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Vehicle Security Guidance

Vehicle crime is a major issue that affects thousands of people each year. Despite crime numbers falling significantly since their height twenty years ago, recent years have seen a steady increase in the number of incidents.

While the insurance industry and vehicle manufacturers have already taken many steps to improve vehicle security through the Thatcham Research Consumer Security Ratings (CSR) and more sophisticated security on new vehicle, vehicle crime continues to pose a significant problem. This guide gives guidance on how to keep your vehicle safe from theft by explaining:

How to keep your vehicle and its contents safe

The following section provides general advice to help keep your vehicle safe:

1. Understand your vehicle’s security features

Before purchasing a vehicle, it is important to understand the security features. Ask your vehicle dealer about the security of your vehicle and read the vehicle manual. Most dealers will be able to provide you with information on the security features and advice on how to improve the vehicle’s security further. It is also important to understand the Thatcham Consumer Security Rating (CSR). The CSR assesses the security of every new car, in particular whether it is able to withstand a relay theft attack,1 has a certified immobiliser and alarm fitted and has other security features such as double-locking (which prevents the car being opened from the inside) and wheel security. Consumers can find out the CSR of their new car here

2. Parking

Always try to park your vehicle in a secure and well-lit location, ideally with CCTV, such as in a private car park. If you have a garage or driveway, park your vehicle there. This should deter thieves from attempting to steal or break into your vehicle.2 You could consider a garage door alarm for an extra layer of security.

3. Lock your vehicle

Never leave your vehicle unlocked, even if away for only a few minutes. Always make sure you lock your vehicle, close all windows, and turn of the engine when leaving it unattended. Always physically check that the vehicle is locked and, where possible, always apply the vehicle’s double locking system or fit a steering wheel lock.

4. Hide and mark your valuables

When leaving your vehicle unattended, for any length of time, make sure all valuables are either out of the vehicle or, if not possible to remove them, hidden from view (e.g. in the boot or glove compartment). This can include sat-navs, stereos, tools, handbags, laptops, and any personal documents such as the vehicle registration or insurance documents. It may also be worth marking your property with a marking solution that is only visible under Ultraviolet (UV) light and registering your valuables on a free online property database. This will help the police trace your valuables if they are ever stolen or lost.

5. Keep the keys safe

Always keep your keys in a secure place when not using the vehicle. Do not leave them in the ignition when leaving the vehicle unattended, as this could both present an easy target for thieves and invalidate your insurance cover. When storing them in your home, don’t leave them visible near external doors and windows, as thieves will sometimes break into homes to steal a vehicle’s keys.3 If you own a key fob, store it as far away from the vehicle as possible or in signal-blocking pouches, such as specifically designed faraday pouches, and turn off the signal overnight, to prevent keyless entry theft. In circumstances, where mobile phones can be used as keys, you should take the same precautions as you would with a traditional key as outlined above.

6. Check the alarm

Alarms act as a strong deterrent to opportunistic thieves. Most new vehicles are fitted with alarms as standard. Regularly test the alarm to make sure it still works. If you own an older vehicle, consider fitting an alarm to further increase your vehicle’s security.

7. Consider installing an immobiliser

Immobilisers can add an additional layer of security to your vehicle. Mechanical immobilisers, such as steering wheel lock or gear clamp can both act as a visible deterrent to thieves and prevent thieves from driving the vehicle away. Built-in electrical immobilisers, which stops a vehicle from being started unless the correct digital key or token is present, will prevent thieves from driving your vehicle away. As with alarms, most new vehicles have an electrical immobiliser fitted as standard, so owners of older vehicles should consider having one installed.4 Even if your vehicle does have an electrical immobiliser, it is worth installing a mechanical immobiliser as well to provide an additional security layer.

8. Consider installing a tracking device

Installing a tracking device can help the police trace your vehicle if it has been stolen and aid in the recovery of the vehicle and its contents. There are a variety of tracking devices available on the market including standard GPS trackers and more advanced VHF trackers. Vehicles fitted with telematics devices often incorporate vehicle tracking as standard. Some even have the ability to immobilise the vehicle remotely. It is important to make sure the subscription on the tracking device is maintained.

