Was your vehicle stolen? There’s an 85% chance it’s gone for good

Was your vehicle stolen? There’s an 85% chance it’s gone for good

A good neighbor told Christine Taylor that some men drove by her house and took a suspicious interest in her 2021 Jeep Wrangler.

The same neighbor suggested that she hide an Apple AirTag in her Jeep as a tracking device in case the vehicle was ever stolen.

“I thought that was a great idea, so I stowed it with the spare tire. I hid it there,” Taylor said.

In fact, she woke up a week later to find her driveway empty.

The app on Taylor’s iPhone quickly informed her that the AirTag and her stolen Jeep were only a few miles from her home in Ottawa’s Findlay Creek neighborhood.

She called the Ottawa Police Department and together they followed the flashing light on the application for her vehicle, which police believe was “cooling down” before being taken to Montreal and then taken to an overseas market.

Police told her of the 13 cars stolen in Ottawa that night, hers being the only one recovered.

Christine Taylor stands in the driveway of her home in Findlay Creek, Ottawa.
Christine Taylor investigates the parking lot where her 2021 Jeep Wrangler was stolen. It is currently being repaired at the dealer. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Over the past five years, the number of vehicles stolen annually in Ottawa has roughly doubled, with the total reaching 1,200 this year.

This year, only 173 of these have been recovered — meaning 85 percent have never been found.

In most cases, well-trained thieves break open the door handle and then quickly reprogram a new blank key fob through the car’s onboard diagnostic port (OBDII).

The process can take less than five minutes.

Christine Taylor's Jeep Wrangler needs interior repairs after thieves cause damage.
When Christine Taylor found her Jeep Wrangler, she found that the thieves had ripped open the glove box. (Submitted/Christine Taylor)

Trade in stolen vehicles very valuable

Ottawa Police Department investigator Doug Belanger said the value of the stolen vehicle trade in Ottawa is worth about $60 million a year to organized crime.

“When you have that kind of return on investment, it’s a bargain and you’re going to do it until the risk/reward ratio isn’t in your favor,” Belanger said.

He said there’s also a worrying new hotspot for criminals, which currently accounts for just one in 20 vehicle thefts: parking lots in broad daylight.

Trucks, SUVs and many other common Canadian vehicles are stolen weekly, with many in the Ottawa area being shipped to Montreal before being loaded onto a container ship for resale in Africa and the Middle East.

Detective Doug Belanger said a growing trend is stealing vehicles from store parking lots during daylight hours.
Ottawa Police Department investigator Doug Belanger said anyone who owns a newer vehicle with a push-to-start ignition should take steps to prevent it from being stolen. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Even if someone is lucky enough to find their stolen vehicle, police say it’s common for thieves to damage it. Typically the GPS antenna is ripped off and there is often other damage in the thousands, with dealers under pressure to provide replacement parts for the most commonly stolen models.

While Taylor’s anecdote is encouraging, Belanger says that vehicles with a push-to-start ignition should try to deter theft by purchasing an ODBII port lock, a club-style steering wheel lock, or an electronic immobilizer system.

Ottawa resident Najah Al-Moghrabi’s stolen Lexus RX-350 surfaced on her Lexus tracking app sitting on a street in Laval, Que., just hours after it disappeared from her driveway.

But when her insurance company failed to get the SUV back from Laval, she traveled to the city herself, dealt with the police, paid the impound fees and hired a towing company to bring the car home.

Al-Moghrabi said she expects to pay out of pocket once the limited insurance cover for a replacement vehicle expires and she will have to pay for damage caused by thieves.

“I think more people need to get involved,” she said, adding that dealers need to warn customers that the cars could be stolen quickly.

Ultimately, when her Lexus is repaired and returned, she hopes to trade it in for a vehicle that’s harder to steal.

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