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Utes versus Vans: which is more popular with thieves?

Published: January 2019


Light commercial utilities are more popular in Australia than ever before. In the last decade, registration of light commercial utilities increased by 52%. Over this time, registrations of light commercial vans rose by just 5% and passenger vehicles increased 22% (Figure 1a and 1b).

The question is, is this surge in registrations of light commercial utilities reflected in theft numbers?


The NMVTRC has examined national light commercial vehicle thefts and registrations for the period from 2007/08 to 2017/18 to determine whether this change in the light commercial utility registration profile is also seen in thefts and if so, are utilities or vans most at risk?

Analyses includes a comparison of the number of thefts and theft rates of light commercial utilities and vans during this time period, a breakdown by jurisdiction, estimated value of vehicles stolen, recovery rates, top theft targets, vehicle age and theft location.


Utility and van theft numbers and rates:
  • From 2007/08 to 2017/18, the total number of utility thefts has increased 39%, with profit motivated utility thefts increasing by 53%. This means that profit motivated utility thefts have risen at the same rate as light commercial utility registrations over this time period (Figure 1a & 2a).
  • By contrast, light commercial van theft numbers have fallen considerably over the last decade. Overall, thefts have fallen 55% despite a 5% increase in registrations. This comprises a 53% reduction in short term van thefts and a 61% reduction in profit motivated thefts (Figure 1b & 2a). So with this in mind, which category has the highest theft rate per registrations?

Figure 1a and 1b. Light commercial utility short term, profit motivated and total thefts and registrations, 2007/08 - 2017/18
  • Interestingly, light commercial utilities and vans currently have the same theft risk. Based on the 2017/18 theft data the theft risk for both types of vehicles was 2.7 thefts per 1,000 registrations (Figure 2b). Overall, utility theft rates have fallen from 2.9 in 2007/08 to 2.7 thefts per 1,000 registrations in 2017/18. This slight fall is due to a reduction in short term utility thefts; however the theft rate of profit motivated utility theft remains unchanged. On the other hand, theft rates for light commercial vans have reduced from 6.3 thefts per 1,000 registrations in 20017/08 to 2.7 in 2017/18 (Figure 2b).

Figure 2a and 2b. Light commercial utility and van thefts and theft rates, 2007/08 - 2017/18
Vehicle theft by jurisdiction:
  • Queensland recorded the highest number of light commercial utility thefts (1,945) in 2017/18 and was only slightly ahead of Victoria with 1,934 thefts. The two states accounted for 25% of all of Australia’s utility thefts, despite representing 28% and 21% of total utility registrations, respectively. New South Wales was not far behind comprising 24% of light commercial utility thefts (Figure 3a).
  • In regard to light commercial vans thefts, Victoria dominated with 41% of all thefts in Australia (or 512 thefts in 2017/18), despite accounting for only 26% of Australia’s light commercial van registrations. This was followed by 28% of light commercial vans being stolen in New South Wales (Figure 3b).

Figure 3a and 3b. Proportion of light commercial utility and van thefts and registrations, 2017/18
Estimated value of vehicles stolen:
  • The total estimated value of utilities and vans stolen in 2017/18 across Australia was $113 million. This comprised:
    • $101 million for utilities, with an average value of $13,122 and;
    • $12 million for vans, with an average value of $9,765.

Of these, $24.6 million worth of utilities and $2.4 million worth of vans have not been recovered.

  • In 2017/18, a quarter of each of the vehicle types stolen had not been recovered (26% of utilities and 24% of vans). Only 49% of all stolen vans and 55% of stolen utilities were recovered within 7 days. This means that when these vehicles are used for work purposes approximately half of their owners are without their vehicles and possibly their tools for at least a week.

Top theft targets:
  • Of the top four light commercial utility theft targets, three were Toyota Hilux models and the Toyota Hiace represented the top two van theft targets in 2017/18 (Table 1a & 1b).