9. Ensure vulnerable parts are protected

Install the appropriate security measures to secure the vulnerable parts of your vehicle, such as locking wheel nuts or a catalytic converter lock. Speak to your vehicle dealer or insurer for advice on how best to secure your vehicle and its parts. You can also use a UV pen or etching to mark your vehicle’s vulnerable parts with the vehicle identification number (VIN) to deter thieves and make recovery easier. More information is available in the Theft of parts section.

10. Insurance

Insurance companies can provide advice on improving the security of your vehicle, including suggesting additional security modifications. Insurers may be able to provide immediate assistance if your vehicle is stolen or broken into, such as use of a hire car and compensation for loss of personal possessions. It is important that you talk to your insurer to make sure you have the correct cover to suit your needs and read any policy documents carefully to understand the level of cover and any insurer requirements regarding vehicle security. Make sure you keep a copy of insurance documents outside the vehicle in case the vehicle is stolen.

  1. Relay Theft Attack is a method used by thieves to exploit vulnerabilities in keyless entry/start systems to gain access to a target vehicle. More information can be found in the New vehicles section.
  2. Park Mark: The Safer Parking Scheme is national standard for UK car parks, supported by the Home Office. The Park Mark Scheme assesses the management practices and security measures of car parks. Those that have appropriate measures such as CCTV in parking areas and staircases, good lighting, and good management practices, achieve the Park Mark standard. Car parks that do meet the standard display a prominent sign so they can be easily identified and can be found on the Park Mark website: http://www.parkmark.co.uk/.
  3. The ABI Guide to Home Security provides advice on keeping your home secure from theft: https://www.abi.org.uk/globalassets/sitecore/files/documents/publications/public/migrated/home/abi-guide-to-home-security.pdf
  4. Aftermarket security devices, such as immobilisers and trackers can vary in quality and effectiveness. It is important to choose a device that meets your security needs and you are confident will perform when needed. Thatcham Research rigorously tests all new devices and certify those that meet their standards. ‘Thatcham Approved’ security devices can be hound here: https://www.thatcham.org/thatcham-security-certifications/

How to protect new vehicles

New vehicles have better and more sophisticated security than older models but are still vulnerable to theft. Given their valuable components and parts, they pose an attractive target for thieves.

One of the most common tactics committed by thieves is keyless vehicle theft, also known as relay attack.

Thieves take advantage of a vulnerability in the keyless technology by finding a vehicle parked close to the owner’s house – where the vehicle key is usually kept. Vehicle thieves work in pairs in relay attacks. One criminal will hold an amplification device close to the vehicle door. The device will relay received signals to an accomplice who is holding another device up against the front wall of a home. The second device will transmit the relayed signal into the house to the key. When the key in the house receives the signal, it replies in a normal manner.

This fools the vehicle’s keyless entry system into thinking that the key is close by (usually these keys have a range of two metres), enabling one of the thieves to gain entry to the vehicle.

The On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) port is another feature on new vehicles that thieves may exploit. In normal usage, the OBD port is used to access the vehicle’s computer. Thieves will attach a bypass device to the port and can then use this to disable the alarm or immobiliser and unlock and start the vehicle.

The most important factor to counter the theft of new vehicles is knowing and understanding the security features of the vehicle.

When purchasing a new vehicle, it is important to consider the Thatcham Consumer Security Rating. Thatcham Research has launched consumer security ratings to help consumers better understand the theft risk of new cars (since 2019). The ratings assess the security of new cars, in particular whether measures to address vulnerabilities in keyless entry or start systems have been adopted and give them a rating from Unacceptable to Superior. To achieve a Superior rating, the car must have a certified immobiliser and alarm fitted, be able to withstand a relay theft attack and have other features such as double-locking and wheel security. Any car which is still vulnerable to theft via its keyless entry and start systems will automatically be awarded a Poor rating.

It is also important to talk to the dealer the vehicle is purchased from. They will be able to provide in-depth information on the vehicle’s security and advice on where it can be improved.

