Car thefts are up in Montreal. Here's how to prevent your vehicle from being next
When Matt Graham lugged his suitcases out to his car to pack it up for a family vacation, he was shocked to discover it had been stolen from outside his home in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.
"It sucked," he said of the October 2020 theft. "The last thing you think is you're going to go out to get your car and your car's not there."
So when Graham got a replacement vehicle — the 2020 model of his never recovered 2019 Honda CR-V — he decided to better protect it by equipping it with a tracking system.
That made it easier for police to locate when, not 10 months later, one or more thieves made off with his replacement car, too — ahead of yet another family vacation.
"We couldn't even believe it," Graham said. "This is not possible that our car is stolen twice within the same year. Like, you think once in a lifetime is enough."
Graham is part of a growing list of Montrealers who have lost their cars to thieves in recent years.
Reported vehicle thefts in Montreal
The number of car thefts in the city has exploded, increasing 43.9 per cent over the five-year average, according to the Montreal police service's annual report.
In 2021, the SPVM counted more than 6,500 vehicle thefts in the city — an increase of 36 per cent compared to the previous year
Honda's CR-V, Ford F-Series, Lexus's NX Series are among some of the most popular models of cars with thieves in Quebec.
Experts say a pandemic-driven global shortage of semiconductor chips used in vehicles, which has caused several automakers to halt or slow production over the last two years, has contributed to the spike in thefts.
"We saw a big increase... but I got to tell you, we didn't see the peak yet," said Charles Rabbat, a former police officer who is now vice-president of business development at Intelli-Force Sécurité and a consultant for Sherlock anti-theft systems.
Rabbat said the scarcity of cars, the high demand and soaring prices are driving up thefts, adding he expects to see a surge in thefts of smaller vehicles due to high gas prices.
"It's the situation, the economy in the world. If you don't protect your car, there's a big chance you're going to be targets from organized crime."
Theft is easier than ever
Advanced technology has made it quicker and easier than ever to steal vehicles — sometimes in less than 10 seconds without adequate protection, according to Rabbat.
These days, thieves can break into a car, hack into the on-board diagnostics (OBD) port and reprogram a smart key.
A device can also be used to capture the signal of a car key fob that is inside a house and then amplify the signal to open car doors.
"We've gotten rid of the conventional key, but the car makers didn't really replace it with something equivalent," said George Iny, executive director of the Automobile Protection Association (APA).
"So you had in the older cars a physical, mechanical and an electronic protection… Now you're relying entirely on electronics."
To prevent thieves from amplifying signals from your fobs, Iny suggests placing your smart keys in a metal box, away from your front door, "so that it's not trying to communicate continually with the car when the car is parked."
Another suggestion is to buy a small metal cap, which protects the OBD port to stop thieves from being able to plug in and reprogram smart keys.
How to drive away thieves
Rabbat said making your car as unappealing to thieves as possible – either by marking certain key parts of it or making it more time consuming to steal – is crucial to keeping it safe.
"No thief who steals a car for pieces will steal a car that's engraved," he said.
Although it may be old-fashioned, Rabbat said installing an anti-theft bar, or club, to a steering wheel "will [make it] take 30 seconds too long to steal for a specialized thief."
He also suggested installing a vehicle tracking system, like one offered by Tag in Montreal, to improve your chances of getting your vehicle back.
"You don't have any tracking device or any engraving? It's in a [shipment] container," said Rabbat, referring to the number of stolen vehicles shipped out of the Port of Montreal.
Meanwhile, Iny says says parking in your garage when possible, and buying less popular vehicles — such as compact cars or mid-sized sedans — can steer off theft.
"Choice of vehicle is one of the reasons your vehicle will be stolen," Iny said.
Graham learned that lesson the hard way, but he said he's not taking any more chances with his current Honda CR-V.
In addition to the Tag system, he bought a club for the car's steering wheel.
"I'm not sure that that will stop a car thief. If a car thief wants to get take your car, I'm pretty sure they're just going to get it."
"We just figured we might as well."