How safe is your car in the garage?
On Thursday, three Tata Safaris including one belonging to the Central Excise Superindent in Noida were stolen in a single day with the Superintendent’s car being lifted from his own home. On the same day, UP police recovered a Toyota Qualis and a Fortuner, which were stolen from a company dealership in Bangalore a year ago, from Lucknow.
Such incidents are so commonplace in India and occupy so much newsprint, that we do not even take note of them anymore. But what these do underline is the fact that a car, a man’s second most expensive expenditure in life in India, is a highly unsafe commodity anywhere — your house, office, a parking lot, or even when it is waiting to be picked up at a company dealership. And the thieves, when they do strike, do not differentiate between a minister or a high ranking law enforcement officer or a rank commoner like you and me.
In India, the stolen vehicle market is estimated at a whopping Rs 4,000 crore and is a bustling industry, one that is the biggest of its kind in the world. In 2009, 20,914 cars were officially reported to have been stolen, a number that swells to 1,10,982 if motorcycles and scooters are also taken into account. As is often the case in India, our lax law and order paraphernalia ensures that the recovery rate is a low 21% for cars and only a slightly more respectable 26% for two wheelers. Not without reason then, that once a car is stolen, the best one can do is claim insurance and move on. Getting your car back is likely as spotting a tiger in a forest. The mathematics of stolen vehicle
Delhi the scariest, Jabalpur the safest
It may not come as a surprise to many, but like women our cars are the most vulnerable right within our national capital Delhi. A total of almost 4,400 cars were lifted from Delhi streets in 2009 of which only 580 could be recovered, a poor appraisal for a force that promises to be “with you, for you, always.” Our national capital’s rate of recovery is thus, way below the national average of 20.8% for cars.
And Delhi has consistently topped this list for over 10 years now. Again not surprising considering that it also has the largest number of vehicles on the roads. Back in 1999 too, almost the same number of cars used to be stolen from Delhi and the number had peaked to 5800 in 2007. The only solace could be that the numbers have not swelled in line with the rise in sale of cars in the city but maybe the credit for this should go to the manufactrers who are making more secure vehicles these days.
Delhi is followed by its arch rival Mumbai, which is the only other city with over 1000 car thefts in a year. Its recovery rate also is not enviable but at 19%, much better than Delhi.
In stark contrast, and what may come as a real surprise. Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh reported that not even a single four wheeler was stolen in 2009 and only 172 two wheelers were stolen of which 80 were recovered, a healthy recovery rate of 46.5%, way more than the national average of 26%.
The southern city of Vizag presents another curious case. Only 6 cars were stolen in 2009, but it boasts of the distinction of 100% rate of recovery as all 6 of them were recovered. Other safe cities for cars include Madurai, Asansol and Dhanbad. Not one north Indian town figures high in this list.
UP, Maharashtra : haven for auto lifters
We have already talked about Delhi, which tops the most unsafe states list too. But its effect is felt in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan as well. All the 3 states, with Maharashtra, make up the most unsafe states in the country with only Haryana boasting of an above average recovery record.
Next to Delhi, UP reported 2,718 cars being stolen in 2009 and it also has a pathetic 11.8% recovery rate. It only means, that the owners of the three cars that were lifted in Noida on Thursday, may reconcile themselves and move on relinquishing all thoughts of driving those cars ever again.
Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand : safety mascots, and Bihar is not bad either
The south of India often prides itself for being more cultured, educated and even better policed and figures back that claim. Though Uttarakhand reported fewer cases of car thefts, Tamil Nadu has by far the best recovery rate of 72%, more than three times the national average. For the sake of comparison, the North Eastern states due to their very low vehicle density have been discounted from this compilation. But hill states figure high nevertheless.
Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh score low on thefts, but naxal infested Chhattisgarh and UP’s partner in crime Bihar make surprise appearances. Both states witness a similar number of around 250 car thefts every year and while Bihar lives upto its name of having a corrupt police force, Chhattisgarh does itself proud with a better than national average recovery record.
And the best way to make your car theft proof
Neither is this industry that thrives on stealing vehicles going to ride into the sunset soon, nor is the police force likely to get its act together in the near future. So what is it that one can do to prevent getting one’s car stolen?
While there are no fool proof measures, the market place does offer technological solutions like alarm systems and automotive locks. There was a time not long ago when audible alarms were a rage in new age cars and the market seemed to simply love them. Over a period of time though. not only were they found to be grossly ineffective with thieves finding a way to deactivate them rather easily. they also became a cause for nuisance when the alarm would simply go off even at the slightest provocation.
So while an audible alarm still does work in preventing a car theft, it is no longer a preferable option. The other type of alarm systems are the inaudible ones that send a message to you on your mobile every time somebody tries to fiddle with your car. Though very effective, it does not give a complete solution, as you maybe far away from your car or busy in a meeting when you get that message. And even when you do get it in time, it exposes you to the risk of confronting the thief, which may have dramatic consequences.
There are also some age old devices like the gear locks and steering locks that help prevent a theft. Both these systems have however long lost theri charm, partly because they look dated as also because thieves are now smarter. Even then, because these are manual devices breaching them often means breaking the lock, which at the worst will gve the owner a buffer of atleast 30 minutes.
The ones that are the most widely used these days are the engine immobilisers, which are also offered as a factory fitment by carmakers today. All Maruti cars for example come fitted with engine immobilisers. A car engine immobiliser is an electronic device fitted to the engine of a car that prevents it starting unless the correct token or key is used. It can be fitted as standard to a car, or as an aftermarket add on fitted later. Immobilisers work by disabling at least two of three main systems — the ignition, starter motor or the fuel system.
Its working for the techno geek is rather simple. A microcircuit within the key activates a binary code that is then relayed to the car’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU), which then ‘recognises’ the correct code and allows all three systems above to be activated. Thereby making it next to impossible for somebody to start the car without the right key.
While an immobiliser is supremely effective, there have been cases where its security has been breached as well. The best solution could be an immobiliser combined with a steering or a gear lock. The two of them together would pose multiple challenges to a thief who would have to not only apply himself manually but also use his brains to break generate a key with a code suitable enough to start the car.