Car thefts have surged in some areas of the UK following a shortage of parts resulting from the pandemic.
Police have reported that thieves are stripping cars “in a matter of hours” — and in some cases minutes — to sell the parts at high prices.
Nearly 89,000 vehicle thefts were recorded during the year to March 7 by 34 of the 46 UK police forces that provided figures in response to freedom of information requests.
The statistics suggest that an average of 244 vehicles are being stolen every day, or one every six minutes. Six forces recorded an increase in thefts compared with the same period two years earlier, before the Covid outbreak.
Superintendent Jim Munro of West Midlands police advised motorists not to assume vehicles were safe even if they were left in car parks for only a few minutes. “What we’ve seen over the pandemic is there are some issues around parts supply coming into the motor industry and delays with builds,” he said. “There is a desire for certain vehicle parts and this is fuelling the theft of motor vehicle crimes.”
The pandemic caused manufacturers to shut factories around the world. The motor industry has now been hit by a significant shortage of semiconductor chips and other components.
The figures obtained by the PA news agency showed that vehicle thefts had risen most sharply in South Yorkshire, where they were up by 28 per cent against the last pre-pandemic year.
Police in the City of London reported the second highest rise at 25 per cent. Forces in the West Midlands recorded an increase of 19 per cent and there was a 12 per cent rise in Surrey.
Munro described the process as “unauthorised vehicle dismantling” in so-called chop shops. He said stolen vehicles were taken to industrial units, where “people will work through the night . . . and sometimes these vehicles have been stripped in a matter of hours. The parts are then being sold on and the shells have been waiting for scrap.”
Senior officers have said that they are employing a variety of tactics to slow the tide of thefts. In the West Midlands in the past year more than 2,000 suspects have been arrested in an operation that has recovered about 1,000 stolen cars. Officers said that several chop shops had been put out of action.
Vehicle and parts manufacturers are assessing which makes of car are most vulnerable so that security can be improved.
According to Munro, many people wrongly assume most vehicle thefts occur outside homes and that cars are safe when parked for a brief time in retail parks and similar locations.
“Criminals are exploiting this,” he said, adding: “They’re using devices in order to block signals where people are trying to lock their cars with their fobs.”