Authorities are trying to crack down on exports relating to vehicle theft, as figures show almost one-third of Toyota Hiluxes stolen are never recovered.
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Thefts of Toyota HiLux utes have more than doubled over the past 10 years – and almost one-in-three stolen are never recovered, suspected of being broken into parts which are then sold illegally in Australia and overseas.

More than 2000 Toyota HiLuxes have been reported as stolen in the past financial year alone, estimated to have a combined insurance value of $31.7 million.

Figures from the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council show the Holden Commodore nameplate remains the most popular car among thieves. However, thefts of Holden Commodores have been cut by more than half over the same period.

Based on current projections, thefts of Toyota HiLux utes are likely to overtake the tally for stolen Holden Commodores in this financial year, which will likely add further pressure to already-high insurance premiums.

The latest data shows Toyota Hilux thefts have risen as the vehicle has become more popular here and overseas.

The Toyota Hilux has been Australia’s top-selling vehicle for the past four years in a row – and is about to notch up its fifth annual win, with an unassailable lead over the Ford Ranger ute.

Despite almost one-third of stolen HiLux utes never being recovered, Toyota has done little beyond standard anti-theft measures such as the fitment of an engine immobiliser (compulsory in Australia since 2001) and vehicle identifiers etched into the body and chassis.

A statement from Toyota Australia said: “Figures show car theft has been steadily declining in the past decade, largely thanks to improvements in security technology, such as the standard fitment of immobilisers. Owners should be aware that thieves tend to target older versions of popular models. We continuously review and update our vehicle security features, adding a horn alarm to HiLux with this year’s upgrade.”

The tally of 2064 stolen Toyota HiLux utes for the 2019/2020 financial year includes models of all ages. The single biggest group was the 2005 to 2011 model, however examples of HiLuxes made from 2012 to 2015 – and the current generation, from 2015 onwards – also figure prominently in the data.

Indeed, the current generation Toyota HiLux (2015 onwards) is the third biggest group of HiLuxes on the stolen list, and responsible for the highest dollar value among all types of HiLux utes ($14.1 million, almost half the estimated total value of all stolen HiLuxes).

Car theft experts believe the rise in Toyota HiLux thefts has coincided with an increase in stolen vehicles being broken down for parts that are sold locally and, in some cases, exported.

Vehicle typeTop 10 thefts in 2009/2010Top 10 thefts in 2019/2020Percentage change
Holden Commodore50372429Down 52 per cent
Toyota HiLux7762064Up 165 per cent
Toyota Corolla422867Up 105 per cent
Ford Falcon1318749Down 43 per cent
Nissan Pulsar (1995 to 2000)Not inside Top 10519
Nissan NavaraNot inside Top 10447
Ford RangerNot inside Top 10441
Holden CaptivaNot inside Top 10390
Mazda3Not inside Top 10314
VW GolfNot inside Top 10297
Holden CruzeNot inside Top 10297
Toyota Camry1149Not inside Top 10
Hyundai Excel1001Not inside Top 10
Ford Laser789Not inside Top 10
Toyota Tarago381Not inside Top 10
Toyota LandCruiser 80 Series355Not inside Top 10

Source: National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council

As authorities have over the past decade made it extremely difficult to resell a stolen car with a new, false identity, professional thieves have shifted their focus to the parts industry, selling stolen components alongside legitimate, used items.

The chief executive of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, Geoff Hughes, says the cars targeted by professional thieves are “actually worth more as a basket of critical parts than for an entire vehicle”.

Mr Hughes said the same car theft pattern is happening around the world because it’s easier to avoid detection when a vehicle is sold in parts, and international criminals were targeting “Toyota and HiLux in particular”, in part due to the popularity of its models globally.

For now, Australian car criminals are taking advantage of our porous borders, the logistical challenge of checking shipping containers for automotive parts – and the fact that, rather incredibly, there is no specific offence for exporting stolen vehicle components.

“We have asked the Federal Government to expressly add stolen vehicles and parts to the prohibited exports lists, but they've stopped short of doing that,” said Mr Hughes.

Instead, he said, the Federal Government has announced it will make some changes to the export declaration “to require exporters to make a declaration about provenance of what it is they're exporting”.

This means vehicle parts exporters will simply be required to a sign a declaration confirming the parts aren’t stolen – but the containers and their contents will not necessarily be subject to a visual inspection.

The fine for signing a false export declaration is $50,000 or up to 12 months in jail.

“Potentially, if we can get a better intelligence lead on who's moving (stolen parts), then there's a much better penalties toolkit that you can slap (criminals) with,” said Mr Hughes.

However, the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council would like to see stricter laws enacted.

There’s a schedule in the Customs Act and Regulations of Prohibited Exports … we want stolen vehicles and parts to be added to that list,” said Mr Hughes. “I'm still hopeful that when we go back to them with some better intelligence about the scale of the problem, (the Federal Government) may reconsider that.”

Mr Hughes said a parliamentary committee supported strengthening the laws around the export of stolen vehicles. “The only two recommendations were to support our call (for tougher laws) … and to ask Australian Border Force to work with us and state law enforcement agencies to develop a special strategy around exports.”

The two recommendation for the parliamentary committee are as follows: “The committee recommends that the Australian government amends the Customs Act 1901 and the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 to make it an offence to export stolen goods, including stolen motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts.

“The committee recommends that the Australian Border Force works with state and territory law enforcement agencies and the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council to develop a national strategy to reduce the export of stolen motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts.”

The report cited data from Interpol, which advised that “while the number of stolen ‘entire’ vehicles has steadied globally, in recent years there has been a significant rise in the exportation of stolen vehicle components”.

Interpol attributed the rise in the export of stolen vehicle parts to better detection of entire cars.

“Identifying a stolen part, as opposed to a stolen vehicle, is much more difficult and requires expertise in vehicle crime, as well as access to a number of different databases and information sources,” the parliamentary report said.

“Therefore, the trade of parts has become very attractive to criminal groups as they are much less likely to be intercepted by the authorities. The growth of online trading websites such as eBay and Alibaba have also fueled the trafficking of stolen components as potential buyers can now be identified globally. Components are easy to transport and can be obtained and exported in a very short amount of time … and shipments are a mixture of stolen and legitimately obtained stock”.

In Australia, car theft has fallen from a national peak of 142,000 thefts reported in 2001, to 56,312 last financial year – hovering between 53,000 and 57,000 annually over the past five years.

However, car theft in Australia has increased in the past two financial years in a row.

Figures show 70 per cent of cars are stolen using the original key, half of which have been obtained after a home break-in, while the remainder are stolen through businesses or via duplicate keys.

Modern cars – most examples sold in the past 20 years – cannot be started without the original key (which has an embedded immobiliser which wirelessly 'talks' to the car's engine management computer). Old-school 'hot-wiring' is now extremely rare and largely exclusive to pre-year-2000 vehicles.

On average, 77 per cent of today's vehicle thefts are described as “opportunistic” – as a joy ride or a means of transport – while the remaining 23 per cent of stolen vehicles are never recovered.

While Australians may believe car theft is largely a thing of the past, figures show a vehicle is stolen every 11 minutes.