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Motor Vehicle Theft and Socio-Economic Status in Australia

Published: February 2014

International research suggests that crime in general, and particularly motor vehicle theft is closely related to socio-economic status (Copes 1999, Walsh and Taylor, 2007). This study examined the relationship between motor vehicle theft and socio-economic status in Australia.

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The 2011 Socio-Economic Indexes For Areas (SEIFA) product, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) measures the relative socio-economic status of areas (ABS catalogue number 2033.0.55.001).

This study used the SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD), which reflects relative disadvantage in areas from variables such as income, education, employment, housing and others.

Relative social disadvantage is represented by a low score on the IRSD index. A high index score does not reflect high social advantage, but rather less disadvantage relative to other areas. The IRSD area scores were ranked from lowest to highest and the area with the lowest score (the most disadvantaged area) was given a rank of 1 and so on. The ordered scores were then divided into ten groups (deciles). The most disadvanted ten percent of areas was called decile 1, up to the least disadvantaged ten percent of areas being decile 10.

The IRSD Census Postal Areas (approximated postcodes) data was matched to CARS national motor vehicle theft postcode data and registered vehicle garaged postcode data, to calculated an aggregated passenger and light commercial vehicle (PLC) theft risk for every IRSD decile.

Of the 57,552 motor vehicles stolen in 2011, a postcode match was possible in 99.4 percent of cases. This study focussed on the theft risk of PLC vehicles as they were the majority (82 percent or 46,723 thefts) of all motor vehicles stolen in 2011 and complete registered PLC vehicle data was available. Note that the PLC theft rate calculation was based on the garaged postcode of a vehicle and as vehicles move, they may not be stolen from their garaged postcode.

Key findings for 2011

  • The most disadvantaged areas had a PLC theft rate per 1,000 registrations 3.8 times higher than the least disadvantaged areas (the theft rate for decile 1 was 6.38 compared to 1.68 for decile 10).
  • There was a general decline in the PLC theft rate as areas became less disadvantaged, with the exception of decile 6.
  • From this point onwards, the study focussed on two deciles only. The most disadvantaged areas (decile 1) and the least disadvantaged areas (decile 10).
  • Nationally, a slightly higher proportion of profit motivated PLC thefts occurred in the most disadvantaged areas (27 percent) compared to the least disadvantaged areas (21 percent).
  • The proportion of PLC vehicles stolen for profit varied between jurisdictions. New South Wales had 9 percent more profit motivated PLC thefts than short term thefts in the most disadvantaged areas. Queensland showed the opposite with 10 percent more profit motivated PLC thefts in the least disadvantaged areas.
  • Almost three in five (57 percent) PLC thefts in the most disadvantaged areas had no immobiliser, compared to 41 percent in the least disadvantaged areas. This is likely to be related to the generally younger vehicles in the least disadvantaged areas.
AUS - PLC vehicle theft rate by level of disadvantage deciles, 2011
DecileTheft rate
Most disadvantaged
Least disadvantaged
AUS - Proportion of PLC vehicles stolen by segment and level of disadvantage, 2011
Market segmentMost disadvantaged areasLeast disadvantaged areas
Small passenger23.226.8
Large passenger25.217.0
Light commercial17.915.9
SUV/People mover10.914.7
Medium passenger14.214.3
  • The proportion of large passenger vehicles was greatest in the most disadvantaged areas. Small passenger vehicles comprised the greatest proportion in the least disadvantaged areas. As may be expected, a greater proportion of sports vehicles were stolen in the least disadvantaged areas.
AUS - Proportion of PLC thefts by age and level of disadvantage, 2011
Vehicle ageMost disadvantaged areasLeast disadvantaged areas
  • Almost 45 percent of PLC vehicles stolen in the least disadvantaged areas were less than 10 years old. Two thirds of those stolen in the most disadvantaged areas were between 10 and 24 years old.
  • A greater proportion (26 percent) of PLC vehicles valued at $20,000 or more were stolen from the least disadvantaged areas compared to the most disadvantaged areas (9 percent).
  • Despite a larger number of lower valued PLC vehicles being stolen from the most disadvantaged areas, the sum total estimated PLC vehicle value was not considerably different between the most ($49.7 million) and least disadvantaged areas ($44.2 million).
  • Based on theft rate per 1,000 registrations, over half (53 percent) of the top thirty PLC theft postcodes in Australia were in the 20 percent most disadvantaged areas. Six postcodes in the top thirty (20 percent) were in the 20 percent least disadvantaged areas.
AUS - Proportion of PLC thefts by Glass's guide value estimate and level of disadvantage, 2011
Estimated value rangeMost disadvantaged areasLeast disadvantaged areas
> $0 to < $5,00060.839.0
$5,000 to < $10,00017.117.2
$10,000 to < $20,00013.419.1
$20,000 to < $30,0004.811.6
$30,000 to < $50,0003.29.6
AUS - Top thirty postcodes based on PLC theft rate per 1,000 registrations and their decile scores, 2011
PostcodeStateTop suburbs within postcodeDecile score within AustraliaTheft rate per 1,000 registrations
2306NSWWindale only117.12
7019TASRokeby, Clarendon Vale116.62
2559NSWClaymore, Blairmount116.10
822NTWadeye, Gunbalanya, Galiwinku115.31
2601ACTCanberra City1015.11
2016NSWRedfern only414.96
6722WASouth Hedland614.36
5015SAPort Adelaide, Birkenhead314.05
7016TASRisdon Vale113.79
7009TASMoonah, West Moonah213.55
2037NSWGlebe, Forest Lodge613.37
2049NSWPetersham, Lewisham813.33
2304NSWMayfield, Sandgate312.29
2469NSWTabulam, Bonalbo112.07
5112SAElizabeth, Elizabeth East112.03
2200NSWBankstown, Condell Park111.74
6721WAPort Hedland, Wedgefield1011.55
5006SANorth Adelaide911.37
2010NSWSurry Hills, Darlinghurst810.74
2142NSWGranville, Rosehill110.57
3047VICBroadmeadows, Dallas110.41
5012SAWoodville North, Mansfield Park110.37
  • In New South Wales and South Australia, more than half of PLC vehicles stolen from the least disadvantaged areas were taken from the street. In the most disadvantaged areas they were equally likely to be taken from either the street or a residential location.
  • The majority of PLC vehicles in Western Australia were stolen from a residence, regardless of the level of disadvantage.
AUS - Proportion of PLC vehicles stolen by state, theft location type and level of disadvantage, 2011
Theft LocationNSWSAWA
Business/Commercial/Government Services - Nec11.
Shopping Centre4.
Car Park - Nec2.
Passenger Transport1.
Outdoor Space/Facilities - Nec1.
Petrol Station0.
Grand Total100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0

Reliable theft location data was only available for New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.

Copes, H. (1999). Routine activities and motor vehicle theft: A crime specific approach. Journal of Crime and Justice, 22(2), 125-146.
Walsh, J. and Taylor, R. (2007). Community structural predictors of spatially aggregated motor vehicle theft rates: Do they replicate? Journal of Criminal Justice, 35(3), 297-310.

Recovery status is as at 30 June 2013 for TAS and WA and 31 July 2013 for all other states and territories.

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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