A look at car thefts in Canada

A flag with the Honda logo is displayed on brand new car at a dealership on December 2, 2011. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

TORONTO – Consumers are encouraged to be on an alert after police have noticed an increase of theft of Toyotas in some Toronto neighbourhoods.

In May, York Regional police arrested two men in connection with a series of auto thefts. Police said that “recent spikes in thefts of Honda and Toyota vehicles through the regions prompted the investigation.”  In total, six stolen vehicles were recovered as well as two trailers.

In April, Ottawa police arrested and charged seven people believed to be responsible for over 100 vehicle thefts between May and October 2012. The cars were all taken apart for scrap and sold to a local business.

Rick Dubin, vice-president of Investigative Services at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), said that on a national level, there has been an ongoing trend of reduced numbers of stolen vehicles across Canada. In 2011, numbers showed that auto theft was down 11 per cent from the year 2010.

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“The bad news is that recovery rates continue to decline when compared to previous years,” said Dubin.

IBC said that even though numbers aren’t on the rise, on average, a car is stolen every three and half minutes in Canada—about 420 a day.

Every year, it is estimated that about 40 people die and 65 are injured as a direct result of auto theft. Stolen cars are often sold for a quick profit—sometimes to fund other criminal activity like drug smuggling or even terrorism, said the IBC.

What happens to stolen cars and which ones are the most stolen? Global News takes a quick look at car thefts in Canada.

Lack of break-and-enter signs

Signs of break-and-enter into a vehicle might not be obvious because thieves may have acquired a coded key for the vehicle.

One way to acquire a key legally is through a dealership.

“It is the responsibility of the dealership to ensure they are giving a coded key to the real owner of the vehicle,” said Dubin. “In many cases, organized crime has a shocking list of the specific vehicles they want to acquire and they will target those specific vehicles and at the appropriate time, steal them.”

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Dubin said it’s not a particular individual that is targeted (i.e. John Smith) but if thieves have a “shopping list,” they have specific vehicles in mind that they want to steal and will take the ones that are the easiest to take—like those on the street or driveway.

The top 10 most stolen cars

According to its 2012 list of the top 10 most stolen vehicles in Canada, the IBC said that the “hot target” for thieves continues to be the Honda Civic.

“Civics have always been high on the list,” read the report. “It’s a popular vehicle for young people and many of them are stolen and chopped for parts.”

In 2012, the Civic replaced the 2009 Toyota Venza four-door as the most frequently stolen vehicle nationally, while in Quebec, the car is the second most stolen vehicle.  Dubin says that both Quebec and Ontario have the highest number of auto thefts in Canada.

Below is a list of the top 10 most frequently stolen vehicles in Canada, according to 2012 statistics:

  1. 2000 HONDA CIVIC SiR 2DR
  2. 1999 HONDA CIVIC SiR 2DR
  4. 2007 FORD F350 SD 4WD PU
  6. 2006 FORD F350 SD 4WD PU
  8. 2005 FORD F350 SD 4WD PU
  9. 2004 FORD F350 SD 4WD PU
  10. 1999 ACURA INTEGRA 2DR

The business of car thefts

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The IBC said that auto theft is a big business in Canada and that many of the vehicles that are stolen are 4 wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles.

“We are never surprised to see a lot of all-terrain vehicles on the list,” said Dubin. “Many of these higher-end vehicles are targeted by organized crime for shipment overseas – to places like West Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where there is a lucrative market for big, rugged vehicles.”

Dubin said that organized crime rings are stealing the trucks in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, changing the vehicle identification numbers (VIN), and selling them. About 50 per cent of stolen vehicles usually end up in “chop shops,” where they are dismantled and parts are sold separately to businesses often unaware that the parts are stolen.

Dubin said it’s the parts of the vehicle that can make auto theft a lucrative business.

“They are worth more when they are ‘chopped up’ than they are when they are sold in its entire state,” Dubin told Global News.

Other stolen vehicles are often abandoned at random locations or sold to the hands of unsuspecting consumers.

Tips for consumers

Dubin said you want to make it as difficult as possible for a thief to acquire your vehicle. Some tips for consumers with vehicles include:

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  • Never leave your vehicle running unattended—even if you are quickly stepping out of your car for a “few moments”
  • Park in well-lit areas
  • Always roll up your car windows and lock the doors. Do not leave any key in your car and keep them with you
  • Never leave valuables or packages in full view. Place them in the trunk
  • Park your car in the garage at night

– With files from Mark Carcasole, Global News

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