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With vehicle theft surging across Canada, the auto industry is introducing new ways to beef up security and prevent stolen cars from getting exported outside of the country.
A report by Équité Association published in November said there has been an increase in thefts for export, increased use of sophisticated theft technology, and high-end vehicle thefts.
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It’s a “coast-to-coast problem,” said Bryan Gast, vice president of investigative services at Équité Association, with Ontario leading the number of vehicles stolen in the country, followed by Quebec and Alberta.
For example in Toronto last year, there were 9,439 reports of auto theft — a jump of nearly 45 per cent from the previous year. Toronto Police Service records show that auto theft has increased annually every year since 2018.
It’s a similar story in Calgary, which saw a 24.5 per cent rise in vehicle theft incidents last year, as of October 2022.
Lingering global supply chain issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic with limited inventory and large demand have driven the rise in auto theft, experts say — and organized crime networks are cashing in by using Canada as “a source country.”
“Now you’re starting to see other countries targeting Canada for their vehicles,” Gast said.
The vehicles are stolen for export, for use in the commission of other offences, for the purpose of rebuilding, and for the smallest percentage, joyriding, he said.
Vehicle cloning is when a vehicle is stolen, given a fraudulent identification number and then sold to unsuspecting persons who are defrauded of their money, according to TPS.
While the advances in technology with keyless driving have helped with convenience for car owners, it has also opened up the door for vulnerabilities.
Toronto police told Global News that there is a “growing issue of ‘auto thefts through technology,’ with the majority of vehicles being stolen having keyless ignition systems.”
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Gast identified two main ways that criminals use technology to steal cars. One is through the onboard diagnostic port, which every car is legally mandated to have. It monitors emissions, mileage, speed, and other data about your car and allows a mechanic to check for any problems.
If criminals are able to get their hands on this type of technology, they can break into the vehicle and reprogram a key fob. “This is definitely an increasing trend,” Gast said.
Another way is through the “relay attack,” in which the criminals use readily available and cheap tools to intercept the radio frequency signal between the vehicle and the key fob.
“Any time there’s a technology advancement, it seems that thieves are, in a lot of ways, one step ahead or not too far behind,” said David Adams, president and CEO of the Global Automakers of Canada.
SUVs are the most commonly stolen cars in Canada.
Among the 10 most stolen vehicles in the country last year, the Honda CR-V topped the list, followed by the Lexus RX Series, the Ford F150 Series, the Honda Civic and the Toyota Highlander.
Since 2007, it has been mandatory in Canada to equip all vehicles with anti-theft engine immobilizers, said Jennifer McCarthy, a spokesperson for Hyundai.
She said all current Canadian-market Hyundai and Genesis vehicles are equipped with electronic immobilizers and additionally fitted with vehicle alarms.
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Hyundai Bluelink and Genesis Connected Services also offer the ability to locate stolen vehicles through the app’s “Find My Car” function.
Honda says it is continually working on ways to improve vehicle security, including through an app that lets car owners stay connected to their vehicle remotely using a compatible smartphone.
Honda’s stolen vehicle locator service uses sophisticated technology to assist the authorities with finding your car, said Jon Bordignon, a spokesperson for Honda Canada.
The app also has a Find My Car feature and a Geofence Alert, which notify you when your car enters or leaves a designated region.
Manufacturers have also made it possible to turn your key fob off, which is a “significant step,” Gast said.
There has also been some progress when it comes to the onboard diagnostic port, with the introduction of a faceplate lock that makes it difficult to access the port.
Adams said automakers have a responsibility to mitigate vehicle theft and are constantly looking at ways to ensure that their products do not end up in criminal hands.
“No manufacturer wants to put a vehicle on the market and then just have it stolen as soon as it’s delivered to the customer,” he said.
Gast said a “collaborative approach” is needed involving law enforcement, car manufacturers, the insurance and banking industry, as well as consumers, to ramp up security.
Owners can take a number of steps to make their vehicles a little bit tougher to steal, he said.
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Police advise against leaving a running vehicle unattended even for a minute.
When parking, TPS says to look for a well-lit and attended area if possible and turn your wheels towards the curb to make it harder to tow. When at home, a motion sensor light can be installed, TPS said.
A steering wheel lock is another way to help deter thieves, police officials and experts say.
There are also pedal locks and you can go so far as to install a hidden disable switch, also known as the “kill switch,” so even if a criminal is able to get into your car, they can’t start it, Gast said.
Tracking services that usually come with a sticker put up on the window can also serve as a deterrent, he added.
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