After Christmas, when many company car drivers were given the systems as presents, the number of thefts from cars leapt by nearly a fifth overnight.
Windscreen repair firm Autoglass was called out to vastly more smashed side window repairs in the first week of January than in the preceding years.
In total for the January to March period it has seen a rise of 17% over last year in the number of bodyglass repairs.
Nigel Doggett, managing director of Autoglass, said: ‘We’ve seen a significant increase in demand for vehicle bodyglass in the last year, which is indicative of the rise in smash-and-grab incidents across the UK.
‘The large range of driver assistance and entertainment devices that are now in use, including satellite navigation units, digital media players, Blackberries and laptops, has proved fruitful for thieves who are willing to break side windows in order to steal such items.’
Fleet managers attending meetings of ACFO, the fleet operators’ association, have spoken of the problem of portable sat-nav systems being stolen from cars, but until the Autoglass figures, all evidence has been anecdotal, with little indication of how widespread the problem is.
While smash-and-grab raids are nothing new – 10 years ago stealing car stereos was the crime of choice – an Acfo spokesman said it was worth reminding drivers that sat-nav units are thieves’ new target and that they should remember their company cars ‘do not have an invisibility cloak and are not a fortress’.
Doggett added: ‘The message for fleet managers is clear – drivers must be made aware of the need to remove all such devices from parked vehicles otherwise face the consequences.’
Lesley Upham, director of communications at vehicle security expert Thatcham said: ‘Figures highlighting any sort of vehicle security trend are always a cause for concern for Thatcham and our member insurance companies.
‘Thatcham’s advice is a common sense approach, removing the sat-nav cradle and display and keeping them out of sight in the glove box or boot.
‘Longer term, we would like to see sat-nav manufacturers building security features in, such as unique PIN codes in order to make the system operable.’