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Theft of car steering wheels rises 68% as thieves target expensive part

Airbag theft has risen by 68% over the last year, according to research from Admiral Insurance

Thieves are removing steering wheels for the valuable airbags they contain to take advantage of airbag supply chain issues linked to wider car part shortages. BMWs are found to be commonly targeted.

Lorna Connelly, Head of Claims at Admiral said: “Our data shows that the number of claims for stolen steering wheels has increased in recent years, with the biggest rise in the last year. You might wonder why a thief would take a steering wheel, but it’s what’s inside they’re really after. We understand that they’re being stolen for the airbags housed inside them.

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“Airbag theft is a relatively new phenomenon, as criminals look for new ways to make money from stolen car parts during the pandemic. In the last four years, we’ve received more than 500 claims for stolen steering wheels, with the biggest rise in 2021 when there was a 68% increase compared with 2020. The most commonly targeted cars appear to be BMWs, however our data shows that most popular makes, including Fords, Mercedes and Land Rovers have been hit.

“The rise in thefts has been higher during the pandemic as the factories that produce airbags have been impacted by Covid, either shutting down permanently or struggling to keep up with demand once they reopen. This has resulted in criminals taking advantage of the supply chain issue.

“Once the steering wheel has been stolen, the airbag is removed and sold onto unscrupulous garages who fit them to cars for less than dealerships would charge. The garage might buy the stolen airbag for between £200 and £500 before charging a customer a few hundred pounds more. This would still be cheaper than the driver going to an authorized dealership, where it costs up to £1,000 to replace an activated or faulty airbag.

“If you’re having repair work done on your car that requires a replacement airbag, you should always have it done by authorized, reputable repairers, who only ever use approved parts sourced from specialist suppliers.”

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Admiral Insurance issues the following advice for drivers looking to protect their car from airbag thieves :

  • If you have a garage, use it. Lock your vehicle in the garage, out of sight.
  • If you don’t have a garage, invest in a steering wheel lock. They work as a visual deterrent to add an extra layer of security. Look for locks that are Sold Secure tested or Secured by Design (SBD) approved. Some locks even have added alarms, so do your research and find the right lock for you.
  • Park in a safe, well-lit area whenever you leave your car.
  • Double check that your vehicle is locked every time you leave it.
  • If you have CCTV or a video doorbell make sure it covers your vehicle on the driveway. Most of these work on motion detection and alerts can be sent to your mobile phone to alert you of motion.
  • And if you see anyone acting suspiciously near a vehicle, don’t hesitate to call the police.
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