Just over 8,000 cars were stolen in Ireland last year, it has emerged, which has led gardai to mount a number of special 'sting' operations against organised gangs.
The Herald can reveal that both specialist and local garda units are involved in tackling the massive problem, with a number of major undercover operations happening in recent weeks.
In the latest bust, officers from Dublin's Coolock Garda Station arrested a drug addict from the Ringsend area during a planned 'sting' at the car park of a shopping centre on the capital's northside on Friday afternoon.
It has emerged that gardai set up the investigation after becoming aware that the car was being sold on the Donedeal website for a five-figure sum.
Sources have revealed that officers pounced on a petty criminal and seized the stolen vehicle just as the "controlled transaction" was about to take place.
Officers recovered the car and the Ringsend man was arrested and questioned before being released without charge. A file on the incident is now being prepared for the DPP. However, the suspected ringleader of a gang involved in a major car theft ring was not arrested, despite being stopped by gardai close to the scene of last Friday's bust.
The up-and-coming criminal, who is aged in his mid-20s, is facing charges before the courts in relation to car theft activities and is understood to be disqualified from driving. "This fella is continuing with his criminal activities on a large scale despite being charged before the courts," a source said.
"Like most individuals that are in a senior position in these gangs, he made sure that he was not caught by the gardai trying to flog the stolen car, but the suspicion is that he was overseeing what was going on and then fled when gardai moved in."
It is estimated that there are around a dozen crime gangs involved in organised car thefts operating across the country.
Retired Detective Inspector Finbarr Garland was previously in charge of the force's specialist stolen vehicles unit but now works as a customer safety officer with Donedeal.ie.
He told the Herald that the website offers advice for people who are buying and selling cars.
Mr Garland revealed that around 8,000 cars were stolen in Ireland last year, with up to 40pc of these vehicles not being recovered.
This means they have been shipped to the UK, Eastern Europe and Africa or stripped down here in 'chop shops' for parts.
However, the respected officer pointed out that only a very tiny fraction of these cars are sold on the Donedeal.ie site.
"We have a very good working relationship with gardai and we work closely with the Competition Customer Protection Commission.
"We take any illegal activity very seriously and we have a report facility on the website for users who notice something suspicious.
"We can then prevent and block advertisements. The reality is that if people read our advice, they should not encounter problems in buying or selling cars," he said.
Mr Garland strongly believes gardai should pass on details of stolen cars to key agencies to protect innocent buyers, and he has been calling for this measure to be introduced here for a number of years.
Unlike in the UK and some other European countries, car buyers here cannot check if cars they are interested in are among the 8,000 stolen last year.
"There can be no doubt that this would make a massive difference and it would contribute to a lot less people being victims of this type of crime," Mr Garland said.
"It is a matter for the Garda Commissioner to decide whether this information should be shared with the Department of Transport, who could then pass it onto car check companies.
"My understanding is that the office of the Data Commissioner has no problem with this so it is really up to gardai. This works very well in the UK where the database is updated every 24 hours," Mr Garland explained.