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Keeping your car and yourself safe from crime

Car thief

We recently published an article about the cars most frequently stolen in the UK. We briefly touched on the increasingly technical methods criminals use to steal vehicles and the ways they convert those vehicles into profit.

This time, we're going to look at what we can do to deter the crooks and reduce theft and other car crime.

A multitude of sins

Collins online dictionary defines car crime as "crime in which cars are stolen or in which things are stolen from cars". Interpol says "The term ‘vehicle crime’ refers to the theft and trafficking of vehicles and the illicit trade in spare parts".

Despite those limited definitions, there are many more potential risks to cars and their drivers, ranging from vandalism to number plate cloning, carjacking and others. We've collected what we consider to be a reasonable and practical selection of tips to help you and your car remain safe and secure.

Car theft

In days gone by, thieves would generally force entry to a car or take keys by stealth. Remotely controlled alarms, locks and immobilisers have made more technical approaches necessary. Protecting your car must now include measures to foil both physical and electronic attacks. Here's what to remember.

  • Always lock your car when leaving it.
  • Never leave your car while the engine is running (to defrost windows or warm the interior, for example).
  • Do not leave your keys unattended when away from home.
  • Do not leave your keys near the front or back doors of your house, especially if the doors may be left unlocked.
  • Do not leave car keys in sight or reach of windows at home.
  • Park your car off the road whenever possible, preferably in a locking garage.
  • Install CCTV to cover driveways and, where possible, on-street parking. Signs warning of CCTV may have some deterrent value.
  • Keep your keyless fob in an RF isolating/signal-blocking security pouch to guard against keyless "relay theft". Crooks' equipment can copy your fob's security code just by being close enough. An RF pouch acts like a Faraday cage and prevents the signal from your fob being transmitted until you're ready to enter your car.
  • Turn off your keyless fob's wireless function when it's not in use.
  • Use physical deterrents/obstacles such as steering wheel locking bars or wheel clamps.
  • Close and lock gates whenever possible. Also, ensure gates cannot simply be lifted off their hinges.
  • Use a tracking device. Thieves are often familiar with trackers installed as original equipment. Concealing an additional device can catch them out.
  • Have your car's VIN number etched onto the windows. Ask your car dealership or local garage. Alternatively, ask your local car parts and accessories retailer if they offer the service.
  • Ask your insurer what security enhancements may lower your insurance premium or make claims more likely to progress without issue.

Theft of car parts

Thieves will steal a surprising range of parts: catalytic converters, wheels/tyres, batteries, airbags and more. The best catch-all precautions are to park your vehicle in a secure location and to install CCTV, but there are other, more specific measures you can take to protect parts.

  • Have your garage catalytic converter marked with a serial number. The law says that scrap dealers must check parts for serial numbers to confirm sellers' identities.
  • Have a lock fitted to protect your catalytic converter. Some manufacturers, such as Toyota, offer such locks. Ask your brand dealer.
  • Check to see if your car has a Thatcham category 1 alarm. These devices will detect the tilting of a vehicle that is being jacked up to give thieves access to the underside.
  • Fit locking wheel nuts to protect tyres and wheels. Just make sure that you leave the key with your mechanic at MOT, service or repair time.
  • Fit a locking steering wheel bar to obstruct access to your driver's side airbag.
  • Ask your insurer what, if any, security enhancements may lower your premium or make claims more likely to progress without issue.

Theft of items from vehicles

  • Do not leave valuables unattended in vehicles.
  • If you have to leave items in your car, ensure that they cannot be seen. Try not to make the concealment too obvious.
  • Follow the general advice on parking in secure locations.
  • Check your insurance to see what cover applies to items left in the vehicle and check for conditions and exclusions.


Sadly, the irrational nature of vandalism means that logical deterrents and obstructions like those used to prevent theft often don't help. The best way to avoid vandalism is to ensure your car is not accessible to vandals.

  • Park in a secure location, preferably a locking garage.
  • Close and lock driveway gates.
  • Install CCTV with visible warnings as a deterrent.

Number plate theft

Number plates may be stolen by vandals or by criminals intending to use them to conceal the identity of a vehicle used in the course of a crime. Luckily, there are measures you can take to improve number plate security.

  • Fit security screws/bolts to your plates.
  • Affix your plates with both security bolts and self-adhesive foam pads.
  • Inform the police immediately if your plates are stolen. They are unlikely to recover them, but giving them the information makes the situation clearer in case your registration is given in connection with a crime, and makes it easier for you to show that you were not involved. Get and record a crime reference number.

