BMW have hit out at the German giant’s security features after thefts of upmarket models skyrocketed.
Crafty criminals are smashing car windows and connecting a special device to the vehicle’s diagnostic system.
They then reprogramme a blank key and it immediately works on the car – allowing them to drive off without any alarms going off.
A number of brands of cars are being targeted but it is BMWs which are proving to be the popular choice – with one police force reporting a remarkable rise in thefts.
The escalating problem was documented on BBC One’s Watchdog programme on Wednesday night, with a presenter on the BBC show copying a blank key to work on a BMW in just two minutes.
West Midlands Police say 314 BMWs were stolen in the first six months of this year – compared to 258 nicked in the whole of 2011.
Figures from the Met Police show 1,324 BMWs were stolen up to the end of June with 2,254 stolen in the whole of last year.
And this is during a period when overall vehicle theft is down in both force areas.
CCTV footage uploaded to YouTube in July shows one gang stealing air traffic controller Steve Wood’s £43,000 BMW 1M in less than three minutes.
Furious Steve, 29, from Sutton Coldfield, slammed BMW for its slack security which saw the thieves get away with his dream car back in March.
He said: “I was absolutely devastated when I woke to find the car missing, all that was left was a small pile of glass.
“My heart hit the floor when I saw it gone. I’d assumed modern cars were unstealable.
“As soon as the police told me it was an ongoing problem with BMWs, my anger turned to them and the fact they had not told anyone about it.
“They should have at least recalled the top end cars like M3s, 1Ms and X5s in the areas worst hit by these thefts such as the Midlands.
“My issue is with BMW. I have correspondence from them, saying there is no fault, and saying there is nothing wrong with their cars.”
The problem has been highlighted on the motoring website PistonHeads, where a 95-page thread is dedicated to the problem.
Page after page shows a series of scary stories from furious BMW owners who have had their car stolen in recent months.
One London-based BMW owner has had TWO cars stolen by this ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ style method.
nd on most occasions the owners have spoken of their bewilderment that these high-end cars have been stolen without their original keys.
BMW, which sold 116,000 vehicles in the UK last year, has refused to admit it has a problem with car security.
On Wednesday’s Watchdog, the car giant claimed there was “no specific BMW issue”, saying they – like their customers – were the “victims of this high-tech organised crime”.
A spokesperson said: “Certain criminal threats, like the one you have highlighted, simply do not exist when cars are designed and developed.
“This does not mean the car companies have done anything wrong, neither are they legally obliged to take any action.
“However, BMW has always taken security extremely seriously and has worked closely with police forces around the country (and the world), and with the industry body, the SMMT (The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) to understand and mitigate against car crime wherever possible.
“Therefore, when we were made aware of this new form of attack, we took it very seriously and immediately launched an investigation.”
Independent BMW specialist Jason Balbier, who runs Hounslow-based BW Chip Tune, is aware of the problem with a large number of thefts taking place in London.
While the key reprogramming device costs £6,500, Jason claims he could make for just £70.
He said: “This is a big problem and it is getting bigger, people need to start shouting about it.
“Dealers need to provide an upgrade to stop this happening and police need to crack down on stolen parts being sold.
“It is worrying but we can stop it happening by putting a block on the diagnostic system to stop the information coming out.”
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said it was aware of the issue and was looking at ways to prevent the devices getting into the wrong hands.
A spokesperson said: “There is no definitive list of car brands being targeted but it is not just affecting BMW.
“We’ve had meetings with the police and (security experts) Thatcham and these meetings are ongoing.
“Owners should have the freedom to get their cars serviced wherever they want but there needs to be restrictions in place which prevents these devices getting into the wrong hands.”
A spokesperson for West Midlands Police added: “Overall car crime in the West Midlands is down by a considerable amount.
“While we won’t reveal specific details on how criminals are stealing cars, in the vast majority of cases criminals gain access to vehicles by smashing a side window.”