UK’s Highest Car Theft Districts Revealed in Exclusive New Study

Car Theft Levels Across the Country Revealed
Photograph by Twanda Baker | CC Licence SA 2.0

Having your car stolen is a devastating experience, one which the majority of us will hopefully never have to encounter. Car theft can have so many negative consequences for drivers including costly insurance excess fees, rising ongoing premiums and also a major dent to your sense of personal security/safety.

Exclusive new research from reveals the areas in England and Wales with the highest car thefts per head. That is the amount of cars which are stolen in relation to the population of that area; giving a fair method of comparison between districts.

In this report we’ll be covering the following areas:

  • Overall Results Highest to Lowest.
  • Nationwide Long Term Car Theft Trend.
  • English Car Theft Levels – North Vs. South.
  • How to Avoid Being a Victim of Car Theft.
  • Download the full results for yourself.

Results – Top/Bottom 10 Districts For Car Theft Per Head

Intelligent Car Leasing surveyed all of the Police forces in England and Wales via freedom of information requests, asking for the number of vehicles being reported as stolen for each year from 2003-2013. Unfortunately due to changeovers in data recording systems and other factors the earliest date range we could compare all forces from was 2009-2013 which you see the results for below.

All police forces responded apart from Dyfed-Powys in Wales; as they would of had to manually searched through all 10 years worth of records, which was understandably too much of a strain on staff resources.

See abbreviated results below:

Ranking Force Per Head Thefts (2009-2013)
1 City of London 0.050540541
2 Greater Manchester 0.018918
3 Metropolitan (London) 0.016410541
4 Thames Valley 0.012622857
5 Warwickshire 0.011941009
6 West Midlands 0.0115875
7 West Yorkshire 0.010798387
8 Gwent 0.010434783
9 South Wales 0.010280313
10 Essex 0.0098075
33 West Mercia 0.005291597
34 Kent 0.00516303
35 Suffolk 0.005141593
36 Northumbria 0.00511
37 Cumbria 0.004706
38 Norfolk 0.004630936
39 Hertfordshire 0.004231333
40 Hampshire 0.003221053
41 North Yorkshire 0.003066421
42 Devon and Cornwall 0.001746667
Want all the details? Download Full Set of Results.

What is interesting to note about these results is that forces at the top of the table are mostly in densely populated urban areas; whereas nearer the bottom of the table it is much more rural and sparsely populated areas.

Because these results are based on a per head calculation the population size and density won’t have a direct influence on results. So what this reveals is that you’re statistically more at risk of having your car stolen in densely populated urban areas than quieter rural environments.

Long Term National Trend For Car Thefts

The good news is that car theft is on a continual and long term decline across the country. When taking an aggregated total of all the complete data sets collected from 2003-2013 there is a clear and promising pattern that car thefts are getting lower every single year.

Line Graph Showing Car Thefts in UK

We asked leading car expert Jason Lancaster, editor of, why this trend might be occurring. He offered the following insights as to why automotive thefts have fallen off in the past 10 years (in order of influence):

1. Computer-chip encoded ignition keys – The keys have a chip inside them. The chip has a long random code (32 or 64 digits), and the car is programmed to look for this code in whatever keys are placed in the ignition. If the code isn’t present (or if it’s the wrong code), the vehicle’s computer stops the starter from working.

So, even if someone makes a carbon copy of an ignition key, they can’t start a car. This technology debuted in the mid 90’s, and was present on all vehicles by the mid 2000’s. It has single-handedly put an end to “hot wiring,” as it takes a diagnostic computer and 10 minutes to change the engine’s computer to accept a new code. That’s an eternity for most car thieves.

2. The market for “recycled” auto parts has changed – In the “old” days, thieves would often steal cars to part them out. They could strip a stolen car of all parts in a couple of days, then sell the parts as used or “recylcled” at swap meets, pawn them off on corner mechanics, etc.

This practice of “chopping and parting” old cars doesn’t work nearly as well today because:

A) There’s a never-ending supply of new (and very cheap) auto parts from China, and that has driven down prices for used parts substantially. It’s just not that profitable to part old cars.