There are several other ways you can protect your new vehicle from becoming a target:

Vehicle tips

Theft of Parts

Theft of vehicle parts is another growing issue. These can range from theft of catalytic converters; to stripping of doors, seats, and lights; to stolen radios and built-in satnavs.

Catalytic converters are one of the most common parts targeted by thieves. Catalytic converters are present in all vehicles, and are used to convert exhaust emissions into less harmful substances. Due to their vulnerable position on the outside of the vehicle and their valuable components, these are often an attractive target for thieves. Thieves are able to remove the converter from the underside of the vehicle in a matter of seconds using cutting tools and make a getaway before anyone notices. Thieves will then strip the precious metals from the converter and sell them. The replacement of converters can be an expensive and slow task given the rare and short supply of components.

There are several ways vehicle parts can be protected:

  • Check if your vehicle is at risk of being targeted by thieves. Older hybrid models are particularly at risk of being targeted.
  • It is important to install the appropriate security measures to secure the vulnerable parts of your vehicle. Speak to your vehicle dealer or insurer for advice on how best to secure your vehicle and its parts. These can include a cat lock to prevent catalytic convertor theft, adding a tilt sensor or marking the serial number into the parts.5
  • Park safely in a secure, well-lit location and ideally with CCTV, such as in a private car park. If you have a garage or a driveway, park your vehicle there. This will deter thieves from attempting to steal or break into your vehicle.

5. A tilt sensor triggers the alarm when the vehicle is tilted or jacked up.

Motorcycle security

Motorcycle theft and theft from motorcycles is another issue that affects thousands of people each year. 

The following advice can help you keep your motorcycle secure and safe from theft:

  • When parking your motorcycle, try to park in an area that is well-lit, with CCTV and plenty of thoroughfare. If possible, use designated motorcycle parking places with a stand and security loop.
  • Always lock your motorcycle and set the alarm. Consider using a variety of different locks (such as disc, crook and chain locks). If leaving your motorcycle for some time, make sure it is locked to something secure. Test the alarm regularly and make sure it is Thatcham, MCIA or Sold Secure approved.
  • Thieves often steal a bike by breaking the steering lock and wheeling it away. Use a chain lock through the back wheel (the front wheel can be removed). Secure your bike, with the lock taut to an immovable object such as a ground anchor or street furniture.
  • Use a motorcycle cover. A cover helps conceal the bike from potential thieves.
  • Mark your motorcycle and individual parts with the registration or vehicle identification number. This will both deter thieves and make it easier for the police to identify and recover your motorcycle if it is stolen. 

Commercial vehicle security

Theft from commercial vehicles, in particular vans, is a growing problem in the UK. 

The following advice can help keep your commercial vehicles safe:

  • Always lock your vehicle doors and windows when leaving it unattended. Keep the keys safe and secure when not using the vehicle.
  • Consider adding additional security measures to your vehicle. Additional locks such as deadlocks and slamlocks, alarms and vehicle trackers can help keep your vehicle more secure by making it harder for thieves to break in, acting as a deterrent and making it easier to recover if stolen.
  • Secure the contents of your vehicle. Either remove all items overnight or use secure storage boxes to make the contents harder to access. Mark each item to make it easier to identify or recover if stolen. Consider warning signs stating that ‘No tools are kept in this vehicle’ as a deterrent to thieves. Ensure that the contents of the vehicle (e.g. stock or equipment) are insured and you understand the policy conditions (i.e. whether contents can be left in the vehicle or not).
  • Secure the vulnerable parts of your vehicle. Theft of vehicle parts, such as catalytic converters, can be reduced by adding appropriate security measures.
    Park your vehicle in a sensible location, ideally in a locked garage or well-lit area with CCTV and near occupied buildings. Park against a hard surface such as a wall or garage door to make it harder for thieves to access the doors.

What to do if you are a victim of vehicle crime?

The following steps will help the insurance claims process run as smoothly as possible.

  1. Report the crime to the police
    If your vehicle has been stolen, make sure you have information concerning your registration number, make, model and colour of vehicle close at hand. This will make it easier for the police to track down your vehicle and recover it.
    If someone has broken into your vehicle, contact the police with details of the time and location of the offence, details of what damages have been caused and details of what items have been stolen or damaged.6
    Make sure to ask for a crime reference number as you will need this for any further contact with the police and when contacting your insurer.

