Gardaí are struggling to deal with a nationwide spate of car thefts, with up to 20 vehicles being stolen on some days last month.

The value of the unrecovered vehicles, along with the cost of insurance and garda resources in January alone, is estimated at up to €2m.

The cars are being targeted by gangs who then bring them to “chop shops”.

There they are broken up for parts that are distributed to criminals who export them in shipping containers.

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These figures do not include the estimated 100-plus thefts last month of imported Japanese cars.

They are favoured by so-called joyriders because the vehicles do not have immobilisers, making them easy targets for thieves to hotwire.

Analysis of the reported incidents suggests thieves are specifically targeting Toyota Vitz and Toyota Aqua models.

In a crime prevention statement last week, gardaí in Limerick said the advice to motorists who own a Japanese import is to add another layer of security, such as a steering wheel lock or a robust chain.

“The issue with the Japanese imported cars is a very serious one, but in general terms these are being mostly stolen by young fellas intent on joyriding,” a source said.

“It’s a problem all over the country, but hotspots have been identified in the last few weeks. You are talking about Balbriggan, Blanchardstown, Ballyfermot, Tallaght and Cork city, where a lot of these thefts happen.

“But it is an increasing problem, all along the Dublin commuter belt and now Limerick in the last couple of weeks and Co Meath in particular as well.

“Often these cars are used for joyriding and then either abandoned or burnt out so that the vehicles are classified as recovered.

“It’s the unrecovered cars that have fallen into the hands of the organised crime gangs.” ​

As part of their investigations, detectives have identified a gang who have been selling stolen car parts from high-end vehicles in Ireland to the Russian market.

“There’s a major global shortage of car parts in general, but the war in Ukraine has compounded matters for motorists in Russia because of the sanctions imposed on that country,” a source said.

“On a European level, an organised crime gang based in Lithuania has been identified as providing stolen car parts to dealers based in Russia. This gang is very active in Ireland.”

Figures obtained by the Irish Independent show at least 41 vehicles that were stolen last month have not been recovered. ​

These include high-end Audis, BMWs and a Porsche, stolen from locations as diverse as Co Sligo and Co Wexford.

“More than likely, these vehicles are being chopped up by criminal gangs for export. Some might reappear but most won’t,” the source added. “You’re taking about a total cost of around €2m.”

An analysis of the 41 vehicle thefts shows keys were stolen from the victims on 18 occasions.

This was normally carried out during a “fishing burglary”, in which thieves use specially-adapted rods or long bamboo canes to snag keys left on hallway tables.

They are then able to steal cars without triggering alarms or breaking into homes. ​

In the other cases, thieves are using technology to clone key fobs. ​

Criminals with the right equipment can record the signal from a fob, even if it is hanging up or in a drawer inside the house. Once they have copied it, the criminals can simply open the car doors and drive away.

“The airbags alone from some of these high-end vehicles are worth many thousands of euro. Bonnets and doors are also very popular – they fetch big money on the black market,” the source said.

Multiple garda sources said the force’s ability to tackle the problem is hindered by not there being insufficient qualified gardai to go after the gangs. ​

They said that even qualified drivers are told to “stand down” when involved in vehicle chases because of public safety concerns.

“These lads are getting away with it every day of the week,” one source said.

While many of the stolen cars are not being targeted by the organised crime gangs, in some areas joyriding and associated offences are “out of all control”, as witnessed recently in high-profile incidents in west Dublin.

“There is a wider problem here and it is historical in nature,” a source said.

“Past experience of organised crime has shown that lads who are into robbing cars often for the craic of it all become serious players in organised crime later. Is a whole new generation being bred that way?”

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