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Some vehicle owners urged to consider security upgrade amid surge in thefts

Mona Botros rewatches doorbell camera footage showing thieves driving off with her 2021 Toyota RAV4 last November. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)
Mona Botros rewatches doorbell camera footage showing thieves driving off with her 2021 Toyota RAV4 last November. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

Mona Botros said she doesn't know much about tech.

But the financial adviser, who lives in Ottawa's Barrhaven suburb, does know how to cast security video taken by her doorbell camera, and now stored on her phone, onto the flat-screen TV in her living room.

That's because since first watching footage of youthful thieves breaking into her Toyota RAV4 and driving off with it on Nov. 21, she has been inexplicably drawn back to rewatch the spectacle.

Less than a week after the theft, Botros received a lymphoma diagnosis.

Two months later, she has neither her car nor a cheque from her insurer, but many medical appointments to attend.

"It was frustrating, it's still frustrating and it's not done yet," Botros said.

Certain vehicles targeted

Hers was among a surge of 1,854 vehicle thefts in Ottawa last year, an average of about five a day.

Ottawa police Chief Eric Stubbs said earlier this week proactive patrols, daylight car chases and a multitude of arrests have not been enough to stem a steady wave of thefts that seems yet to crest.

The service is again urging people whose vehicles are on the list of those most frequently stolen in Ontario to take extra measures if they want to be sure their car's in the driveway when they wake up in the morning.

Sgt. Catherine Brown said the force has traditionally been been reluctant to recommend specific aftermarket security systems to avoid the appearance of endorsement.

Now the veteran auto theft investigator said residents need to know what works and what doesn't and steered CBC toward systems with a proven track record.

A Viper key fob is needed to open and start a car protected by the company's immobilizer system.
A Viper key fob is needed to open and start a car protected by the company's immobilizer system.

A Viper key fob is needed to open and start a car protected by the company's immobilizer system. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Aftermarket security systems

Police continue to advise people to park inside a garage, install motion-sensing lights and cameras or block commonly targeted vehicles using another less-sought-after car or truck.

If none of those measures are possible and you own a vehicle such as a Toyota Highlander, it may be time to seriously consider an aftermarket security system.

At Derand Motorsports, installers have been adding IGLA and Viper brand systems to hundreds of vehicles.

A Derand Motorsports technicians installs a Viper auto immobilizer.
A Derand Motorsports technicians installs a Viper auto immobilizer.

A Derand Motorsports technician installs a Viper auto immobilizer. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"As soon as they open up the door, the alarm goes off. They cannot start the truck and it will not go out of park," said salesman Aidan Derouchie, showing off a Jeep Gladiator armed with an aftermarket immobilizer.

Thieves study and practise on the Jeep or Toyota security systems and learn how to defeat them, but not the constantly-evolving aftermarket systems, Derouchie said.

A Viper or IGLA brand immobilizer might cost $1,200, but Derouchie said not only have they never lost a car installed with one — customers routinely share security footage of would-be thieves trying and failing to disable them.

At Derand Motorsports, Aidan Derouchie checks in with a tech installing a system in a car.
At Derand Motorsports, Aidan Derouchie checks in with a tech installing a system in a car.

At Derand Motorsports, Aidan Derouchie checks in with a tech installing a system in a car. (Stu Mills/CBC)

In one example, the footage showed thieves breaking the rear window of a Dodge Ram pickup truck and climbing in.

"They spent about 10 minutes inside, then crawled out the same window and walked away," he said.

Tag system keeps them guessing

If immobilizers can be called the kill switch, then Kanata Toyota's approach is the capture.

Manager David Myers said his installers hide a series of wireless tracking units made by a company called Tag all over the car. The technology is so cutting-edge that Myers wouldn't let CBC take a picture of the trackers or their packaging.

Each kit comes with a random number of units, so while thieves might know there are trackers on board a targeted vehicle, they won't know how many they need to find and disable.

"They're looking at laws of averages: 'If I steal it, am I going to hold onto it?'" Myers explained.

Kanata Toyota also etches the driver's window with Tag's logo to warn would-be thieves that if they manage to steal the vehicle, someone will be hunting for them.

Kanata Toyota's Harry Sahota points out a Tag tracking system logo on a new Toyota.
Kanata Toyota's Harry Sahota points out a Tag tracking system logo on a new Toyota.

Kanata Toyota's Harry Sahota points out a Tag tracking system logo on a new Toyota. It's designed to deter would-be thieves. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Kanata Toyota sales manager Harry Sahota said some insurers may offset the costs of a pricey gadgets. An immobilizer can cost $1,200 and a tracker $800.

Ottawa police officers working the surging car theft beat said even on their own personal vehicles, it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.