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Most car thieves break into homes to get keys | report

The rate of professional car thefts is on the rise as crooks find new ways to steal cars. We list Australia's hot spots.

Your home has become the new target for car thieves.

The latest figures show seven out of 10 cars are stolen when the keys are found after criminals break into houses.

"Ten years ago, commuter car parks and shopping centre car parks were the hot spots, now 70 per cent of cars are stolen outside a residence," says Ray Carroll, the head of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council.

The car theft expert says it is "too early to tell" if there is a link between the increase in the use of drugs such as ice and the high rate of cars stolen after break-ins.

"We know that in cases of opportunistic car theft, the offender is likely to be in need of money for drugs and the car will get stolen if they find the keys during a break-in," says Carroll.

Since immobilisers became compulsory in July 2001 it has been next to impossible to steal a car without the key because a tiny transponder in the key fob "talks" to the car's computer milliseconds before the engine starts.

But professional thieves have found new ways to beat immobilisers and there may be nothing we can do about.

They are using readily available diagnostics units — intended to be used by independent mechanics — to disable the car's immobiliser system.

The handheld devices that plug into the car, usually under the dashboard, are designed to tell mechanics if there are any faults with the vehicle.

While car theft in Australia is at a historical low, the rate of professional theft is on the rise

The technology previously cost more than $10,000 but can now be bought as cheaply as $150. News Corp Australia found one online for 95 Euros, with the seller boasting "device can turn off or on the immobiliser through the...diagnostic socket. You can use it (a) multiple number of times".

Authorities have no way of knowing how many of these devices have made it into the wrong hands because there is no restriction on who buys them. They are widely used legitimately by most independent mechanics and auto electricians.

"We'd like to see immobilisers encrypted so they can only be accessed by the car manufacturer's computer diagnostics equipment, but that will restrict what kind of maintenance independent repairers can do," says Carroll.

While car theft in Australia is at a historical low, the rate of professional theft is on the rise.

Ten years ago professional theft accounted for 15 per cent of stolen vehicles, today 31 per cent of cars that are stolen are not recovered.

In the peak 12 month period of 2000-2001 there were 142,000 cars stolen across Australia. Today the number has fallen to the lowest on records which date back to the 1970s, with 52,000 cars stolen annually.

Car theft by the numbers:

Blacktown is Sydney's hotspot with the most number of car thefts -- but Bankstown in Sydney's south-west has the highest rate of professional car theft in Australia, with 58 per cent of cars stolen in the past 12 months not recovered (311 of 541 total thefts).

The number of cars stolen in Brisbane in the past 12 months — 1778 vehicles — is more than double the next highest cities. But 78 per cent of cars are recovered as they are "opportunistic theft" of older vehicles that lack immobilisers.

There are more cars stolen in the Victorian city of Hume than Sydney's highest suburb for thefts, Blacktown

If you have your car stolen in Tasmania there is a 91 per cent chance of it being recovered, the highest ratio in the country. The next best place to have your car stolen is in the WA city of Stirling, with an 89 per cent recovery rate.

There are more cars stolen in the Victorian city of Hume than Sydney's highest suburb for thefts, Blacktown. In the Hume local government area, 76 per cent of cars are recovered while the number of professional thefts (24 per cent) is lower than the national average.

The suburb at the top of the South Australia list, Salisbury, and the NT capital Darwin are in line with the national average of car theft with 69 per cent of vehicles recovered — while 31 per cent vanish, likely broken down for parts.

Car theft by state and territory in the 2014-2015 financial year:

ACT - 746
Greater ACT - 746

NSW - 11,399
Blacktown - 703
Bankstown - 541
Liverpool - 496
Lake Macquarie - 431
Penrith - 420
Fairfield - 393
Wyong - 366
Canterbury - 339
Wollongong - 336
Newcastle - 314

NT - 995
Darwin - 440
Palmerston - 212
Alice Springs - 124
Litchfield - 75
Katherine - 45
Victoria-Daly - 21
Unincorporated NT - 20
East Arnhem - 18
Barkly - 13
Roper Gulf - 9

QLD - 7,245
Brisbane - 1,778
Gold Coast - 1,191
Logan - 776
Moreton Bay - 572
Townsville - 415
Cairns - 394
Ipswich - 337
Sunshine Coast - 309
Toowoomba - 158
Rockhampton - 134

SA - 2,365
Salisbury - 325
Port Adelaide Enfield - 293
Playford - 264
Charles Sturt - 260
Onkaparinga - 229
Marion - 102
West Torrens - 89
Adelaide - 87
Tea Tree Gully - 82
Holdfast Bay - 43
Mount Gambier - 43

TAS - 1,171
Glenorchy - 220
Launceston - 216
Hobart - 191
Clarence - 183
Brighton - 76
Devonport - 56
Kingborough - 26
Derwent Valley - 26
Meander Valley - 22
Sorell - 18

VIC - 11,179
Hume - 769
Brimbank - 672
Greater Geelong - 648
Whittlesea - 560
Moreland - 558
Casey - 524
Greater Dandenong - 509
Darebin - 496
Wyndham - 452
Melton - 326

WA - 5,501
Stirling - 620
Wanneroo - 361
Swan - 314
Gosnells - 281
Belmont - 246
Cockburn - 244
Rockingham - 219
Armadale - 217
Bayswater - 192
Joondalup - 179

Source: National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council.