There has been a large rise in the number of car thefts so far this year, with gardaí saying a significant portion of the increase is made up of imports.

As cars remain in short supply, dealers have been looking east to Japan for second-hand stock, in what is becoming an increasingly popular move.

According to the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, last year there were 9,805 Japanese imports registered.

So far this year, that number has risen to 15,432.

The top brands in order are Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

However there is an issue, that some of the cars do not come with immobilisers as standard. In effect, it means they are easier to rob.

Latest figures from gardaí show there were just over 3,000 car thefts in the first half of this year.

That is an increase of 77% on the same period in 2021 and up 10% on 2019.

They say a significant proportion of the increase is second-hand imported vehicles.

Ex Assistant Garda Commissioner John O'Driscoll says car dealers should be conscious of the issue

"Thieves who steal cars for the purpose of joyriding will look for those cars that are most easily stolen," says retired Assistant Garda Commissioner John O'Driscoll.

"At the moment, the cars that are most easily stolen are cars that the ones are made for the Asian market and that are being imported into Ireland. They can be started by merely interfering with the mechanism, joining a few wires and off they go," he said.

He added: "The motivation for stealing cars falls into two main categories".

"Firstly, there are high-value cars which are stolen for resale and that usually involves participation by organised crime groups using highly sophisticated methods. Then secondly, cars are stolen really for joyriding and that type of theft targets a cheaper car.

"Car dealers should be conscious of this new phenomenon, and they should be advising people and perhaps adapting the cars before they sell," he said.

At the Ryan and Brien dealership in Bray, Co Wicklow, they are doing just that.

Eric Ryan says his dealership will fit immobilisers to protect customers

The dealership specialises in Japanese imports, and Managing Director Eric Ryan says business has been strong this year.

"When it came to light recently, the spate of car thefts, we started looking into it and seeing that there was a small percentage of Japanese cars coming in that were coming in that didn't have immobilisers.

"So, to protect our customers, what we have done is we check the car now when it comes in to see if it is immobilised. If it isn't, we fit a factory immobiliser, and that should sort any kind of theft issues out with that vehicle," he said.

He added: "Customers in general wouldn't know the ins and outs of the cars such as immobilisers. Some may ask, some don't. So, it would be down to us in the future with Japanese cars to make sure that the customer is aware that the car has an immobiliser."

He said customers should always ask whether the car has an immobiliser.

That advice is echoed by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

Grainne Griffin of the CCPC says consumers don't compromise safety with cheaper purchases

"We're very conscious that with the increased prices that consumers are facing, some consumers may be turning to traders they haven't shopped with before, or might be taking more risks than buying a second-hand car," says Grainne Griffin, director of communications.

"So, it's really important that consumers don't compromise on their safety.

"Consumers need to be aware that cars are designed with different specs for different markets. So, if you buy a car that was originally designed for a country with maybe a lower crime rate, it may not come with an immobiliser or an alarm as standard.

"If that's something that's important to you, you need to make sure that you check that that's actually available on the car before you purchase it," she said.

As ever, it is a case of caveat emptor - let the buyer beware.