  2. Contact your insurance company
    Your insurance company will talk you through what happens next with your specific claim. It is important to supply your insurance company with as much information as possible about the stolen items or vehicle and the method used by the thieves. This will help insurers in tracking the stolen items or vehicle and protect vehicles in the future.
    Theft claims can take longer to process if your vehicle has been stolen. This is to allow time for the police to investigate the crime and recover the vehicle if possible so the insurance company may wait to see if the vehicle is recovered before settling a claim. A stolen vehicle can be declared a write-off if it is recovered in a condition beyond repair, or where it would cost more to repair than its value and formally written off by your insurer. If your vehicle is stolen and not recovered, it cannot be declared a write-off. Your insurer will contact you to agree a valuation for your stolen vehicle and discuss the cost of a replacement.

  3. Get support
    Being a victim of crime can be a distressing and worrying time but there is free support and advice available for you to you including:
    - emotional support
    - counselling
    - finding somewhere safe to stay
    - finding someone to speak for you and get the help you need specialist support for crimes, including domestic abuse and sexual violence

If you have been a victim of crime in England and Wales use the Victim and Witness Information website to find support in your local area or contact Victim Support. If you have been a victim of crime in Scotland or Northern Ireland, contact Victim Support Scotland or Victim Support NI for help and advice.

If your possessions are stolen from your vehicle you may be able to claim under your home contents or your motor insurance – you cannot claim on both. Some home insurance policies include extensions that cover personal belongings outside of the home. Making a claim on your home insurance for your stolen possessions could protect your no claims discount on your motor insurance policy.

The exact terms and conditions of motor insurance policies and claims processes will differ between insurers so it is important to always understand the level of cover your policy provides, any policy exclusions or claims conditions. Speak to your insurer if you are unsure about any aspects of your policy.

6 If you or a neighbour has a private CCTV system, it may be worth reviewing the footage as these can include information useful to the police and insurance company

How the insurance industry is working to combat vehicle crime

The insurance industry invests millions of pounds each year in combating vehicle crime and helping consumers protect their vehicles. Below are just some examples of the work the industry does to keep consumers safe:

Thatcham Research
Thatcham Research is an industry funded research centre focused on vehicle safety, security, and repair. Established in 1969, Thatcham works and engages with vehicle manufacturers, regulators, law enforcement agencies and the insurance industry to provide a holistic view of the benefits or shortcomings of vehicle technologies and aims to contain and reduce the cost of motor insurance claims while maintaining safety standards. Over the years, Thatcham has developed several tools and technologies to combat vehicle crime and improve vehicle security in the UK.

Thatcham Consumer Security Rating
Thatcham have developed the Consumer Security Rating which helps consumers better understand the theft risk of new cars and encourage carmakers to bring in fixes. Thatcham assesses all new vehicles security and gives them a rating, from Unacceptable to Superior.

For vehicles to achieve a Superior rating they must have a certified immobiliser and alarm fitted, be able to withstand a relay theft attack and other features such as double-locking and wheel security. Any vehicle which is still vulnerable to theft via its keyless entry and start systems will automatically be awarded a Poor rating. 

The rating applies to all cars launched from 2019 and is updated as new cars are introduced into the market.

Thatcham Security Certification
The Security Certification provides reassurance around the functionality, design and performance of alarms, immobilisers, tracking systems and other security devices to consumers.
Each product is rigorously tested to predefined criteria established by Thatcham Research and, where appropriate, its partnering organisations. This testing is intended to provide confidence in the products functionality, performance, and an objective evaluation of its capabilities.

First developed in the 1990s alongside the New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA) in response to the high levels of vehicle crime, these certification categories have become an industry standard and will continue to be as new technologies and devices are introduced.

5Stars
Over the past few years, vehicle theft has moved from physical entry methods to electronic intervention and keyless entry. Enhanced cyber security is becoming more paramount and the 5Stars initiative seeks to address this threat. A UK government funded project, 5Stars aims to research and develop an assurance framework for assessing the cyber security of vehicles, as well as a cyber security rating for consumers.