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.

Thefts from vehicles is the fourth most common way Kiwis become victims of crime.

From July 2014 to the end of 2016, 82,442 people reported having their cars broken into in New Zealand.

For the majority of reports, the exact time and day of the break in could not be pinpointed and so was not recorded by police.

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But of those when a time and date could be given a pattern emerged.

Vehicles were most often broken into on a Saturday around 2pm, according to police statistics analysed by Herald data editor Harkanwal Singh for this week's series Counting Crime.

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

The Auckland City police district recorded the most break ins followed by Counties Manukau, Canterbury and Waitemata.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Sam Hoyle, who oversees all 12 police districts said cars were an easy target for thieves.

They always had been, and likely always would be.

"I think largely thefts from cars are about opportunity - the opportunity to take stuff that is easy to dispose of," Hoyle told the Herald.

"Cars are relatively simple to break into, even modern cars.

"I'm certain parts of New Zealand cars are more vulnerable because they are parked out on the street."

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Hoyle said one of the biggest drivers of vehicle break ins was the fact that people leave cars unlocked in vulnerable places.

And, they left valuables inside, in full view of anyone who walked past.

"We've seen from CCTV footage that some offenders will try car doors as they go along, others will go looking into vehicles to see if there is anything interesting that they perceive as being of value," he said.

"Hot items include sunglasses, bags, gym bags - anything they think they can dispose of very quickly."

Nellie Ison's car was broken into in central Auckland. New Zealand Herald photo by Jason Oxenham
Nellie Ison's car was broken into in central Auckland. New Zealand Herald photo by Jason Oxenham

A recent survey revealed that 72 per cent of people who had their vehicles broken into also had contents stolen by the thieves.

The most popular items pinched were cash and car radios followed by CDs , clothing, sunglasses, wallets or handbags, sports equipment including gym bags, golf clubs and fishing gear, navigation devices, books and laptops or tablets.

Among the other items stolen were spare keys, cigarettes, groceries, energy drinks, spare engine oil, garage door openers, cellphones, pocket knives, watches and pens.

Thieves, it seems, will take whatever they can get their hands on.

The Colmar Brunton survey of 1014 people across the country, commissioned by AA Insurance, showed that 89 per cent of drivers said they always locked their cars, 10 per cent "usually" locked and just 1 per cent said they "sometimes or never" did.

The survey also revealed that one in 10 people had their entire car stolen and just over a third of those - 35 per cent - were taken from the street.

Just 8 per cent of cars were taken from a car park, 3 per cent from garages at the owners home and 23 per cent from elsewhere on their property.

Hoyle said Kiwis needed to do better to protect their own property.

Over the years police have issued countless warnings about removing valuables from vehicles but the message simply didn't get through to many.

"I think it's a little bit of 'it won't happen to me' - until it does," Hoyle said.

"I know from people we've spoken to that yes, they heard the messages, yes, they know they shouldn't have left things in the car and yes, they feel like an idiot.

"But either they were in a hurry, it was inconvenient to take their gear out, or it was 'it won't happen to me'."

Hoyle said they key to avoiding becoming a victim of car crime was vigilance and common sense.

"I think you always need to be vigilant," he said.

"We live in an incredibly safe community but that said, we all still need to be vigilant and do the basics like putting our own stuff away.

"A lot of it is common sense - we know people get busy and make mistakes but if we apply common sense we'll stay a bit safer."

Subaru the most common stolen car. NZME file photograph
Subaru the most common stolen car. NZME file photograph

In demand - NZ's most stolen cars

Alongside car break ins, 1079 entire vehicles were stolen across the country between July 2014 and December 2016.

Vehicles are most often stolen on a Friday between 11.30am and 12.30pm.

The most-stolen cars in New Zealand this year, according to police, are the Subaru Legacy and Impreza.

Police revealed the thieves most-wanted vehicle earlier this year, but say it's based on anecdotal evidence rather than statistical.

For many years Subarus have come under fire by thieves and this year was no different.

But while it was the most stolen in Northland, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty, Eastern, Central, Wellington and Tasman, more modest cars topped the list in other areas.

Police national prevention manager Superintendent Eric Tibbott said Canterbury had a spike in thefts of Mazda Demio cars and the Waitemata and Waikato districts reported the Mazda Familia as being the most widely stolen vehicle.

Down in the Southern district though, Holdens were the most pinched.

"It's worth noting also that the cars on this list are quite common cars in New Zealand - therefore it is expected that the frequency would be higher but not necessarily the proportion of all that are available in New Zealand," said Tibbott.

"We all have a part to play in preventing crimes like car theft - for example, by securing our own property, looking out for neighbours, and keeping an eye out for suspicious activity in our communities.

The top 10 stolen cars based on AA Insurance claims data from May 2011 to April 2015 - a list that used to be released annually, had a completely different make and model at the top.

The Honda Torneo took first place, followed buy the Mazda Familia, Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Libero, Nissan Safari, Honda Integra, Subaru Forester, Nissan Stagea, Mazda Atenza, Mazda Premacy.

Statistics are sourced from the Police national data page and are for July 2014 to December 2016 with an outcome of investigation of 30 days.

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 attempting to steal a vehicle increases the likelihood of discovery and apprehension.

The following are some of the different types available that can be fitted to your vehicle.

• Ignition cut out switch or ignition shield
• Fuel cut out switch
• Battery isolator
• Steering wheel lock
• Hand brake 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 tow ball lock
• Consider an alarm or other anti-theft device