Make model series year range Number of short term thefts Number of profit motivated thefts Number of thefts
Toyota Hilux MY05_11 427 163 590
Nissan Navara D40 MY05_15 317 143 460
Toyota Hilux MY12_15 266 121 387
Toyota Hilux MY98_04 269 112 381
Nissan Navara D22 MY01_15 193 72 265
Ford Ranger PX MY11+ 214 46 260
Holden Rodeo RA MY03_08 193 55 248
Holden Commodore Ute VE MY07_13 167 75 242
Toyota Hilux MY89_97 147 59 206
Mitsubishi Triton MN MY09_15 151 44 195
Make model series year range Number of short term thefts Number of profit motivated thefts Number of thefts
Toyota Hiace MY90_04 151 56 207
Toyota Hiace MY05+ 154 41 195
Mitsubishi Express SJ MY94_14 76 21 97
Hyundai iLoad TQ MY07+ 50 15 65
Volkswagen Caddy 2K MY04+ 32 4 36
Ford Econovan MY00_06 30 5 35
Mazda E2000 MY00_06 24 10 34
Ford Transit VM MY06_14 20 7 27
Toyota Townace SBV KR42R MY97_05 21 3 24
Ford Econovan MY93_96 23 1 24
Age of vehicles stolen:
  • In 2017/18, almost half (49%) of light commercial utilities stolen were 5 – 14 years old. The age profile has changed from the previous decade, where 42% of stolen utilities were late model vehicles aged 0 – 9 years. Light commercial vans, on the other hand, had an older age profile with 44% stolen aged 10-19 years. This has shifted slightly from 2007/08 where 15-24 year old vans dominated the stolen figure at 51% (Figure 4a & 4b).
  • A look at the theft rates by vehicle age shows that in both 2007/08 and 2017/18, the theft rates were highest for utility vehicles aged 20-24 years (3.94 in 2017/18), followed by 25-29 years old (3.86 in 2017/18). The theft rates in these age groups were higher than the overall theft rate of 2.68 in 2017/18. Similarly, older vans continued to have the highest theft rates despite a considerable reduction over the decade (Figure 5a &5b).

Figure 4a and 4b. Proportion of light commercial utility thefts and theft rates by vehicle age, 2007/08 and 2017/18
Figure 5a and 5b. Proportion of light commercial van thefts and theft rates by vehicle age, 2007/08 and 2017/18
Location of vehicles stolen:
  • The majority of vans (79%) and utilities (52%) were stolen from metropolitan areas. Light commercial utilities were mostly stolen from a residential location (53%) followed by the street (23%), while light commercial vans were mainly stolen from the street (45%) followed by a residential location (31%).


  • It appears that utilities and vans are currently equally popular targets for theft, however the trends suggest that we may be at a crossover point and within a year or two the theft rate of utilities will likely overtake that of vans.
  • Theft of light commercial vehicles has far reaching implications for owners in terms of loss of income and means of transport. Although the total value of utilities and vans stolen across Australia was $113 million, this does not include the cost of tools and accessories stored in the vehicles at the time of the theft, or the loss of income, which for a technician or trades worker is $1,390 based on a median weekly total cash earnings1.
  • The key take home message is to consider the safety of your car as well as where you leave your car keys, even when at home. Opportunistic thieves take advantage of easily accessible keys. You can greatly reduce your risk of theft by simply never leaving keys in plain view of open doors and windows.

1Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed 12th December 2018. Click here for 6306.0 - Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia, May 2016 link

Short term thefts are defined as motor vehicles that were stolen and recovered, profit motivated thefts were those stolen and not recovered. Recovery status is as at 31 October 2018 for all states/territories except for TAS which is at 30 September 2018 and registrations as at 31 December of each year.

The National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council (NMVTRC) acknowledges all police services, registration authorities, participating insurers, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Glass’s Information Services and Insurance Australia Group for the supply of the data on which this report is compiled. Theft incident data may be subject to later revision by the data providers. This work is copyright. Material may be reproduced for personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation with attribution to the NMVTRC ( © 2020 NMVTRC. All rights reserved.

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