Five years ago, auto insurance companies in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and the Atlantic provinces paid out $400 million in theft claims. In 2022, that figure ballooned to $1.2 billion, the worst on record. Amanda Dean, interim vice president of Ontario region for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says the situation isn’t likely to improve for 2023.
“As theft rates increase, and along with it claims costs, insurers are certainly worried about what the future could hold,” she says. For drivers, even those with no history of theft or damage, auto insurance is likely to get more expensive so long as theft rates remain high. Fortunately, experts say there are some things drivers can do to minimize their chances of losing their ride.
Why car theft is on the rise across Canada
Joyriders and opportunists aren’t responsible for most Canadian car thefts, according to insurance experts. Organized crime groups, using sophisticated techniques, bear much of the blame for Canada’s billion-dollar-a-year auto theft problem.
Bryan Gast is the vice president of investigative services for Équité Association, a national not-for-profit that helps Canadian insurers fight fraud. He says one common technique is a relay attack: intercepting the radio frequency used by a key fob to unlock a car remotely. Another is by using the electronic diagnostic port found under a car’s steering wheel to reprogram the car.
Once inside, a thief can drive away with your ride and sell it off. In the most extreme cases, it may end up smuggled through a port—generally on Canada’s eastern seaboard, Gast says—and shipped to West Africa or the Middle East. “We have thousands of vehicles, that have been identified, that we’re working to repatriate back to Canada,” Gast says.
Alternatively, a car might be given a false vehicle identification number (VIN) and used as a car by an organized crime group for its operations. Then there are old-fashioned “chop shops,” where stolen cars are stripped down and sold off for parts. “It’s extremely lucrative,” Gast says.
Experts blame a couple of factors on the rise in auto thefts over the past few years. Dean points to outdated anti-theft standards for Canadian vehicles—the last update, in 2007, was before keyless entry became a common feature on many cars. Then there’s the price of cars themselves. Thanks to persistently-high demand, the average new vehicle cost $66,288 in June 2023, according to Autotrader.
The most stolen cars in Canada
Many of the most-stolen vehicles in Canada aren’t all that flashy. Gast says the models vary by region. In Alberta, for example, pickup trucks are high on the list. According to Équité Association, the most commonly stolen vehicle model in Canada last year was the Honda CR-V. The Ford F-150, Honda Civic and Toyota Highlander—all mainstays of Canadian driveways—made the list of top five most stolen vehicles, as did the Lexus RX, a higher-end model.
Even if you don’t own one of these vehicles, Dean says you’re still on the hook for the ongoing auto theft epidemic. “Claims made by the few are paid for by the premiums of many—this is one of the basic principles of insurance to ensure that claims can be paid.”