Toronto’s high auto insurance claims driven by desperate economic conditions

Jun 14, 2024 | Biz/Tech, News

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) released its list of Ontario’s top 10 costliest cities for auto theft claims on June 3, and they’re all in the Greater Toronto Area.

The top 10 Ontario cities with the highest increase in auto theft claims and claims costs during this period are Whitby, Pickering, Milton, Markham, Oakville, Richmond Hill, Ajax, Vaughan, Clarington, and Brampton, respectively.

The data shows auto theft claims costs in Ontario have surged by 524 per cent since 2018, surpassing $1 billion for the first time in 2023.

Vehicle theft insurance claims rose by 165 per cent from 2018 to 2023, and costs rose by 524 per cent. From 2022 to 2023, claims increased by 21 per cent, and expenses grew by 32 per cent.

Toronto ranked first on the list, dramatically rising by a 561 per cent cost increase from 2018 to 2023.

Milan Alston, account executive of Disklok Canada, an automotive security provider, said there has been an unprecedented spike in auto theft from the pandemic.

“Five years ago in Canada, auto thefts were almost nonexistent, maybe in the big cities and the bad neighbourhoods. But today, auto theft is almost everywhere, not just in major cities, but just in smaller cities in Canada,” he said.

Alston said technological development is one of the primary factors contributing to the sharp increase in this phenomenon.

“Most new and modern cars use a keyless entry system, which you have your key fob. It automatically opens up when you get close to the car. It’s a good quality improvement, but it poses a new security risk,” he said.

Alston said an example is relay attacks, where thieves use a radar or antenna to capture signals from a key fob and remotely unlock cars.

Matt Hands, vice president of Insurance and MoneySense at Ratehub Inc., Canada’s largest digital marketplace for insurance and financial services, said high auto insurance claims are primarily caused by vehicle theft and price increases, followed by severe weather events that can damage vehicles, such as storms, flooding, or hail, necessitating repairs.

“One of the biggest factors in terms of the surge is stolen vehicles,” Hands said. “It’s just a symptom of desperation by certain people given the economic conditions or economic time frames. And that technology in vehicles is making it easier to steal them. Thieves can steal the car with a smartphone.”

Alston said economic motivations, low car recovery rates, and insufficient police action are also noticeable causes of this dilemma.

“Overall, it’s economically speaking,” he said. “Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, things have been getting tougher in Canada. And it resulted in many people going towards criminal organizations and in auto theft crime.”

According to a report by Équité Association, the National Action Plan on Combatting Auto Theft led by Public Safety Canada, the top five most stolen vehicles in Canada in 2022 are the Honda CR-V, Dodge RAM 1500 Series, Ford F150 Series, Lexus RX Series, and Toyota Highlander.

Alston said the high demand for car parts significantly drove these specific vehicles’ theft.

He said the keyless entry systems are suitable for the drivers but are simultaneously very vulnerable to relay attacks.

“I don’t think there’s a way to tackle it because if it provides a signal, the signal can be stolen, and the thieves can unlock the car. The only effective way is using older technology that needs physical keys,” Alton said. “Which we don’t see anymore in Canada.”

The federal government announced in February 2024 a $15 million fund to combat auto theft, following the $28 million fund to investigate the export of stolen vehicles globally to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

The federal government said the around 90,000 cars stolen annually in Canada cost insurance policyholders and taxpayers about $1 billion.

Hands said the mandatory form of insurance only protects the driver and other drivers who are victims of the accident. It doesn’t protect the vehicle.

“As vehicle thefts are on the rise, most people will have this form of coverage,” he said. “With the record number of vehicles being stolen, we’re seeing a record number of comprehensive claims being submitted and therefore a lot of costs.”

Hands said the more risky a vehicle is to insure it, the better chance it has it being stolen.

“If the vehicle has a lower chance of being stolen or is cheaper to repair or replace, the insurance company will think there’s less chance it will be stolen,” he said. “Therefore, they will not charge the customer a surcharge to insure this vehicle.”

He said the key for car owners to ensure they have the necessary evidence when filling an auto theft claim is to contact their insurance company as soon as possible to start the claims process and keep them in the loop.

Alston said vehicle drivers should avoid shady areas, use a steering wheel lock, and keep keys in a signal-proof pocket to prevent auto theft.

Hands recommended drivers add comprehensive coverage to their policy and consider adding “removing depreciation” coverage for newer cars to ensure they get the total purchase value if their vehicle is stolen.