Car thefts have rocketed by up to 60 per cent in some parts of the UK as experts blame a lack of police on the streets.
Motoring groups are also warning that vehicle owners face a greater risk of having their cars stolen while in coronavirus lockdown.
The AA says thieves could be ‘window shopping’ for vehicles, which are being left unused on driveways and streets, with all but essential journeys banned during the pandemic.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, says; ‘Having your car stolen at any time is pretty low, but to have it stolen during lockdown feels pretty below the belt.
‘As cars are sat in residential conditions for longer periods it may be giving thieves a chance to ‘window shop’, before picking out their target.
‘Where possible drivers should keep their cars locked in a garage or parked in a well lit place with plenty of CCTV.’
Drivers are also being warned to keep keys out of sight and far away from front doors to deter thieves.
The warning comes as figures reveal a country-wide rise in vehicle thefts of 21 per cent between 2016 and 2019, while thefts from vehicles rose by 14 per cent.
MailOnline has produced a map showing the rise and fall of cases of vehicle theft (2016-19)
According to FOI requests to police forces, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire experienced rises in vehicle theft of 60 per cent and 54 per cent respectively.
Other areas with big increases in vehicle theft included Hertfordshire (50 per cent), the West Midlands (45 per cent), and Surrey (44 per cent).
However, there were decreases in the number of vehicle thefts in the same period, with Wiltshire reporting a 79 per cent drop in cases.
Humberside (-36 per cent), Merseyside (-27 per cent), and Avon and Somerset (-3.5 per cent) also reported a fall in thefts between 2016-19.
Top Five rises in vehicle theft across the UK between 2016-19
1. Nottinghamshire – 60 per cent
2. Staffordshire – 54 per cent
3. Hertfordshire – 50 per cent
4. West Midlands – 45 per cent
5. Surrey – 44 per cent
The West Midlands was the car theft capital of the UK with 7,883 stolen vehicles in 2018-19, according to vehicle protection specialists AX.
Much of the 21 per cent increase in vehicle theft occurred in 2016-18, with a hike of 14 per cent. However, there was a further rise of six per cent in 2019.
Of the police forces that responded to FOI requests, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire saw the biggest increases of more than 50 per cent each.
The AA has blamed a lack of police on the street for the rise in car thefts.
Mr Cousins said: ‘Car thefts over the past few years have increased partly due to a lack of cops in cars patrolling the streets.
‘A physical presence is one of the best forms of deterrent for any crime, but with fewer bobbies on the beat, thieves feel they can get away with it.’
Meanwhile, Neil Thomas, director of investigative services at AX, warned that criminals are ‘getting smarter’ while their ability to make ‘quick returns’ has drastically increased pressure on police forces to confront the theft of motor vehicles.
He said car thieves are ‘opportunists and have no respect for property and will remain determined to carry on illegal activity’ despite restrictions on movement during lockdown.
Experts are warning UK motorists to be on the watch-out for ‘opportunistic’ thieves as vehicles are underused due to lockdown restrictions (pictured, M25 to Heathrow, April 22, 2020)
‘During this period of lockdown, it’s even more important that car owners remain vigilant and do what they can to keep their car safe,’ he said.
‘While the lockdown may temporally reduce some types of car theft, criminals are using increasingly intelligent ways to steal vehicles and continue to find success.’
Tips to deter thieves include double checking electronically locked doors, switching off keyless technology, installing CCTV cameras, and fitting a tracker device on your car.