the entire process more enticing and lucrative for organized crime rings.”

Technology has played a role to the extent that it may have made cars easier to steal than in the past. “The sophistication that we see with technology in cars today has created the ease of convenience drivers want. But as with any computer system, these vehicle components are open to hacks and interception by thieves.”

Finding a Solution

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to solving the problem of auto theft and work needs to happen at multiple levels – federal, provincial, and municipal governments together all need to push for change.

At the federal level, the government can drive change with Transport Canada which institutes regulations for vehicle manufacturing in Canada. “The last time a major change was initiated was in 2007 when immobilizers were introduced,” recalls Elliott. “But back then smartphones weren’t as prevalent, and they certainly weren’t communicating with our vehicles. If there was pressure on manufacturers to make systems harder to hack, as an example, this would make it harder for vehicles to be stolen.”

The federal government is also responsible for import/export regulations and border control.

Police play a large role in the solution as they can educate drivers on how to protect themselves. New provincial funding for police is already showing an impact and large crime rings are being stopped.

Insurance companies, who are also provincially regulated, have an opportunity to increase awareness and inform the public. “CAA Insurance is taking steps to help people understand the problem and what they can do to prevent becoming victims of auto theft,” says Elliott. “Through our research, we’ve learned that between 75 - 80% of people are in the habit of locking their cars and keeping valuables out of site, which is great, but basic auto theft prevention doesn’t go far enough these days. We also learned that less than 10% are investing in anti-theft deterrent devices. As an industry, we need to demonstrate to consumers what else they can do to protect themselves.” Even at the municipal level, cracking down on communities where thefts are more common can contribute to the solution.

Building Awareness and Pushing Education

According to the Solicitor General of Ontario, a car is stolen every 48 minutes, but fewer than 30% of drivers are worried their vehicle is at risk. People may have a false sense of security, especially if their car isn’t on the publicized list of the most stolen vehicles.

“Our research showed that about 40% park their vehicles in their garages,” notes Elliott. “You often hear ‘there’s not enough room in the garage’ because other items are being stored. Well, your car is likely your second-most valuable asset. To me, isn’t that more important to protect than your box of baseball memorabilia?”

Many drivers may not realize the impact that steering wheel lock devices, such as “The Club”, has in preventing auto theft. If thieves come prepared with a small laptop to hack your car’s computer system, dealing with these devices is going to add extra minutes to their process. They also will need a hacksaw to get through the device, which isn’t usually part of the toolkit anymore. In many cases, when faced with this deterrent, thieves will just move on to the next car.

Elliott does acknowledge that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. And, brokers have a golden opportunity to provide advice to clients on what they can do. These are easy steps that can be taken towards prevention, at little or no cost.

  • Park your vehicle in the garage. If you have a garage, spend some time cleaning it out to make room for your vehicle.
  • If you have multiple vehicles, park the less expensive one closer to the street.
  • Secure your parked vehicle with an anti-theft deterrent device, such as a steering wheel lock, brake pedal lock or wheel & tire lock device like "The Club". Install this wherever your car is parked – at home, at work, at the mall, etc.
  • Store your key fob in a Faraday box/pouch to block its signal from being hacked.
  • Install motion sensors on your driveway and a camera to capture any activity.
  • Cover the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) so that it’s not visible on the dashboard.
  • Store an Air Tag in your vehicle to track your vehicle should it be stolen.
  • Never leave a vehicle running unattended.
  • Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Make note of strange vehicles parked on your street and talk to your neighbours about what you’ve noticed.
  • Don’t store your keys and key fobs near the front door as signals can be picked up from outside your home.
  • Share any suspicious activity with law enforcement.

Working Together

Changes need to be implemented at various levels of the government, but everyone can play a role in the solution. Drivers can take preventative steps, and as their broker, you can offer advice to educate and build awareness.

“To see success in eradicating the problem, everybody must approach it with an open mind, and recognize what needs to be done and what needs to stop,” says Elliott. “No one group is going to be responsible for solving this – we all need to work together.”