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March 15, 2023

Toronto car thefts way up: How to protect your vehicle

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Car thefts continue to increase in Toronto and other Canadian cities. Luxury vehicles like the Lexus RX series are tops on the list for thieves looking to cash in by selling them overseas. One security expert recommends aftermarket immobilizers over other security systems.

Toronto police reported that car thefts in the city rose by 45% between 2021 and 2022, and early reports from 2023 suggest that the trend is continuing upward. For drivers across Ontario, the big question is how can they protect their vehicles, and avoid all the hassle and expense of recovering or replacing them.

Car Systems Installation (CSI) in Toronto installs different vehicle security systems. According to CSI founder and CEO Ronen Yossef, the best way to protect your car is to make sure it takes a long time to steal it.

“The more time a thief spends in your driveway, the more likely they are to get caught,” says Yossef. “So time is definitely your friend.”

Why are car thefts up?

There are a number of reasons that vehicle thefts have been on the rise.

Short supply of cars – Vehicle manufacturers continue to suffer through supply chain issues that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means it’s taking a long time for people who buy a car to actually receive it. This seems to be particularly bad with electric vehicles, with some customers waiting over a year for delivery.

Since vehicles are in short supply, prices, even for used vehicles, have increased, and thieves have hungry buyers who want cars now.

And in terms of demand, stolen vehicles can often fetch better prices overseas, especially for newer luxury models. If your car is stolen this morning, it could be on a container bound for Europe or Africa the same day. In 2022, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) recovered 1,050 stolen vehicles just from the port of Montreal.

Push start technology – The increased use of technology in vehicles has also affected theft rates. Specifically, more and more new vehicles come with push-button start. In fact, from 2008 to 2018, the percentage of new cars in the U.S. with push-button start shot up from 11% to 62%. Keyless ignition systems allow you to start your car with a button because when your fob is in the car, it sends a signal to the vehicle’s onboard computer. If the fob is too far away, there is no signal, and the car won’t start. But thieves are now employing their own technology to steal and magnify the signal to make your car think the fob is in the vehicle. If they can get within a few feet of your fob, it’s like they now have your key.

In the past, thieves used slim jims, crowbars and bats to break windows or force doors open, but they now come armed with electronics. In some cases a thief can steal the fob signal through the door of your home and drive away in less than five minutes. No noise, no broken glass, no damage to the car.

Which vehicles are most likely to be stolen?

Every year, an organization called Équité Association uses auto theft data from the insurance industry to compile a list of the top 10 stolen vehicles in the country, and by province. In Ontario, the Lexus RX series is by far the most likely vehicle to be stolen, with more than 9% of all the RXs on the road having been stolen in 2021.

The RX series is also number one in pure numbers, with close to 2,100 stolen in 2021. In terms of total numbers, The Honda CR-V ranks first nationally, and second in Ontario. The Range Rover Sport has the second highest theft rate (4.2%). Most of the cars on the list are 2013 to 2020 models.

Here is the full list for Ontario:

RankVehicleNumber stolenPercentage stolen
1Lexus RX Series2,0839.4%
2Honda CR-V1,1501.0%
3Ford F150 Series6130.5%
4Toyota Highlander5751.7%
5Honda Civic3800.3%
6Land Rover Range Rover Sport2644.2%
7Honda Accord2201.2%
8Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra 1500 Series1690.7%
9RAM 1500 Series1470.1%
10Toyota Tacoma1440.9%

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How can you protect your vehicle?

Here are some steps you can take to protect your car from theft.

1. After-market security devices

“No security system is 100% effective,” says CSI’s Yossef. “If you give a thief enough time, they can disable anything. But they don’t want to get caught, so make it as hard as possible.”

Since 2007, every new vehicle sold in Canada has come with a built-in immobilizer. This makes it very difficult for thieves to use what used to be called “hotwiring” to start your car without the key or fob. Unfortunately, thieves have gotten much more sophisticated, and can often get around your immobilizer by making your car think the fob is there, even if it isn’t.

If you want to add an extra layer of protection, here’s a list of some of the more popular security devices on the market, and their pros and cons.

Pros and cons of car security devices
Device Cost Pros Cons
Alarm $200-$500 installed Calls attention Alarms frequently sound when there is no threat, so people tend to ignore them
Steering or brake lock $100 Visual deterrent Thieves can get around them quite quickly
Wheel boot lock $50-$500 Visual deterrent Inconvenient to put on/take off Thieves can get around them quite quickly, especially cheaper models
Immobilizer with PIN $900-$1,200 installed Adds authentication to immobilizer Takes time to disable Need to remember your PIN Somewhat costly
Trackers $600-$900 installed plus monthly subscription Allows police to track vehicle Takes time to disable Thieves use jammers to disable cheaper models Somewhat costly

CSI installs a number of the above devices, including alarms and trackers, but if you have to pick just one, Yossef recommends an IGLA immobilizer with a PIN code.

“In six years of installing them, we’ve never had a customer report a theft,” says Yossef. “One gentleman did call us just to say thanks because thieves have tried to steal his car five times, and failed every time.”

Yossef explains that the IGLA system is especially challenging for thieves because it can be installed in different parts of the vehicle and thieves don’t know it’s there until they try to put the car in gear and drive away. The PIN code system also protects against carjacking by requiring the PIN to be entered when certain conditions are met that indicate a theft may be in progress.

2. Be smart with your key fob

Given that thieves are specifically targeting vehicles with push-button start, be strategic about where you leave your key fob. Many of us are in the habit of leaving our keys by the front door when we get home. This is what car thieves count on. If your vehicle is in the driveway, they will approach your front door with a sensor. If your fob is close by, they can steal your signal and be gone in sixty seconds just like in the movie. This is called a relay attack.

One way to protect yourself is to keep your fob away from the front door. Another is to store your fob inside a bag or box lined with aluminum. You can actually make one yourself with aluminum foil, but if you want to be a little more stylish about it, you can use a faraday bag. It’s a pouch that is lined with a conductive metal like copper, nickel or aluminum and blocks the digital signal from your fob. They are very affordable.

3. Park in safer places

The movie is called Gone in Sixty Seconds because thieves know that the longer they take to steal your car, the more likely they are to call attention to themselves, and get caught. If you can park your vehicle in the garage, that’s one extra step that will slow down thieves and perhaps make them move on. If you need to park outside, choose somewhere with good lighting and high traffic, where thieves are likely to be seen. Installing cameras is also a good idea, not only as a deterrent, but also to help police if your car does get stolen.

What does this all mean for insurance?

To illustrate the impact of theft on car insurance premiums, we used our online auto insurance quoter to price out policies for two of the vehicles on the top ten list above. The quotes below are for Izzy, a 59-year-old male with a clean driving record in Oshawa, Ontario.

Insurance premium comparison for Izzy, 59-year-old male (Oshawa)
Vehicle Theft rate Annual premium Premium with immobilizer
2022 Lexus RX350 9.4% $1,602 $1,561
2022 RAM 1500 0.1% $1,208 $1,190
Difference 9.3% $394 $371

The reason we chose the Ram 1500 and the Lexus RX350 is not only because they’re both on the list, but also because they have dramatically different theft rates. Whereas only 0.1% of all the Ram 1500s on Ontario roads were stolen in 2021, that number was an astonishing 9.4% for the Lexus RX series. And as you would expect, these theft rates do have an impact on premiums.

Izzy would pay more than $1,600 a year in premiums for coverage on the Lexus, including more than $400 a year just for comprehensive coverage, which is the part of the policy that pays when your car is stolen. By comparison, he would pay just over $1,200 a year for the RAM, and more than half the difference would be on the comprehensive coverage.

In terms of security devices, some insurance companies do offer discounts that run between 5 and 15% on your comprehensive coverage for an approved and professionally-installed aftermarket immobilizer. That’s about $40 on the Lexus and almost $20 on the RAM. If you’re considering extra security for your vehicle, it should be mostly to save yourself the trauma, hassle and expense of having it stolen, but the insurance discount is an added perk.

Final thoughts

CSI’s Yossef has been in the vehicle security business for a long time, and has seen technology evolve on both sides of the auto theft battle over the years. He has one last piece of advice.

“Car thieves are persistent, but they’re also practical. They want a vehicle, but it doesn’t have to be yours. It’s not magic. Make it hard, make it time-consuming, and they’ll move on to the next car.”

To learn more about how car theft affects your insurance, or to get competitive quotes for your vehicle, call one of our auto insurance brokers today.

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author avatar
Al Maggi Writer

Al Maggi is Mitch's senior writer and content editor. Al works closely with other members of the Mitch broker and executive team to make complex insurance topics understandable, and simpler ones interesting and informative.


Comments(1)

    Appreciate this information. While at home I park in my garage.
    However…
    when traveling, staying in motels or the odd time I’m in a mall parking lot : what is your industry’s opinion on a “kill switch” as a deterrent or preventative.

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