Durban - Car theft syndicates are targeting Toyota Fortuner SUVs and Hilux bakkies in upmarket Durban suburbs, making off with at least one vehicle a day over the past two weeks.

The thieves override the alarm system and bypass the electronic control unit - using their own mobile computer box - to steal these vehicles, which are believed to be destined for lucrative markets in neighbouring countries.

Since February 15, at least one Fortuner or Hilux has been reported stolen daily in areas from Durban North to uMhlanga, according to a police source.

He said while Toyota had developed deterrents, criminals appeared to have found a way around them.

The diesel models appeared to be the favoured choice.

The chairman of the Durban North and uMhlanga community police forum, Hayden Searles, said Durban North police had warned owners of Toyota Hilux and Fortuner vehicles earlier this month to be wary about where they parked them.

“It is so bad, that owners of these vehicles should not leave them parked on the side of the road,” Searles said. “They should be parked in a secured property.”

He said the syndicates used sophisticated methods to gain access into the vehicles.

“They have some sort of device which allows them to cut through the hooter wire through the scoop on the bonnet, which draws air into an inter-cooler.”

Another method was to apparently blow the indicators by disconnecting the front side indicators and crossing wires to ensure the alarm did not go off.

They then use their own computer box to bypass the vehicle’s electronic control unit.

A coded key allowed them to start the vehicle effortlessly, Searles said.

“The biggest challenge for police is where these criminals are getting the coded keys from. There is more than one syndicate operating in our area and they are using sophisticated methods to steal cars.”

Toyota SA Motors spokes-man, Leo Kok, said they were alerted by police two years ago that criminals had found a way to break into their vehicles.

“I must stress that Toyota meets all local and international security standards. But, at the time we decided to investigate the claims made by the police,” he said.

Engineers were consulted and devices were created to prevent such theft, Kok said, explaining that this was not a weakness in the manufacturing of the vehicles.

He said the devices were given the approval of the police and the SA Insurance Association and were fitted from mid 2011 at all SA Toyota dealers and rolled out from the factory floor since June last year.

“The air scoop (now) sits flush on the inter-cooler. To gain access through the inter-cooler, it would have to be broken open,” he said.

“But, we will investigate these new claims and will be in contact with police.”

A police source said they had noticed a dramatic increase in the theft of motor vehicles in the north Durban suburbs since the beginning of February.

Some of the hot spots include La Lucia, Glen Ashley and uMhlanga.

The Toyota Fortuner and Hilux diesel models were the vehicles of choice, the source said, adding that in the past two weeks, almost 14 of them had been stolen.

He said investigations revealed that the criminals had developed a way of disarming the alarm without setting it off, and in most instances little or no damage was caused to the vehicles.

“Early this week, a Fortuner and Hilux bakkie that had been stolen in Lagoon Drive in uMhlanga and in Glen Ashley were recovered. Both vehicles had been fitted with Tracker (a tracking device),” he said.

“On inspection of the vehicle it was clear the inter-cooler had been tampered with.

“There were scratches around it, suggesting that some sort of device was inserted through it.”

He said both vehicles had been parked on the roadside and left unattended for about an hour. When the owners returned, their vehicles were gone, the source said.

Enforce Security Services director, Anthony Feuilherade, confirmed that these two vehicles were the preferred choice of criminals.

“These areas have become hot spots in recent weeks for criminals looking for Fortuners and Hilux bakkies. These vehicles are taken across the borders and locally the engines are used in other vehicles,” he said.

Feuilherade said thieves using remote jammers were also operating in these areas and targeting these vehicles.

Recently, a wanted criminal was arrested by an Enforce security guard at a Durban North shopping centre while attempting to steal a Toyota Fortuner.

The suspect was about to drive off in the gold-coloured SUV when he was apprehended.

A remote jamming device was recovered from his pocket.

Daily News