Hike in vehicle spare parts thefts due to high demand, chips shortage

These parts are usually sold at online platforms or personally to buyers via the cash-on-delivery method 

by JUNE MOH / pic TMR

CAR theft cases in Malaysia are declining as culprits have been dissuaded by anti-theft devices installed in newer vehicles. 

However, thefts of spare parts, particularly tyres and rims; transmissions; engines and batteries, which can often be sold for more than an entire car, have increased. 

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, in 2021, vehicle theft recorded the highest decrease of 37.8% to 13,342 cases compared to 21,579 cases in 2020. 

Petaling Jaya (PJ) district police chief assistant commissioner Mohamad Fakhrudin Abdul Hamid said vehicle theft is an opportunistic crime where thieves will leave the car at a place for some time before selling it as a second-hand car or by parts. 

No. Of Vehicle Theft Claims Records by Vehicle Class 2020 vs 2021 

“Illegally obtained spare parts are normally sold at online platforms or personally to buyers via the cash-on-delivery method, and rare, though, as thieves usually deal directly
with customers. 

“Consumers should buy spare parts from licensed shops. Normally, unlicensed shops will purchase these parts from syndicates or individuals without know- ing their origins,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

He said if caught by law enforcers, not just the sellers, but the buyers (even without knowledge of the origin of the used spare parts or vehicles they bought) can be charged in court. 

Difficult To Trace Parts’ Origin

Malaysia Used Vehicle Autoparts Traders Association (Muvata) president Heng Kim Siang said only chassis and engine numbers had discernible serial numbers, while the rest of a car’s spare parts do not carry any numbers to trace its origin. 

“This makes it impossible for consumers to tell where the spare parts came from, but they can check a spare parts shop’s legitimacy from the documents they display. 

“Documents required to be displayed at the premises are Companies Commission of Malaysia registration, composite licence and police licence,” Heng told TMR. 

Heng, who is also the owner of Sin Lian Seng Auto Parts Sdn Bhd, said car transmissions and engines are the most sought parts, especially for older car models. 

“Customers always prefer used transmissions and engines due to price differences which can go up to 70%. 

“Spare parts of older car models (above 15 years) such as Proton Wira and others are no longer in production, hence why thieves aim them,” he said. 

Heng says it is impossible for consumers to tell where the spare parts are from as most of them do not have discernible serial numbers that can check their origin
(Pic courtesy of Muvata)

Shops that sell used auto parts also saw an increase in sales after the December 2021 floods that affected eight states across the peninsular. 

“The flood caused an increase in demand for car spare parts, especially electronic and electrical parts such as the computing box used by newer cars that controls car transmissions and engines, as well as other spare parts for older cars,” Heng added. 

Although the association with 407 members did not compile data on the total sales of used spare parts, its yearly sales was estimated at more than RM1 billion, he said. 

An auto spare parts seller in Subang Jaya said some businesses in the same field were running without appropriate licences apart from their business registration. 

“Doing business is about dollars and cents, there are some industry players who buy used spare parts from unknown sources for a bigger profit margin. 

“Most business owners like me do not accept used vehicles and used spare parts with third-party sellers. I only buy from individual sellers who are also the owners of the vehicles or the spare parts being sold. 

“It is easy to check the documents of local vehicles but it is the opposite for imported cars because for small businesses like me, we buy from importers who have imported the cars from other countries. So, we cannot tell if the documents of the vehicles are forged,” said the business owner who requested anonymity. 

Increase in Vehicle Theft Cases 

From January to February this year, 82 vehicle thefts were recorded in Petaling Jaya. 

Fakhrudin said the number of vehicle thefts had risen by 17, from the 65 cases recorded in the same period last year. 

“We have solved 13 cases, with eight vehicles confiscated in PJ,” he told reporters recently. 

He said the Proton Wira and Nissan models were the most popular to be stolen for car parts. 

“Thieves will sell the spare parts of old cars. As for motorcycles, brands like Honda and Yamaha are most desired. 

“However, most thefts that involve car windows being broken are caused by valuable items like laptops being left in the car,” he said. 

Recently, CarSome and PJ police launched a vehicle theft signage campaign to raise awareness on vehicle theft. 

CarSome co-founder and academy CEO Jiun Ee Teoh said they would assess the progress of the campaign before expanding it to other areas. 

Fakhrudin said signages would be put up at several vehicle theft hotspots. 

“The purpose of this campaign is to urge all vehicle users to always be careful and lock their cars. Valuable items should not be left in the car,” he said. 

Top Choice for Car Thefts 

Meanwhile, based on a report by the Vehicle Theft Reduction Council of Malaysia Bhd (VTREC), an average of 20 cars were stolen each day in Malaysia in 2020, which has one of the highest rates of vehicle theft in the world. 

According to a data compiled by Insurance Services Malaysia, 181 Proton Wira cars were stolen in 2021, followed by the Proton Iswara (114) and Perodua Kancil (95). The top three models are Malaysian-made, with Toyota Hilux being the most-stolen foreign car in fourth place at 91 units. 

Other models that are the thieves’ favourites include Perodua Myvi (82), Proton Saga (74), Honda City (56), Honda Civic (55), Ford Ranger (38) and Proton Waja (36). 

Teoh said thieves were quite often suppli- ers of Wira spare parts. The recent shortage of vehicle spare parts due to the Covid-19 pandemic has also worsened the situation. 

Some of these cars are sold locally, while others are driven into Thailand and sold as a unit or for spare parts. 

Claiming they are selling vehicles that are involved in loan defaults, these syndicates are actively promoting their stolen “goods” in many groups including online marketplaces. 

Selling these stolen vehicles locally is easy, especially with the anonymity offered by social media and other online selling platforms. 

Kereta JT or Jual Terus (direct sales), Kereta Piang or Piang Lari Bank (cars with outstanding loans) and Kereta Murah (cheap cars) are just some of the many identifications used by these syndicates to hide the vehicles’ actual status. 

Moreover, some of these syndicates were believed to be able to provide grants for the vehicles. 

Some provide fake grants, which can only be detected if authorities check and compare the chassis numbers on the document with those embedded in the car’s engine. 

A victim who requested anonymity said luxury cars have their chassis numbers far underneath their engine, so it is hard for the authorities to check during roadblocks. 

“Hence, these buyers have nothing to be afraid of. They can roam freely,” he said. 

Smuggled into Neighbouring Countries

Late March, anti-car theft police found a pickup truck, which is believed to have been smuggled into Thailand from Malaysia, at a condominium in Bang Khen district, Bangkok, Thailand. 

According to an online English news website of Thai Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the police found two red temporary registration plates in the car, including one fake, and a jamming device which disrupted the GPS signal. 

A police officer, attached to an anti-riot police unit, was taken into custody for theft, but he has since denied the charge. 

The recovery of the stolen vehicle follows a report by “The EXIT” team of Thai PBS journalists, who were asked by the car’s legitimate owner in Malaysia to help trace his vehicle, which was rented to a Malaysian in Kuala Lumpur and is believed to have been smuggled into Thailand on March 27, 2023, said the Thai’s public service broadcaster. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition