The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the talk page.(October 2013)
Vehicle with broken window.
Motor vehicle theft (sometimes referred to as grand theft auto by the media and police departments in the US) is the criminal act of stealing or attempting to steal a car. Nationwide in the US in 2005, there were an estimated 1.2 million motor vehicle thefts, or approximately 416.7 motor vehicles stolen for every 100,000 inhabitants. Property losses due to motor vehicle theft in 2005 were estimated at $7.6 billion. Since then the number of motor thefts nationally has declined. The most recent statistics, for 2009, show an estimated 794,616 thefts of motor vehicles nationwide, representing property losses of nearly $5.2 billion.
Shattered glass marks the spot where a parked vehicle was stolen
Some methods used by criminals to steal motor vehicles include:
Theft of an unattended vehicle without key(s): The removal of a parked vehicle either by breaking and entry, followed by hotwiring or other tampering methods to start the vehicle, or else towing.
Theft with access to keys: Known in some places as "Taken Without Owner's Consent (TWOC)". The unauthorized use of a vehicle in which the owner has allowed the driver to have possession of or easy access to the keys. Often, this is the adolescent or grown child or employee of the vehicle's owner who, at other times, may be authorized to use the vehicle. This may be treated differently, depending on the jurisdiction's laws, and the owner may choose not to press charges.
Opportunistic theft: The removal of a vehicle that the owner or operator has left unattended with the keys visibly present, sometimes idling. Alternatively, some cars offered for sale are stolen during a 'test drive'.
Carjacking: Refers to the taking of a vehicle by force or threat of force from its owner or operator. In most places, this is the most serious form of theft, since assault also occurs. In some carjackings, the operators and passengers are forced from the vehicle while the thief drives it away him/herself, while in other incidents, the operator and/or passenger(s) are forced to remain in the vehicle as hostages. Some less common carjackings result in the operator being forced to drive the assailant in accordance with the assailant's demands.
Fraudulent theft: Illegal acquisition of a vehicle from a seller through fraudulent transfer of funds that the seller will ultimately not receive (such as by identity theft or the use of a counterfeitcashier's check). Many vehicles stolen in this manner are resold quickly thereafter.
Commonly used tools
Slide hammer puller to break into the door locks and the cylinder lock.
Spare wires and/or a screwdriver to connect the power source to the ignition and starter wires
A generic rod and hook toolkit to slip between the car window and car frame and to open the lock behind the window. A common one is called the "Slim Jim".
Many keyless ignition/lock cars have weak or no cryptographic protection of the unlock signal. Proof-of-concept "thefts" of top-of-the-line luxury cars have been demonstrated by academic researchers using commercially available tools such as RFID microreaders, but is unknown whether the attack has been used for actual theft.
The makes and models of vehicles most frequently stolen vary by several factors, including region and ease of theft. In particular, the security systems in older vehicles may not be up to the same standard as current vehicles, and thieves also have longer to learn their weaknesses. Scrap metal and spare part prices may also influence thieves to prefer older vehicles.
In Malaysia, Selangor had the highest number of motor vehicle thefts, ahead of Kuala Lumpur and Johor. Since 2005, Proton models are the most frequently stolen vehicles in the country, with Proton Wira being the highest, followed by the Proton Waja and the Proton Perdana.
There are various methods of prevention to reduce the likelihood of a vehicle getting stolen. These include physical barriers, which make the effort of stealing the vehicle more difficult. Some of these include:
Killswitch circuits are designed to frustrate or slow down the efforts of a determined car thief. Killswitches are often located between crucial parts of the starting system, between the battery source and the coil, or the fuel pump. A car cannot start without first flipping these killswitches to closed position. Savvy car owners hide these killswitches in obscured areas, under the dashboard, beneath the seat, behind a chair, etc.
Signage on windows warning of the presence of other deterrents, sometimes in absence of the actual deterrents.
Recovery rates for stolen vehicles vary, depending on the effort a jurisdiction's police department puts into recovery, and devices a vehicle has installed to assist in the process.
Police departments use various methods of recovering stolen vehicles, such as random checks (ANPR) of vehicles that come in front of a patrol unit, checks of all vehicles parked along a street or within a parking lot using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) or keeping a watchlist of all the vehicles reported stolen by their owners. Police departments also receive tips on the location of stolen vehicles through StolenCar.com or TWOC.co.uk in the United Kingdom.
In the UK, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) provides information on the registration of vehicles to certain companies for consumer protection and anti-fraud purposes. The information may be added to by companies with details from the police, finance and insurance companies. Such companies include CarFax in the US, AutoCheck and CarCheck in the United Kingdom, and Cartell in Ireland, which then provide online car check services for the public and motor trade.
Vehicle tracking systems, such as LoJack, Automatic vehicle location, or Onstar may enable the location of the vehicle to be tracked by local law enforcement or a private company. Other security devices such as DotGuard microdots allow individual parts of a vehicle to also be identified and potentially returned.