A rise in vehicle thefts in parts of the UK had been linked by police to a shortage of car parts.
Thieves across the country are dismantling cars “within hours” so they can sell the parts for “high prices”, according to a senior officer.
West Midlands Police Superintendent Jim Munro advised motorists not to assume vehicles left in car parks for just a few minutes are safe.
Police figures obtained by PA”>
Some 88,915 vehicle thefts in the 12 months to March 7 were recorded by the 34 police forces who provided full figures in response to freedom of information requests from the PA news agency.
This suggests that an average of 244 vehicles are stolen each day – one every six minutes.
Six force zones recorded an increase in thefts compared to the same period two years earlier.
These were South Yorkshire (+28%), City of London (+25%), West Midlands (+19%), Surrey (+12%), Merseyside (+4%) and Greater Manchester (+1%).
Factory closures around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic have caused a shortage of semiconductor chips and other components in countries like the UK.
Mr Munro said: “What we have seen during the pandemic is that there are parts supply issues in the automotive industry and delays in builds.
“What we’ve seen in the West Midlands is also what we’ve seen across the room nationally – there’s a desire for certain vehicle parts, and that’s fueling the theft of motor vehicle crime. .”
Mr Munro described the process as ‘unauthorized dismantling of a vehicle’.
He said: “Vehicles are stolen, sometimes taken to nearby industrial units, people work all night in industrial areas, and sometimes these vehicles have been stripped within hours.
“The parts are then sold and the hulls await scrap.”
He added: “We have seen issues with microchips, but also with particular vehicle parts that have been difficult for people to get.
“Some of these coins are being sold for quite high prices due to demand.”
Mr Munro said there is a correlation between the most common car brands on the road and the models most targeted by thieves, as their parts have “particularly high value due to the number of people who want them “.
Police are using a variety of tactics to try to slow the wave of vehicle thefts.
More than 2,000 suspects have been arrested by West Midlands Police in the past 12 months as part of Operation Cantil, which has also recovered 1,000 stolen cars.
A number of chop shops – places where stolen vehicles are dismantled – have been discovered and taken out of use.
The forces are also working with the auto industry to predict which car brands will be vulnerable in the future and examine how their safety features can be improved.
Location-based technology is also used to send Instagram posts with car safety tips to drivers as they visit dealerships.
Mr Munro urged motorists wishing to avoid becoming a victim to “focus on where they leave their vehicle”.
He said many people mistakenly assume their car would be safe when parked for a short time in a location such as a business park, believing most thefts occur outside homes.
“Criminals exploit this,” he explained. “They use devices to block signals where people try to lock their cars with their remotes.
“When you lock your vehicle, make sure the vehicle is locked, the signal is not blocked, no matter how long you leave the vehicle.
“Whether it’s just to enter the store, make sure your car is always secure.”