More vehicles are being stolen in Rotorua - and police say they are being used to commit crime or are being stripped down and sold to make money to buy drugs.

Figures released to the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act show there was a spike in thefts last year with 449 reported cases - a 60 per cent jump from the 278 vehicles stolen in 2014.

Police say trailers, Toyota Hiluxes and Subaru Legacies are the top three vehicles being targeted.

Rotorua police area commander Inspector Bruce Horne said trailers in particular were being sold for scrap metal to get money for drugs and Toyota Hiluxes and Subaru Legacies were being stripped down and rebuilt or sold for parts. The thefts have prompted police to randomly stop people towing trailers or driving Hiluxes and Legacies to check if they were stolen.


Recently police stopped a motorist who had unwittingly been towing a stolen trailer they bought off Trade Me two years ago, Mr Horne said.

Vehicles being stolen and used to commit crime had been a particular problem in the past two months, he said.

"We have had 12 instances where vehicles have been stolen to commit a burglary and most of them have been found burnt out."

The rise in vehicle thefts was not only in Rotorua. Nationwide, the number of recorded vehicle thefts rose to 20,646 last year, a 12 per cent increase on 2014, and a 20 per cent increase since 2012.

Mr Horne said it wasn't uncommon for the thieves to work in groups, operating like a business. "The ones targeting certain vehicles have links to gangs, they might not necessarily be gang members but they are purchasing drugs from gangs and there are others who are stealing cars specifically to commit crime."

Mr Horne said most thefts could be prevented if people took simple security measures.

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"A lot of people still leave their vehicles unlocked even outside their houses at night. These types of crimes are about opportunity. We know young people will walk around town trying car doors and when they find one open, they'll jump in and steal it."

Police resolved 12.3 per cent of vehicle theft offences in Rotorua last year, down from 15.5 per cent in 2014. This meant seven of every eight vehicle thefts were not resolved. Mr Horne said the culprits were serial offenders and when caught for stealing one car, they often couldn't prove they had stolen others. "That's why there's a gap with resolutions. It's not like an assault where the resolution rates are higher because the person being assaulted generally knows who assaulted them."

- Additional reporting Jordan Bond
Top 3 stolen vehicles:

* Trailers

* Toyota Hiluxes

* Subaru Legacies

Police theft prevention tips:

* Keep your car locked, even when parked at home and in the garage

* Consider fitting immobilisers or a tracking device to your vehicle

* If you own a trailer or scooter, consider fitting wheel locks and coupling locks

* Don't leave valuables or items attractive to thieves (eg phones, laptops, bags) in plain sight inside the vehicle

* Don't leave spare car keys in obvious places in the house