Motor trade turned GMP vehicle examiner expert shares tips on keeping vehicles safe

The motor trade expert who now heads up a unit that has over 90 years’ combined experience in examining stolen and recovered cars is sharing his tips on how to keep your vehicles safe from theft.

Stolen cars and finding those responsible is one of GMP’s main priorities with continuous force-wide operations running that aim to crackdown on offenders who are actively stealing cars in burglaries and robberies, including using violence often to be sold on, broken into parts or used to commit further crimes.

Peter Johnson joined GMP during the pandemic as the supervisor of the Vehicle Examination Unit (VEU), after spending over 30 years working with a variety of manufacturers in various different roles in the north west. The VEU are responsible for carefully examining vehicles recovered by officers which are either suspected stolen, have no insurance or have had their identities altered.

The unit are a small yet extremely important force resource based in different garages across the region, with each member of the team holding a high degree of skill, knowledge and experience in detecting stolen cars or parts by carefully examining them. They also often assist with large-scale criminal investigations such as one last month which saw five sentenced for a chop shop and selling parts.

Ford and Land Rover/Range Rover vehicles are among the most stolen vehicles reported in recent months. Since the beginning of this year, over 2,500 vehicles have been reported stolen.

“A lot of the stolen cars we have are through burglaries where keys are taken. Criminals are either breaking in and taking the vehicles, or they’re using technology to get past it such as relay signal boosters.” said Peter.

“A lot of these vehicles are then either chopped up into parts and sold, or shipped and resold in another country. Land Rovers and Range Rovers one of the vehicles targeted heavily at the moment.

Peter used to work for Jaguar Land Rover for 12 years, along with Peugeot, Hyundai and Mazda and many more in a range of different roles including parts and servicing and therefore has extensive knowledge of vehicles.

He added: “I’d advise any car owner to be vigilant. The most obviously thing everyone can do is to make sure nothing is visible or in view – criminals can clearly see what’s inside and they will find a way of breaking in or stealing it if they really want the contents or the vehicle itself.

“It often goes without saying, but doing basic things like making sure all doors, windows and sunroofs are locked and secure can really make a difference.

“Never leave keys in a car either. As for keyless vehicles, one of the best things to do is to buy a Faraday pouch which can be bought online at little costs. The key sits in the bag and stops the signal that the key emits, meaning it can’t be picked up by devices that criminals illegally use to open the doors and start vehicles. Manufacturers are aware of this issue nationally and are constantly working on technology and new ways of stopping this from happening.

“Thefts of number plates is also increasing as they’re often swapped by criminals after they’ve stolen a car. Make sure number plates are secured properly which can be done by using anti-theft screws.”

He added: “Steering locks can be a bit fiddly to put on but it’s a huge deterrent. Criminals will often look at it and walk away because of the time it takes to get it off. Most thefts of vehicles are quick and can be done in seconds so anything to reduce how fast they could steal it will help.

“Some car owners also have ghost immobilisers fitted which means they have their own unique procedure to start a car such as pressing different buttons in a certain sequence that’s specific to that vehicle – a bit like a security code. There’s no way criminals can start the car without knowing the code.”

Peter also advised on those buying cars to carry out checks to ensure the vehicles are legitimate and not stolen, as money often cannot be returned if a vehicle is found to be stolen.

“If vehicles are advertised cheap, they’re normally cheap for a reason,” said Peter.

“I’d recommend going to a dealership to check or buying through sellers that are VAT registered or genuine businesses where the buyer can be reassured that all checks have been done prior to the vehicle going on sale. A lot of investigations have found stolen cars advertised as genuine vehicles on social media platforms.

“Anyone looking to buy vehicles privately should check all three identities on the vehicle. Firstly, the visible VIN, which is usually in the lower corner of the front windscreen. The stamped-in VIN, which is physically stamped into the bodyshell in various locations on the vehicle, and the sticker VIN which is usually on door apertures.  All cars have got them – make sure they all match. Any signs of tampering of stickers or if they look rough or picked at are often warning signs for us. The VIN in the windscreen should also be uniform and straight.

“It’s also worth checking the registration plate is correct to the vehicle it’s displayed on and it has the selling retailers address and postcode in the middle and the BSAU markings in the lower right corner.

“For anyone struggling, there are plenty of Apps that can also be used to check the identity of vehicles when purchasing one.”

Last year alone, GMP’s Transport and Vehicle Interception Unit (TVIU), who are just one of the teams looking to recover stolen vehicles and find those responsible, recovered over 450 stolen cars – totalling to £8,594,400.00 worth of vehicles. Last month, we jailed a group for a combined total of over 12 months after discovering a chop shop and finding that the group were selling parts from stolen vehicles online.

Superintendent John Griffith, force lead for Operation Dynamo, said: “We know how distressing it can be to be burgled, and how some people really rely on their vehicles every day, whether that’s for work or their day-to-day lives.

“Cars are of both great value and sentimental value to some people and we understand that having a car stolen can have a huge impact both financially and emotionally.

“There are a number of on-going investigations into those we suspect to be responsible for their involvement in stolen vehicles and though a lot of it can’t be revealed until it’s gone through court, I want to reassure residents of Greater Manchester that we are listening, and we are determined to find those responsible.

“We constantly monitor the number of burglaries across Greater Manchester and information is continuously gathered and acted upon. Teams from across GMP work together to deter, disrupt and ultimately dismantle organised crime groups on a daily basis.

“Officers from GMP’s Tactical Vehicle Intercept Unit (TVIU) along with other teams use both covert and marked cars, as well as ANPR technology, to catch who we believed to be burglars and robbers in cars thought to be stolen.

“Stolen cars is a national issue and we continuously work with colleagues across the UK to tackle the issue and carefully piece together evidence and investigations.

“We will continue to work to bring offenders to justice, but I would ask that residents help us to help them by following our advice on our website or Peter’s expert advice.

“Anyone with information about car thefts or anyone who believes suspicious activity is taking place at premises’ that may be a ‘chop shop’ can report it online or via LiveChat or alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”

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