For example, the Metropolitan Police says that of the 24,000 vehicles stolen in London last year, 6000 were stolen without their owners’ keys, the majority of them keyless vehicles. More than 70% of such vehicles were high-value Land Rovers and BMWs but they also included Ford Fiestas and Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans.
Meanwhile, Autocar has seen confidential police reports detailing thefts of cars in London by week. It makes surprising reading. For example, during one February weekend, 17 Range Rovers were stolen across London, while in just one area, two Land Rover Defenders, one Range Rover and one Range Rover Evoque were stolen.
However, criminal gangs aren’t only targeting high-value cars like these. Again, during one recent weekend, five Fiat 500 Lounge-edition models and four 11-plate Ford Galaxys were stolen, suggesting that criminals are stealing to order.
Sammy Miller, from Birmingham, knows exactly what the owners of these cars have been through. Her two-year-old Range Rover Autobiography, which would cost around £100,000 today, was stolen from her driveway in less than 30 seconds by a keyless car thief who simply opened the door, got in and drove off.
She was in her house at the time but knew nothing about the theft until Tracker, a vehicle location company, rang her to ask if she knew her car was being driven. “I looked out of the window and couldn’t believe it: my car was gone,” Miller said later.
When she looked at her CCTV system, she was shocked to see how easy it had been for the thief to steal her car. “He just opened it, got in and was gone in 30 seconds,” she said. Fortunately, Tracker and the police located Miller’s Range Rover less than an hour later, parked up and abandoned.
With many cars stolen in this way, the outcome for their owners is rather less fortunate. Many are shipped out of the country, to Africa or eastern Europe, as a whole vehicle. Meanwhile, others are simply driven to so-called slaughterhouses where they are stripped down to their component parts for sale to the highest bidder. Typically, a Range Rover engine will make £1000 and a whole vehicle £10,000.
Sure enough, as the police were patrolling the bleak, bitterly cold A13 near Dagenham, another police team was cracking open a collection of suspicious-looking shipping containers at the Port of Felixstowe, 75 miles away. Inside, they found mountains of stolen car parts as well as five complete Range Rovers, some buried under mattresses and behind stolen bicycles.
Back in the ‘reception’ area off the A13, news of their colleagues’ success was spreading among the shivering police officers. Success here would soon warm them up and, sure enough, bang on 2pm, it came in the form of a brilliant white Range Rover shepherded in by two police cars. Its two occupants were quickly surrounded as officers, some with sniffer dogs, probed every inch of the vehicle. Eventually, the pair were led away, in handcuffs.
In truth, the car didn’t look like one worth risking your freedom for, being a touch too old and ‘Essex’-looking. The driver eventually returned, free of his cuffs, before casually driving it away. His mate, meanwhile, remained behind. He’d been arrested for carrying a knife.
Detective chief superintendent Carl Bussey, who led the operation, was unfazed. “The real point of this week’s operation is to educate motorists about the risk ofkeyless theft,” he said. “We’ll be bringing drivers in to tell them how they can help themselves from being victims of this growing crime.”