‘Alarming’ rise in ‘chop shops’ as thieves target vehicles for parts

In the first six months of this year, joint operations between police forces and the stolen vehicle recovery specialist Tracker Network (UK) have uncovered 34 so-called ‘chop shops’ nationwide.

Sep 7, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Chop shop discovered by West Midlands Police in Small Heath.

This compares with a total of 32 for the whole of 2022.

Illegal chop shops provide a thriving market for car thieves, with vehicles stripped down for parts or stored before being shipped overseas.

Clive Wain, head of police liaison at Tracker, explained: “The alarming increase in the number of chop shops largely reflects a rise in demand for good quality used parts in recent years, partly due to continued new part supply chain delays.

“However, the cost-of-living crisis has also fuelled illegal activities.

“In addition, with the production of the Ford Fiesta finishing in July 2023 – the most-owned car in Britain with over 1.5 million licensed models on our roads and the UK’s tenth most popular car – a massive second-hand parts market has been created because new parts for these vehicles are also no longer being produced.

“Criminals have been quick to jump on this opportunity, lucratively selling on stolen Ford Fiesta parts on the black-market.”

In May, three men were jailed after predominantly targeting Fords in a spate of car thefts worth nearly £500,000 across the West Midlands.

Tracker says Essex, which boasts several key ports providing international trade, is the ‘chop shop’ epicentre in the UK followed closely by Greater London and Kent, both of which border with Essex, and then the West Midlands.

“Essex has always been, and continues to be, the UK’s chop shop hot spot, and it comes as no surprise that London, in particular East London, and Kent feature in the top five areas, given the proximity of these counties to shipping ports,” said Mr Wain.

“Thieves often look to ship stolen cars or its parts overseas in containers to places like the Middle East and Africa where they can be sold for two or three times more than they would cost in the UK.”

In July, West Midlands Police uncovered car parts belonging to eight stolen vehicles after a raid on a suspected chop shop in Sandwell.

The parts – which were mainly from Mercedes cars – were from vehicles stolen across Birmingham, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

“We work closely with the police daily to find and shut down illegal chop shops, but regrettably, these ‘businesses’ are so profitable and operations so slick that as soon as one is closed, another pops up to replace it,” said Mr Wain.

“However, by acting together, the police, Tracker and our community of customers, we can continue to disrupt organised criminal gangs and bring them to justice.”

Tracker says often the locations of these chop shops have been uncovered a result of its combination of VHF with GPS/GSM technology covertly fitted to stolen vehicles, leading police directly to them.

Not only have significant numbers of Tracker installed vehicles been recovered from these sites, but also hundreds of other stolen vehicles and equipment worth millions of pounds, resulting in multiple arrests, it adds.

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