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Car crime

Car or vehicle crime typically comes in three forms: theft of a vehicle, theft from a vehicle, or damage. It can take less than 10 seconds to break into a vehicle and, unfortunately, it is extremely rare that offenders are caught or property recovered.

Other car-related crimes include: joyriding, selling stolen cars, abandoning cars, drink- or drug-driving, driving without seatbelts or proper child restraints, and driving while distracted (for example while on a mobile phone).

Nationally, vehicle crime accounts for 20% of all reported crime.

You may also be affected by:

  • Serious car accidents and fatal collisions

How it can affect you

Having your car broken into or stolen is not a pleasant experience, and it can cause a great deal of inconvenience if you had been planning to use your vehicle that day. You will also be left sorting out any clean-up, repairs and insurance claims.

Much like burglary, someone invading your personal space and taking or damaging your belongings can leave you feeling vulnerable and targeted. It is quite normal to feel this way and help is available if you need practical or emotional support.

Stolen vehicles are sometimes used in other crimes or driven dangerously, resulting in serious injury or the loss of life, either of the driver or innocent bystanders.

How to report it and what to do

If your car has been stolen, tell the police and your insurance company straight away. In most cases, it won’t be an emergency, so you should contact the police using the 101 number.

In a non-emergency: dial 101
Use this number to report a non-emergency incident or make a general enquiry.

In an emergency: dial 999
An emergency is when a crime is being committed or has just been witnessed, there is a risk of injury, or a risk of serious damage to property.

Make sure you have the following information to hand:

  • Your car registration number
  • Make
  • Model
  • Colour

You’ll get a crime reference number – you’ll need this when you tell your insurance company or to claim back your vehicle tax. The police will tell DVLA about the theft and if the vehicle is found.

Remember – you must also tell your insurance company straight away. They will be able to help you with practical support, such as repairs, recovery or replacement of your vehicle.

What the police will do

This is what the police will do if someone steals something from your car, damages it, or steals the car itself.

When you report the offence to the police, you will be put through to a call handler who will talk to you about what has happened and take details.

If there is no obvious witness, forensic interest items (such as blood, hair or clothing), or CCTV covering the incident...

The call handler is likely to record the crime over the phone and provide you with the crime number. If the car has been damaged or had property stolen from it, the police will not send a forensic officer and you can arrange to have your car repaired.

If your car is stolen, police will enter details of your car onto the Police National Computer. This will ensure if it stopped by police in the future, or recognised by an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) device, the vehicle can be recovered and thieves traced.

The police will get in touch with you if they find your car. If it has been used by criminals in a further serious crime, the police may need to keep your vehicle for several days in order to conduct forensic tests. You will need to let your insurance company know when your car is found so that they can arrange recovery and repair of it.

If there are potential witnesses, forensic items of interest or CCTV covering the incident...

The call handler will also arrange for an officer to attend the scene. The officer will speak to witnesses and recover evidence. If property stolen from your vehicle or it is damaged, the officer may also arrange for your car to be forensically examined, but this will depend on the potential evidence available.

Crime prevention

Most car thieves are opportunistic, which means there are simple steps you can take to greatly reduce the chances of having your vehicle targeted:

  • Park in secure or well-lit areas wherever possible.
  • Before leaving your car, close all windows, set any security devices and remove all valuables, especially sat-navs and their mounting cradles. All doors should be locked and checked manually, as automatic locking devices can sometimes suffer from interference.
  • If you must leave your vehicle unattended with valuables inside, make sure you lock them in the boot out of sight. Remember that some stores will keep items for you so you can collect them later.
  • Do not leave car keys on view in your home, and make sure they are kept away from doors or windows to prevent hook-and-cane thefts.

You can also register your valuables at and security-mark them with your postcode and house number or vehicle registration number.

Immobilise is a free Home Office approved website which allows you to keep a record of all your valuable items.

When buying or selling a car, there are processes that you need to go through to protect yourself from becoming a victim of crime. Citizens Advice has lots of useful information and advice:

Find help and support

If you have been a victim of car crime and need emotional or practical support, help is available. You can search our directory or call our helpline.

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