"You feel so invaded. We had such an emotional day."
This is how Dana Watkins describes the pain of having her teenage son's car stolen just days after he got it for his birthday.
Her son, Riley Bolton, was given a Mazda Demio for his 18th birthday two Fridays ago, only for it to be stolen from their quiet Rotorua street by the Sunday.
It was his first car, meant to be used to get to work and to see his girlfriend in Hamilton.
Their story is one many residents can relate to as vehicle thefts increase — prompting a warning from police.
In the past two years, there have been 7691 car thefts in the Bay of Plenty.
Police said this week said 160 vehicles had been reported stolen in the Rotorua area in the past month.
While most had been recovered, police reminded people to put prevention measures in place to avoid having their vehicles stolen.
Area Commander Phillip Taikato said in many instances the vehicles had been taken by people wanting to go for a joyride and, in other cases, offenders used these vehicles to commit other crimes.
Just this week a stolen vehicle was used when thieves hit a Whakatāne jewellery store.
Having posted to social media asking for information about their lost vehicle, Watkins received a tip that her son's Demio was being driven around on an apparent joyride.
It was normally parked in their driveway, as it had previously belonged to another family member, but home renovations meant it was parked over the road.
It had taken five minutes for a group to pull up alongside and steal the Demio at about 5am, as shown on a neighbour's security camera.
The help from the public meant they were able to find their car. However, the way it had been driven meant it had to be written-off, she said.
"You feel so invaded. We had such an emotional day.
"It's so gutting. You go to work every day, and you try and help your kids get on their feet and then some idiot comes and takes that away because they want to go for a joyride."
Her daughter's car had also been broken into in the past, leaving it undriveable with a busted ignition.
She encouraged people to create crime deterrents, such as steering locks.
"We should have known better but you don't think you should have to know better."
Between January 2020 and January 2022 there were 90,202 crimes recorded in the Bay of Plenty.
Of the total crimes, 25,257 of these were in the Rotorua area.
With 7702 thefts recorded, it was the most common crime in Rotorua, with 2270 vehicle thefts.
The latest AMI data revealed this week showed the Mazda Demio was the country's - and Bay of Plenty's - most stolen car.
Of the 12,000 insurance claims AMI received for vehicle thefts over the past three years, the Demio accounted for 10 per cent of claims, despite only making up 1.5 per cent of the country's fleet.
AMI's claims executive general manager Wayne Tippet said the data served as a reminder to take security precautions and check your insurance details are up to date.
"Our claims data shows that many cars are parked out on the street or outside someone else's property for the night when they are stolen.
"Where possible, park down a driveway or inside a garage, and double-check your car is locked. If there isn't any off-street parking available, try to park your car in a well-lit area, like under a streetlamp."
He said stolen cars were recently increasingly likely to be used in further criminal activity like ram raids.
Watchdog Security Group is based in both Rotorua and Tauranga, and chief executive Brett Wilson said car theft was something staff encountered periodically.
"From incidents my staff have been involved with, it seems to be often juveniles ... with the increasing number of car thefts, it's probably no coincidence there is an increasing number in emergency housing."
He advised people looked for car brands that were not often targeted.
"Small cars tend to be a bit of a target sometimes because they are easy to get down narrow spaces if police are trying to follow them."
He suggested car alarms, GPS trackers, well-lit parking spaces and models with good in-built security systems as ways to thwart thieves.
Whakatāne Neighbourhood Support co-ordinator Jane Fox said she provided the district's community with a weekly police report of burglaries and thefts.
Car thefts were high at the moment, she said, and they tried to provide tips to people to prevent it from happening to them.
She said there were roughly five or six incidents a week, and three or four burglaries a week.
"It is constant, every week there is crime."
The group worked to deter these crimes from happening: "I'm sure it does help."
About 1600 households were involved with the group.
Top 10 most stolen vehicles across New Zealand*:
1. Mazda Demio – 1,176 claims
2. Mazda Atenza (also known as Mazda6) – 774 claims
3. Nissan Tiida – 700 claims
4. Subaru Legacy – 458 claims
5. Mazda Familia – 456 claims
6. Subaru Impreza – 387 claims
7. Toyota Hilux – 384 claims
8. Ford Courier – 264 claims
9. Subaru Forester – 237 claims
10. Honda Civic – 187 claims
* Based on AMI Insurance motor claims data from 2019-2021. Cars are ranked from highest frequency of theft to lowest.
Keep your car secure
• Invest in an anti-theft system. These can range from a simple steering wheel lock to a full alarm system that will immobilise the car.
• Giving the impression that you have an alarm system will sometimes be enough to deter thieves; stickers on windows or flashing LEDs on the dashboard can be all it takes.
• Always lock your car, even when you are parked in your own driveway.
• Never leave your keys in your unattended car, even for a brief moment.
• Avoid leaving valuables like CDs, laptops, mobile phones, GPS devices and iPods in your car. If you have to leave them there, make sure they are out of sight.
• When you are parking at night you are more vulnerable to theft. Try to park in well-lit areas and always be aware of what is going on around you. Keep the doors locked at night even when you're in the car.
• Be sure it is safe to get out if you are alone and it's dark.
Source: NZ Police