Number plate cloning

Rather than physically stealing your plates, some crooks will simply copy them in a process known as number plate "cloning". The stringent rules around the manufacture and supply of number plates are designed to make it difficult for people to acquire fake number plates, but there are still unscrupulous people with the necessary equipment to make them.

  • If you suspect someone has copied your car registration and is using it nefariously, inform the police immediately. If your suspicions are on the record you are less likely to be wrongly accused of offences committed by the vehicle bearing the cloned plates. Record the crime reference number that the police will provide.


Carjacking is the practice of forcing access to a vehicle while the driver is in it. It can involve violence. Alarmingly, this has become a fairly common method of stealing cars and robbing people.

  • Be vigilant. Be aware of people in the vicinity if you are sitting in your car, or about to get into it. Consider walking around your car to ensure no one is hiding nearby. If you see someone suspicious, go to a safe place and call for help on your phone.
  • Do not use a fob or remote control to unlock your car before you reach it, especially if you cannot see the vehicle clearly. An opportunist could take advantage and gain access during the short time between the doors unlocking and you reaching the vehicle.
  • Lock your car doors as soon as you get into the car.
  • Do not sit in your stationary car with the doors unlocked and/or windows down.
  • Ensure your car is locked and the windows are closed at traffic lights or other places where a short stop is necessary.
  • If you feel threatened, attract attention by sounding the horn and flashing your lights. Call for help immediately with your phone.
  • If you feel safe to do so and are securely locked into your vehicle, consider taking pictures/video of the suspect or make them think you are doing so. Attackers these days are often aware of the fact that victims may livestream or send images of them if they have the opportunity. The possibility may be an incentive for them to abandon any attempt to force their way into your vehicle. Do not try to take pictures if you feel unsafe to do so.

Road rage and assault

On rare occasions, road rage incidents have developed into situations where serious violent crimes have been committed. Frayed tempers can easily lead to escalation.

  • Do not overreact to other drivers' poor driving decisions.
  • Take a deep breath and let the matter pass. Reckless or dangerous drivers will make their own inconvenience sooner or later.
  • Report seriously negligent or dangerous driving to the police. If you can provide dashcam evidence then action may be taken.
  • Do not make insulting or aggressive gestures at drivers who have annoyed or frustrated you.
  • Do not lean on your horn. Blaring at an oblivious driver for several seconds is no more effective than a short "bip" of the horn to alert them to your presence and to how narrowly they may have avoided an accident.
  • Never get out of your car to angrily confront another driver or to converse with one who may have left their vehicle to angrily confront you.

General safety notes:

  • If there has been an accident, then get out to check that everyone is ok, if everyone seems calm and you feel it is safe to do so; otherwise, remain in your car until the police arrive (if they will be attending). Insurance details can be exchanged through a window that is open just a couple of centimetres, even when your door is locked.
  • If your car breaks down on a motorway, leave your vehicle and move yourself and passengers behind the safety barrier if you can do so without putting yourself at risk.
  • If you break down on a road that isn't a motorway, call for assistance and remain in your locked car until the help you were expecting arrives.

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The role of DVLA

Car registrations and number plates, including personalised number plates, in the UK, are the responsibility of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, usually known as the DVLA. It issues new registrations twice a year and also maintains the central database that records details of all vehicles licensed to drive on UK roads, along with their keeper and registration information.

Regtransfers works closely with DVLA to complete registration transfers as quickly and efficiently as possible. Regtransfers is a DVLA-registered supplier of personal car registrations and number plates and is listed on the DVLA Registrations website. All number plates supplied by Regtransfers comply with DVLA's prescribed standards and regulations.

DVLA administers all UK registration transfers and issues updated registration documents when the registration number of a car is changed, or when a registration is removed from a vehicle and placed on a retention document in accordance with the DVLA Retention Scheme.

DVLA is a registered trade mark of the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency. Regtransfers is not affiliated with the DVLA or DVLA Personalised Registrations. Regtransfers is a recognised reseller of unissued Government stock.

Number plate regulations

When a car is on the road, it is an offence to display number plates bearing any number other than the vehicle's officially recorded registration number. If you purchase a private registration, learn how to transfer private plates before displaying the new number.

All registration number plates displayed on UK vehicles must comply with the official number plate regulations. DVLA oversees enforcement of number plates display regulations and maintains a register of approved manufacturers and retailers of vehicle number plates.

Regtransfers is not part of, and is not formally affiliated with DVLA.

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