Counting Crime is a Herald series looking at where and when offending is happening in the community - and who the victims are. Each day we will look at a different category of crime and examine the numbers, meet the people affected the most and reveal the times, days and places you are more likely to fall victim. Today we look at vehicle crime, one of the most common in New Zealand.

The phone rang at 5am, it was the police.

"Your car's been stolen, it's out in West Auckland," the officer said.

Read more:
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Brigid Searle couldn't believe it, surely they had the wrong person, surely not her car - the aging Nissan Pulsar family wagon parked right outside her bedroom window, metres from where she was lying in bed.

Unfortunately, the officer was right.

Counting Crime: check out your neighbourhood at Herald Insights here.

The car had been stolen from Searle's Mt Wellington driveway in the night, as she and her husband and children slept nearby.

She shared her story as part of the Herald's series Counting Crime.

Searle's husband had to take a train to West Auckland and pick up the car. When he arrived home she wished he hadn't.

"It was covered in graffiti, all over the outside, all over the inside, the seats, the roof - it had 'f**k the police' sprayed across the side," Searle said.

"They'd gotten rid of the kid's car seats, their bikes that had been in the boot were gone.

"It's not the first time the car was broken into. Usually they just break in and take bits and pieces, loose change and stuff, but this time they took the whole car."

The ignition was broken and Searle's husband had to drive it home with a screwdriver jammed into it to get it going - the thieves' "key".

The couple had insurance so were able to replace the defaced wagon, but were still upset.

"I was quite shaken afterwards," Searle said.

"I got a bit depressed about it, that someone had come in while we were asleep and taken our stuff.

"And my son was so upset that his bike was gone, he still talks about it now, how the bad people came and took it.

"We were really scared in case the thieves came back - what if they'd been watching the house too?"

Brigid Searle's car has been broken into several times and stolen - while parked at her Mt Wellington home. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs
Brigid Searle's car has been broken into several times and stolen - while parked at her Mt Wellington home. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs

One of the offenders did come back - the day she failed to appear in court on charges relating to the theft of the car.

Searle said the woman apologised and tried to convince her to get the charges dropped.

That didn't happen and the woman, who also lives in Mt Wellington, was convicted and sentenced to 80 hours' community work for the crime.

Searle usually uses a steering wheel lock but the night the car was stolen was the one time she didn't attach it.

"It's not like someone breaking into your home, but they are coming onto your property when you are asleep and taking your stuff - it's scary.

"When you're a victim of these crimes you also have to spend a long time dealing with police and insurance companies, which isn't ideal. It takes so much time to sort everything out after some stranger decides to take what's not theirs."

How to protect your vehicle

Vehicles can be protected by the anti-theft devices, which slow down or foil thieves.

The more time a criminal spends trying to steal a vehicle increases the likelihood of discovery and apprehension.

Different types are available that can be fitted to your vehicle.
• Ignition cutout switch or ignition shield
• Fuel cut-out switch
• Battery isolator
• Steering wheel lock
• Handbrake lock
• Transmission lock
• Wheel lock
• Lockable fuel cap and wheel nuts (fuel and wheels are frequently stolen)
• Vehicle alarm system

Bike checklist

• Use a strong chain and lock
• Lock your bike every time you leave it
• Lock your bike in a shed at night (don't leave it lying around)
• Keep a record of the frame number
• Etch your driver licence number, if you have one, on the bike frame

Motorcycle checklist

• Use an ignition lock
• Lock your helmet
• Use a strong thick chain and lock
• Use a good-quality padlock
• Consider an alarm or other anti-theft device

Boat and caravan checklist

• Store out of sight if possible
• Secure a dinghy with a security chain
• Use a security rated padlock
• Keep keys in your house (never "hidden" outside).
• Etch the registration number and/or your driver licence number on the boat or caravan and on the boat trailer
• Mark valuable equipment for identification
• Use a wheel or towball lock
• Consider an alarm or other anti-theft device