What auto thieves in Ontario want and how you can stop them

Honda CR-Vs, like the one pictured here, were among the most commonly stolen vehicles in Ontario in 2020, according to Équité Association, which investigates and analyzes insurance fraud and crime. (Drivers Only/YouTube - image credit)
Honda CR-Vs, like the one pictured here, were among the most commonly stolen vehicles in Ontario in 2020, according to Équité Association, which investigates and analyzes insurance fraud and crime. (Drivers Only/YouTube - image credit)

With auto thefts in and around Toronto on the rise, you might be wondering if your car could be a target.

Indeed, an investigation by CBC Toronto found car thefts are up nearly 45 per cent in the city compared to last year — with three months still to go in 2022 — and up 54 per cent in Peel Region as of Aug. 31. That's on top of carjackings, which in Toronto are up 209 per cent from 2021 so far this year.

So what vehicles are thieves targeting and what can you do to stop them?

Most commonly stolen vehicles in 2020

According to Toronto police, the most commonly stolen vehicles have a push-to-start ignition — the ones with a key fob.

That lines up with what the Équité Association, which investigates and analyzes insurance fraud and crime, found when compiling its Top 10 list of stolen vehicles in Ontario for 2020.

In Ontario, the most commonly stolen vehicles include the Lexus RX Series, Honda CR-V Series and Honda Civic Series.

Top 10 most commonly stolen vehicles in Ontario for 2020

Here's the full list:

The list highlights a key trend in vehicle thefts across the country, Équité Association says: With more vehicles equipped with keyless entry remotes, electronic auto theft is on the rise Canada-wide.

"These are not young people who are stealing cars for joyrides or maybe a group that might steal a car in order to utilize it in a, a secondary criminal offence. These are professional criminals that have professional networks," said Michael Slack, director for auto theft for Ontario and Eastern Canada for Équité Association.

"And often the expertise of that specific network can influence the type of vehicle that's being stolen in your neighbourhood."

In other words, a group that's figured out how to get past the security of a given vehicle will likely go after more of them and drive up the number of thefts in a given area.

Use a 'layered' approach to deter thieves

Auto thieves want to get into your car and drive off with it as quickly as possible.

That's why Bryan Gast, vice-president of investigative services at Équité Association, suggests a a "layered approach" to make it more cumbersome for thieves — "anything that makes it more difficult for the criminals to steal that vehicle [and] adds time to what they need to do," he says.

But before looking at protection you can purchase, there are plenty of basic steps that cost nothing and can go a long way too, experts suggest.

First, there's the obvious: Always take your keys with you when you park, don't leave your vehicle running, make sure your doors and windows are closed and always set your emergency brake. And definitely don't leave the original ownership or insurance cards in your vehicle — consider a photocopy instead.

But here are some less commonly known tips that can help:

  • When parking, turn your wheels toward the curb to make it harder to tow away.

  • If you have a rear-wheel-drive car, back into your spot.

  • If you have a front-wheel-drive car, park facing forward.

Have a push-to-start vehicle?

If your vehicle has keyless ignition, there are some additional steps you can take to make it harder to steal.

  • Don't keep your fob key near your front door or near a window. Better yet, keep your fob in a signal-blocking pouch that's lined with material to block your fob from emitting a signal to your vehicle. That will prevent it from being intercepted and potentially reprogrammed by would-be thieves.

  • Avoid the walk-away lock. You know the one. You've parked your vehicle, you're walking away and you press the lock button from a distance. That, says Gast, creates a range that can leave your fob's signal vulnerable to being intercepted.

WATCH | CBC's Marketplace shows how a vehicle can be stolen in minutes:

Kill switches, window etching and other protections

Here are some other protective tools and measures that come at a cost, but that experts suggest can be valuable investments:

  • Consider installing an ignition kill switch to keep your vehicle from starting. If you do have one installed, you can also call your insurance company and ask for a discount.

  • You can also have your vehicle identification number (VIN) etched onto your window. Toronto police say doing this creates a visual deterrent for thieves as it's costly for them to change.

  • Install GPS tracking to help police track down your vehicle — and maybe even those who stole it.

  • Invest in an onboard diagnostic port block, either physical or electronic, to keep thieves from reprogramming a car's fob and disabling the security system.

  • Use a visible steering wheel lock to make your car harder to steal and create a visual deterrent for thieves.

What to do if your car is stolen?

  • Report it to the police right away. The sooner police have that information and can enter it into the Canadian Police Information Centre database, the better chance there is that an officer will identify it on the road, says Slack from the Équité Association.

  • Then, report it to your insurance company — something you won't have any trouble with if you've followed another tip on this list: keep your original documents at home so if thieves do take your vehicle, they aren't taking your documents too.

  • Finally, you may want to take a look at your insurance policy ahead of time to make sure it covers you for possible theft, says Matt Hands, senior director of insurance at Basic care insurance policies often don't cover auto thefts, so customers may want to consider comprehensive coverage and other top-ups like loss of use that gives you rental car benefits while your claim is ongoing and limited depreciation to protect the value of your vehicle longer.