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The 2018 Honda CR-V was among the most stolen vehicles in Canada in 2019.Honda/Handout

The numbers are in and it’s official: The Honda CR-V SUV was the most stolen vehicle in Canada in 2019. It was followed closely by the Lexus RX SUV.

Of the 87,066 vehicles stolen in this country last year, the 2017-19 CR-V accounted for 758 of the thefts recorded by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). The 2017-19 Lexus RX accounted for 604.

The IBC does not record theft information for British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which have government-run insurance, but it does prepare an annual list of stolen vehicles, which breaks down thefts by vehicle model and model year. In 2019, the three most recent model years of CR-V and RX held the top six spots.

It’s “very possible” that thieves have developed a decoder that allows them to clone the signals emitted by these vehicles’ key fobs, says Bryan Gast, the IBC’s National Director of Investigative Services.

“Whenever we recover a vehicle, our investigators work with law enforcement and CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) to identify how a vehicle was stolen,” he says. “Was it stolen with the keys? Without the keys? Was the window smashed? It’s very concerning when one particular make of vehicle keeps getting stolen – have they found a vulnerability?”

Today’s electronic key fobs can sometimes be activated by sophisticated devices so that their security code can be read and copied, and then used to open and start the locked vehicle. Often, if the key is just hanging on a hook by the front door, it can be activated through the locked door without any break-in needed.

Gast recommends keeping electronic key fobs in special boxes or pouches that prevent signals being broadcast through them. Such boxes and pouches are easily found online or sold at stores such as Canadian Tire. Even so, it’s an ongoing battle to keep vehicles secure.

“Trying to stay ahead of these individuals with technology – that’s a problem,” says Gast. “You can have a fix, but next thing you know, they’ve found a way to defeat it. Technology’s great, but it’s very hard to keep up with.”

Earlier this year, the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators, based in New York, warned that a device had come onto the market that looks much like a retro Nintendo Game Boy console. It was being sold by a Bulgarian company for £20,000 (CA$34,000) and claimed to be able to open and start any modern Hyundai, Kia or Mitsubishi in less than a minute.

Canadian auto thieves have different preferences depending on their region, as shown by the statistics from IBC. In Alberta, for example, the 10 most stolen vehicles in 2019 were all Ford or Ram pickup trucks. In Atlantic Canada, the most stolen vehicle is the 2017 Chevrolet Silverado / GMC Sierra. In Quebec, the CR-V easily holds the top three places, and in Ontario, the top two spots are the 2017 and 2018 Lexus RX.

For this current year, Gast expects more small performance vehicles will make the list. Stolen cars and stolen parts are often used in illegal street-racing events, which have grown in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Probably more than half of the vehicles stolen in Canada are recovered intact, says Gast, but often the best advice is the simplest. Park your vehicle in a well-lit area, and don’t leave the key in it, especially if the engine is running. “That’s just making it too easy for these individuals,” he says.

The 10 most stolen vehicles in Canada for 2019

  1. 2018 Honda CR-V 4DR AWD
  2. 2017 Lexus RX350/RX450h 4DR AWD
  3. 2017 Honda CR-V 4DR AWD
  4. 2018 Lexus RX350/RX450h/RX450hL 4DR AWD
  5. 2018 Ford F-150 4WD
  6. 2019 Honda CR-V 4DR AWD
  7. 2018 Toyota Highlander 4DR 4WD
  8. 2017 Toyota Highlander 4DR 4WD
  9. 2019 Lexus RX350/RX350L/RX450h/RX450hL 4DR AWD
  10. 2017 Dodge Ram 1500 4WD

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