Stolen car parts are being shipped out of many Australian ports.
Hundreds of shipping containers are leaving Australian ports each year packed with car parts, many of them stolen.
Industry experts say scores of engines, gearboxes and other key components are being stripped from around 7000 cars stolen or scrapped for parts value each year.
John Brasher, a manager at Sydney's Star City Spares, says the parts business is getting tougher as a result of illicit trade.
“Prices have gone through the roof on engines and gearboxes,” he said.
“Every Tom, Dick and Harry is sticking cars in containers to send them overseas.
“People are stealing cars and stealing parts ... They strip out engines and they sell them overseas.”
Mr Brasher said second-hand car components were increasingly hard to find and expensive to buy.
NSW Police Property Crime Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Greig Newbery, said authorities were aware of the problem.
“We do focus on stolen vehicles and parts going overseas,” Mr Newbery said.
“My unit has seized nearly 37 tonnes of motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts in the past 18 months.
“We have arrested a number of people for it.”
Mr Newbery said some Sydney men were caught shipping stolen parts to Lebanon, and that other investigations were under way.
Ray Carroll, executive director of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, said the export of stolen parts was “a big problem”.
“There is a huge industry that is sending car parts overseas,” he said.
“They are stealing cars, pulling out their engines and gearboxes and putting them in shipping containers.
“You can get a couple of hundred into a 40-foot container ... there seems to be money in it.”
Overseas demand for parts reflects some of the trends seen in local car theft.
More than 17,500 cars were stolen and never recovered in Australia during the 2011-12 financial year, a 6.9 per cent increase in unrecovered, or “profit-motivated” theft compared to 2010-2011.
Mr Carroll said many Toyota products are sold around the globe, making them the most sought-after cars used for parts export.
Toyota's Camry, LandCruiser, HiLux, Tarago and HiAce are Australia's most frequently stolen cars in their respective segments.
“Things like that are very popular, particularly in Middle Eastern countries,” Mr Carroll said.
“You don't see Holdens or Falcons going over to that sort of area [but] lots and lots of Camrys disappear.”
Mr Carroll suggested that local cars could find their way into the hands of militia in the Middle East, but the Department of Defence said there was no evidence to suggest Australian cars or parts had made their way to warzones.
The New South Wales Government introduced legislation on January 31, 2011, which stopped light vehicles written-off after that date from ever being re-registered.
The laws came after a police sting found that heavily damaged Toyota HiLux utes were being repaired superficially with stolen parts and then sold to unsuspecting motorists.
But legislation intended to keep Australian motorists safe from poorly repaired cars could put foreign drivers in harm's way.
Simon Hemingway owns Justoyota in Moorabbin, Victoria, and is chair of the national policy council for the Auto Recyclers Association of Australia.
He said “the price of 4WDs is definitely quite high at auction”, and cars that could not be re-registered locally were going under the hammer for unrealistic prices.
“A lot of prices have dipped over the last couple of years, but it doesn't seem to be anything as pronounced in 4WDs,” he said.
“You see quite a lot of auctions where you can't really explain the prices.
“The supposition is that there is a fair chance that car will go overseas."