Vehicle thefts have soared in Alberta — and the hottest targets might surprise you

Older Ford pickup trucks are among the most targeted vehicles for theft in Alberta.  (Shutterstock - image credit)
Older Ford pickup trucks are among the most targeted vehicles for theft in Alberta. (Shutterstock - image credit)

Vehicle thefts soared sharply in Alberta last year, resulting in record insurance claims — and what's being stolen differs dramatically from in other provinces, according to a new report.

Alberta had an 18.3-per-cent increase in vehicle thefts from 2021 to 2022, according to the yearly Vehicle Theft Trend Report released Tuesday by the not-for-profit insurance industry group Équité Association.

Vehicle thefts by province/region in 2022

While the figure for Alberta was in the double digits, other provinces notched considerably larger upticks. Quebec and Ontario, for instance, both experienced 50-per-cent jumps in vehicle thefts. 

The combined effect of the thefts across Canada resulted in insurers losing over $1 billion, the report said, noting this was the first time in history that benchmark had been breached.

Thefts in Alberta stand out when compared with other provinces, says Bryan Gast, vice-president of investigative services at Équité Association.

"The vehicles that are being stolen are different, and the recovery rates are different," he said.

Unlike in Quebec and Ontario, where newer luxury vehicles are mainly being targeted for export by organized crime groups, thieves are stealing vehicles in Alberta for other purposes, Gast says.

Those purposes include stripping a vehicle for parts, using it in other crimes or changing a vehicle's identification number (VIN) and reselling it to unsuspecting Canadians (known as "re-vinning").

However, Alberta vehicles are also increasingly ending up in eastern ports for export to destinations such as West Africa and the Middle East, where North American vehicles are in high demand. 

"It's something that we hadn't seen as much in the past that we're starting see in the last year or so," Gast said. "It's starting to be a hybrid of what we're seeing in other places.…There's definitely an organized crime element to it."

These are the most targeted vehicles

The vehicles targeted in Alberta are generally larger pickup trucks, mostly older models.

According to Gast, the most-targeted vehicles in Alberta are the Ford F-350, Ram 1500, Ford F-150, Honda Civic and  Chevrolet Silverado 1500.

Sid Kingma, Équité's director of investigative services for the western region, said the F-350s being stolen are mostly models made before 2007, when Transport Canada began requiring manufactures to equip all vehicles with immobiliazers and chip keys to prevent hot wiring.

"A lot of those F-350s we're seeing in the stats being stolen are those pre-2007, so they are very easy to steal," he said. "Of course, there's a lot of those vehicles in the province because of the oil and gas industry." 

Kingma noted that the province also saw more sophisticated thefts in 2022. In Edmonton, for instance, a small group of thieves from Ontario stole roughly 40 Ford F-150s between February and March 2022.

Équité Association
Équité Association

While police arrested the thieves, only seven of the trucks were recovered. The others were likely shipped overseas.

"We have identified some of them in Dubai," Kingma said. "Twenty-three of them have [United Arab Emirates] licence plates."

But because relatively few vehicles stolen in Alberta are being exported, more of them are recovered by authorities.

One of highest recovery rates in country

The newly released data shows Alberta had an 80-per-cent recovery rate for 2022. While that's slightly lower than the previous few years, it's considerably higher than the rates in Ontario and Quebec, where the figures are below 50 per cent. 

"[Alberta's] recovery rates are one of the highest across the country," Kingma said. "That's generally because those types of vehicle thefts … once the criminals finish using the vehicle, they just discard it and police can recover it."

The 2022 uptick in vehicle thefts in Alberta comes following years of decreasing thefts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While what led to the decrease is unclear, it's thought to be attributed to a combination of factors, such as a slowdown in the oilfield and fewer trucks on the road as people worked from home. 

"There was less opportunity for vehicles to be stolen in those years," Kingma said. "And then as we came out of the pandemic, things seem to be increasing just like they are across our country."

Vehicle thefts jumped by 18.7% 

Zooming in on Calgary, the largest city in the province, vehicle thefts were also up significantly year over year.

An analysis of Calgary Police Service data shows an 18.7-per-cent increase in vehicle thefts from 2021 to 2022, a figure slightly higher than the provincial number.

Vehicle thefts in Calgary from 2021 to 2022

The total number of car thefts in the city last year was 5,916. (It should be noted that the city includes attempted car thefts in its figures). 

Keeping thieves out of your car 

To help prevent vehicle thefts, Équité Association recommends motorists always keep car doors and windows locked, never leave keys or key fobs inside vehicles or start vehicles remotely, even in the dead of winter.

Steering wheel locks, theft deterrent decals and onboard diagnostic port locks offer more layers of protection.

According to Gast, any vehicle with a push-button start is susceptible to being stolen through technology that thieves use to access the onboard diagnostic port, or OBD port, which mechanics use to run diagnostics.

"Unfortunately, criminals have equipment devices they can use to plug into that same port and reprogram a key fob." 

To protect key fobs, motorists can either either turn them off, if the option is available, or hang them further from the car. Drivers can also put them in a Faraday box, which blocks the signal