Watch: Thieves smash window and remove car steering wheel in 40 seconds
A mother of two says she was left crying constantly after discovering thieves had broken into her family car overnight, and stolen her steering wheel in a crime that took less than sixty seconds.
Silviya Raykova's BMW 5 series was parked outside her home on a residential street in Chatham, Kent, when two figures approach the vehicle.
Footage captured from a CCTV camera shows the offenders taking less than one minute to break into the car and steal the steering wheel. Even the alarm sounding didn't put the thieves off the job.
Silviya said the incident left her in complete shock.
"I felt so many emotions. The first was anger. But I also felt very stressed. We have cameras and they were still not afraid of them.
"I felt very insecure. I couldn’t stop crying to be honest."
In the 1990s, it was common for car stereos to be stolen, while sat nav units were in demand for thieves in the decades that followed.
Industry experts say steering wheels have become the new target, with research showing they steal the items to remove and sell airbags or to sell as a complete unit.
Silviya is not alone. Dozens of BMW owners in Kent have fallen victim to this type of crime in recent weeks.
Police say they’re investigating at least 25 incidents involving BMW cars in the Medway area since the start of the year and are urging motorists to be vigilant.
It's thought thieves are targeting the higher-specification M Sport steering wheels which have strong second-hand resale values.
Adam Fawcett, engineering manager at repair shop chain ABL 1 Touch, says the trend for owners to want to “upgrade” their car means there’s “high demand” for the advanced wheels.
His company, which has branches across the South East, has repaired 14 cars damaged by steering wheel thieves in recent months. The work can cost up to £3,500, depending on the model.
He added, "The best thing to do, I would recommend, is to buy a steering wheel Disklok I think it would just deter thieves if they did come up to the window and see it.
"They’re more than likely just going to walk on to the next one, because it’s just going to add more time."
Silviya and her husband has been left without the use of a car while the repairs are carried out, plus an insurance excess bill of several hundreds of pounds.
Kent Police has urged residents to report anything suspicious straight away and say they're doing everything they can to put a stop to this type of crime.
Chief Inspector Shona Lowndes added: “There are some steps motorists can take to help deter thieves.
"Try to park in well-lit areas, on a driveway or inside a garage if you have one. Also consider CCTV and motion sensors, which will alert you when someone walks near your vehicle or enters your driveway.”
On 26 January, police arrested a 28-year-old man, from Essex, in connection with the thefts in Medway. He has since been released on police bail.
In a statement, a BMW spokesperson said: “BMW works in partnership with police and other authorities in the UK and around the world in responding to the latest threats and anticipating new ones.
"The challenge evolves continually as organised criminals, targeting cars, become ever more sophisticated.
“Where vehicles are locked and secured appropriately, BMW customers should feel reassured that their car is no more vulnerable to this kind of criminal theft than any other brand.”