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Auto insurers pushing tracking systems amid jump in GTA vehicle thefts

Amid a surge in auto thefts in the Greater Toronto Area, some insurance companies are now pushing owners of highly targeted vehicles to install tracking devices.

It’s the latest measure designed to combat an increasingly pervasive problem, though some drivers say they wish they had more options for the system’s installation, and the costs that come along with it.

Jeep Rubicon owner Samantha Sannella lives in Toronto, and told CBC News she received a letter from her insurance company late last year telling her she would need to install a TAG vehicle tracking system or pay a $500 surcharge. The system works by using multiple wireless transmitters affixed to different parts of a vehicle.

It ended up costing just under $300 to install, she said, adding that the request from her insurer didn’t come as a surprise, as a previous Jeep she owned was stolen within a week of purchase. It was later found using a different tracking system that had come as a trial with the vehicle.

“So I can understand why they want it — but I think you should be allowed to have a choice of who provides the tracking system,” she said.

Steve Gimza got a similar letter from his insurer last spring, advising him to make an appointment at Speedy Auto Glass for the installation of a TAG system, otherwise costs for his Honda CR-V would rise. His insurance, however, offered to cover the cost of the installation. 

A Jeep sitting in a wooded area.
Samantha Sannella says her insurance company told her she would need to install a TAG vehicle tracking system in her Jeep or pay a $500 surcharge. (Submitted by Samantha Sannella)

The Toronto resident told CBC News he was happy to install the system if the costs were covered, but would not want to front them himself.

“In my mind it’s the insurance company’s responsibility to pay for that,” Gimza said.

His SUV was similarly stolen back in November, but was recovered with the help of that system.

Thefts, carjackings rise

Guillaume Lamy, senior vice president of personal insurance at Belairdirect, said his company is asking customers to install the TAG technology in specific cases to protect vehicles and reduce “the ongoing problem of auto theft.

“In our opinion, TAG is the best technology available to accomplish that,” he said, citing the strength of the network and its success rate among the reasons for that decision.

Both Belairdirect and Desjardins confirmed to CBC News that letters requesting TAG systems have been sent to certain customers both in Ontario and Quebec.

Auto theft — and how police and the public are trying to tackle it — has been a major story across the Greater Toronto Area in recent years.

Vehicle thefts in the city were up 24.5 per cent last year compared to 2022, with 12,181 recorded in 2023, according to Toronto police’s major crimes indicator dashboard. That steep increase followed a 47.4 per cent jump in 2022 from 2021.

There has also been a rise in violent carjackings, according to multiple Ontario police forces.

Équité Association, an organization that works to eradicate crime on behalf of the Canadian property and casualty insurance industry, released its list of most stolen vehicles in Ontario for 2022 late last year — with the CR-V leading the way.

Insurance industry calls for help

Amanda Dean, Vice President for Ontario at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told CBC News in a statement that 2022 marked the first time that the country’s insurance companies paid out over $1 billion in claims for stolen vehicles, with the GTA being responsible for around $500 million of that total. 

WATCH | CBC finds stolen vehicle 8,500 km from Toronto:

CBC finds Toronto man’s stolen car in West Africa

5 months ago

Duration 2:00

CBC’s David Common informs Len Green that his stolen car has been found in Ghana, 8,500 kilometres from Toronto, where it first went missing a year ago.

Theft claim costs in Ontario alone were about $700 million in 2022, which is a 329 per cent increase from 2018 when claim costs were around $160 million, she said.

“Insurers have been taking proactive steps to mitigate the significant increase in auto thefts and in many cases, are incentivizing consumers to take prescribed steps to mitigate the risk of theft,” Dean said. “Many insurers are now offering approved aftermarket tracking devices and theft-deterrent technologies to help combat theft. 

“And while some insurers are applying a ‘high auto theft risk surcharge’ to policyholders in certain high-risk regions and/or to certain high-risk vehicles, many are waiving this surcharge if the policyholder opts to take proactive steps, outlined by the insurer, to better protect their vehicle.”

Dean added that the insurance industry can’t face the problem on its own, and called on governments, law enforcement and car manufacturers to help combat it.

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