B) Legitimate used part sellers (junk yards, for the most part) have gotten much better at selling their parts online. Now it’s possible to go on the Internet, find a junkyard that has the used part you need, and get it delivered to your door. That wasn’t really feasible 20 years ago when the market for stolen auto parts was still strong.

C) Many factory parts have serial numbers now, which means their origins can be traced. If, for example, law enforcement finds rented self-storage units full of used auto parts, they can “run” the numbers they find on the parts and trace them back to a stolen vehicle (with help from the vehicle manufacturer, of course).

As a result, the risks of selling auto parts with suspect provenance are much higher.

3. It’s much harder to disguise and resell stolen vehicles – Before the computer revolution, it was possible to steal a car in one community, change the VIN number on the vehicle (say, by replacing it with a VIN from a vehicle that had been junked or salvaged), and then legally register the car as property.

A thief could steal a car, buy a salvage/junk car for a small fee and then use the VIN from the junker on the stolen car. The net result was with a legitimate VIN and poor documentation, a stolen vehicle could be made to appear “legit.” Then, it could be sold for a tidy profit to an unsuspecting buyer. However, this is nearly impossible to do today, as VIN numbers are tracked all over the world. It’s no longer possible to “wash” a stolen title as described above.

North of England Vs. South of England

North versus south, it’s one of the oldest rivalries in England and is one which is based on a wide range of social and economic differences. With car theft data gathered for at least 5 years for every police force in England, it seemed a shame not to compare and see who had more car thefts per head.

The results are as follows:

Bar graph showing the south of England has proportionately more car thefts than the north

The south of England had 4.89% more car thefts per head in the past 5 years compared to the north of the country. This is an interesting statistic as the North of the country is economically poorer and under such conditions crime rates are typically higher.

However the south’s higher rate of car thefts is being inflated hugely by the City of London figures. The City of London was number 1 in the overall results for vehicle thefts per head, over 2.67 times higher than Greater Manchester in 2nd place. Therefore it can be seen that this area plays a significant part in the statistics for the south of England as a whole.

What to do if your car is stolen

It doesn’t matter whether you have a lease car or own the car yourself, the first thing you should do if you discover that your car has been stolen is contact your local police constabulary. The next step is to get in touch with your insurance provider, letting them know of the situation and preparing them for any expenses that they may have to reimburse further down the line.

How to Avoid Being a Victim of Car Theft

Even though the rate of car theft is on the decline in the UK it doesn’t mean you should be complacent about taking preventative measures. Making things easier for car thieves will only increase your risks of being a victim of car theft. Intelligent Car Leasing offers the following advice to lower your risk and help keep your car safer:

  • Never leave your car running when unattended – This may sound painfully obvious but we’ve all done it at least once or twice. It’s very easy to leave the engine on if just nipping into a shop or stopping outside a friend’s house to pick something up. However this gives opportunistic thieves a prime chance to drive off with your vehicle without any effort in having to break an entry.
  • Do not store car keys near doors or windows in your home – Many individuals like to keep their keys in a dish next to their front door or on a rear windowsill. Although this is convenient it also gives thieves a very easy way to gain entry to your car (in many cases without even having to break an entry to your home).
  • Don’t leave any valuables within sight – Most car thieves are selective and won’t just break into the first car they see for the sake of it. They’ll look around for opportunities which are easy and have extra valuables in them too. By simply hiding your valuables out of view the vehicle is immediately less attractive to thieves and you’ve lowered your risk significantly.
  • Have visual deterrents – Following on from the last point of thieves being opportunistic, there’s other actions you can take to greatly reduce your chances of being targeted. Visual deterrents such as steering wheel locks, pedal locks and even just security protected stickers for the rear window can be enough.
  • Be careful where and how you park – Your parking can also play a large part in the risk of your vehicle being stolen. We’re not talking about being slightly out of the lines here, more how isolated and exposed you are. If you have a garage it’s best to always use it to store your car in overnight. And when parking in a car park try and stay in a well lit area that is near a visible CCTV camera.

Download the Full Results Set

If you’re interested to find out more you can download a full copy of the results for every Police force surveyed in this study.

We kindly ask that if you refer to, make use of or republish any of the results from this study you attribute as the original data source.

Any journalists interested in publishing these results can download the following press release which has all the key statistics and findings in a condensed format.

This entry was posted in Reports & Research on by Marc Murphy

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