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What some Ontarians are doing to protect their vehicles from auto theft

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Recent unconventional guidance from a Toronto police officer has sparked a wider discussion about car theft across the province.

On Feb. 27, Const. Marco Ricciardi advised residents at a community meeting in Etobicoke to leave the keys to their vehicles near their front doors in Faraday pouches as a way to deter break-ins motivated by car theft.

“To prevent the possibility of being attacked in your home, leave your fobs at your front door,” Ricciardi said at the meeting. “Because they’re breaking into your home to steal your car. They don’t want anything else.”

Weeks later, after some residents voiced concerns that this piece of advice would make it easier for thieves, the Toronto Police Service clarified its positioning and outlined better ways to prevent auto theft-motivated home invasions.

Some tips include parking vehicles inside the garage, keeping driveways brightly lit, installing home security systems and refraining from publicly posting when you’ll be away on vacation online.

Outside of what Toronto Police recommended, some drivers are using so-called vehicle “disablers,” but even Dan Robert, a backyard mechanic for nearly 50 years, says he does not trust them since they are mass-marketed.

For his new Dodge Ram truck, one of the most stolen vehicles in Ontario in 2023, Robert says he will be installing a hidden 12-volt automotive switch that can cut the power remotely, as he had previously used it on a rare Camaro he owned.

“In my case, it shuts off power to the fuel pump, preventing the engine from starting, even if you have the key,” Robert told CTV News in an email. “Install it where it will be impossible to find. Turn it off and the vehicle is completely immobilized.” 

Since cars rely more on electronics and sensors, Robert said he learned how to shut off a vital engine component – like the fuel pump – to prevent his vehicles from being stolen.

“Once I located the proper wire, it was simply a matter of splicing into the circuit. It could be the engine computer, ignition system or other vital circuit,” Robert said, adding those interested in doing the same should seek a professional to install it into their vehicles.

After having his 2022 Ram stolen right from his driveway late last year, Fernand Lamothe, from Barrie, Ont., installed several bells and whistles for his new truck to prevent the proverbial lightning from striking twice.

Some of the safety features Lamothe installed in his vehicle, including the steering wheel lock (left) and additional horn under the roof (right). (Fernand Lamothe)

“I have found myself much more prepared by installing an engine immobilizer, club, steering wheel cable to seatbelt lock, more outdoor cameras, including GPS tracking system […] all at an added expense to me,” Lamothe said.

He opted for a third-party tracking system, Planet GPS, for its expansive safety features – even if it requires a $120 yearly subscription.

“It gives you longitude, latitude, gives you speed of the vehicle, you could actually set up perimeters on the vehicle,” Lamothe said, adding the system can be picked up from an underground parking garage.

Even though Teslas can contain their own safety features – like Sentry Mode, which enables cameras and sensors, detecting nearby threats through pulsating headlights and alarms – Edward Robinson said he also relies on AirTags.

“I am concerned the car hijackers will be able to crack the code and login to the Tesla,” Robinson said in an email. “If that is done (and probably will be) then they can probably turn all that off. Hence, I use two Apple AirTags, so even if it was totally disabled, such as complete disconnection to the battery for transport, I could still track it anywhere in the world with my Apple AirTags.”

Rising car theft in Toronto

Police recently revealed that already within the first three months of 2024, Toronto has seen more than double the number of carjackings it did this time in 2023.

On March 18, Toronto police shared there have been 68 carjackings since Jan. 1, which is a 106 per cent increase over the same period last year. In 2023, over 12,000 vehicles were stolen, equating to a daily average of more than 33 thefts.

In contrast to 2019, there were 5,197 thefts reported in the city.

Auto theft has been an increasing concern in Toronto and throughout the province for several years, prompting the Toronto Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police to launch the Provincial Carjacking Joint Task Force (PCJTF) in 2023 to tackle the problem.

On March 20, police from across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area met for the second annual Auto Theft Summit in Peel Region. According to collective data from the province’s major police forces, there has been a 116 per cent increase in stolen vehicles since 2019.

While officials showed they are making some progress – recovering more than 15,000 vehicles in the last five years – they want increased enforcement at major ports, where many stolen vehicles end up.

“Of the autos being stolen in Ontario, 80 per cent are destined for exportation,” Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said at Wednesday’s summit.

The federal government estimates 90,000 vehicles are stolen yearly across the country, resulting in roughly $1 billion in costs to Canadian insurance policyholders and taxpayers.

In February, the federal Liberals conducted a national summit to find ways to ban devices frequently used to steal vehicles and look at stricter criminal penalties.

“The rise over the last years has been alarming,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the summit. “Organized crime is becoming more brazen, and the overseas market for the stolen cars is expanding.”

Among the planned federal actions to combat auto theft, the government plans to establish better communication between local police and railway police to identify stolen vehicles before they reach the ports as well as modernize the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to ensure they consider technological improvements to deter and prevent auto theft.

With files from CTV Toronto’s Pat Foran, Abby O’Brien and Phil Tsekouras, and The Canadian Press 

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