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What Car Thieves Look For and What You Can Do

Kathy Simpson

For many of us, a car is an essential part of daily life. We invest thousands of dollars in our cars, and some of us see them as extensions of ourselves and can’t make it through the day without them. We value our cars—but we’re not the only ones who do. Our cars are valued by thieves, too.

In 2014, according to the FBI, a car was stolen in the United States once every 44 seconds. That’s a statistic no car owner wants to be a part of.

Modern security systems help deter car theft, but you can further minimize your risk by understanding what thieves look for and how they think, and by taking proactive steps to keep your car safe. It also helps to know what to do should you become an unwitting contributor to the FBI’s statistic.

Preferred Makes and Models for Car Thieves

Car thieves are opportunists. They’ll steal any car that’s an easy target, but certain makes and models rank high on their hit list.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NCIB) 2016 Hot Wheels Report, the Honda Accord was the number-one stolen car in 2015 and the Honda Civic a close second, a distinction both cars have held since 2007. A number of other imports, as well as American-made pickups, are also named on the NICB’s top-10 list of most stolen cars:

  1. 1996 Honda Accord
  2. 1998 Honda Civic
  3. 2006 Ford Pickup (full size)
  4. 2004 Chevrolet Pickup (full size)
  5. 2014 Toyota Camry
  6. 2001 Dodge Pickup (full size)
  7. 2014 Toyota Corolla
  8. 2015 Nissan Altima
  9. 2002 Dodge Caravan
  10. 2008 Chevrolet Impala

What makes older cars such a popular target? Hondas, in particular, hold their resale value. Plus, thieves can profit by stripping them down and selling the parts to repair shops and scrap yards. Older cars are also easier to steal because they usually lack the advanced anti-theft protection that newer cars have.

Car Thieves’ Favorite Colors

The color of your car may increase its desirability among thieves. According to a survey by CCC Information Services, the top five colors of vehicles stolen in 2014 were:

  1. Silver
  2. White
  3. Black
  4. Gold
  5. Dark green

These same colors are also among the most popular in new car sales. They’re not only in demand, they’re also ubiquitous, and therefore preferable to thieves who don’t want to draw attention to their crimes.

Most Susceptible Locations for Car Theft

Nationwide statistics for 2014 indicate that car thefts were most prevalent in the West, particularly California, and least prevalent in the Northeast. Here is how car theft ranked in different parts of the country:

  • West: 37.1 percent
  • South: 36.5 percent
  • Midwest: 17.9 percent
  • Northeast: 8.5 percent

No matter what area of the country you live in, the odds of having your car stolen are highest in urban areas. Dark, secluded places are also prime sites favored by thieves because they can work undisturbed.

These include parking garages, shopping centers, large apartment complexes and anywhere large groups of cars are parked together for extended periods of time. Areas like these offer choice and also make it easier for thieves to see and hear when people are coming.

7 Ways to Prevent Car Theft

Now that you know what car thieves look for and where they prefer to do their work, what can you do to protect your car? Common sense tips can help:

  1. Lock your car, even when at home or stopping for quick errands. Double check that the doors are locked before walking away.
  2. Never leave your car running and unattended. It’s an open invitation for thieves.
  3. Never leave valuables in plain site where they might tempt a passerby. Even bags and blankets on the car seat or floor may tempt thieves because those items could be concealing something of value. It’s best to move them out of view and to keep the interior of your car tidy.
  4. Close all windows and the sunroof when you’re not in the car. A window left open, even just a crack, may provide the entry point a thief needs to break in.
  5. Park in well-lit areas.
  6. Don’t keep a spare key in or around your car. Thieves know exactly where to look for them.
  7. Invest in an anti-theft system if you don’t already have one installed in your car. Options range from steering wheel locks and car alarms to electronic immobilizers and kill switches that prevent the car from being hot-wired. You can also have an electronic tracking system installed that will be activated if your car is stolen, allowing law enforcement to trace its location for a faster recovery.

What to Do If Your Car Is Stolen

If your car goes missing, first verify that it has actually been stolen and not towed. If your car was parked on private property, check with area businesses or the parking lot attendant. There are also websites that allow you to quickly locate towed vehicles by entering a license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN).

If your car wasn’t towed or was on public property, contact the police immediately. They’ll ask you to complete a stolen vehicle report with details such as the car’s VIN number, make, model, year, color and license plate number along with any distinguishing characteristics.

Once you’ve filed the police report, contact your insurance company. To expedite the claim, be ready with all essential information, including:

  • the vehicle’s title
  • the location of all keys
  • the names of everyone who had access to the car
  • a list of personal property that was in the car at the time it was stolen

If you are leasing or financing the car, you’ll also need to report your loss to the lender.

Insurance Coverage for Car Theft

Most auto insurance policies cover car theft under comprehensive coverage and will reimburse you for the appraised value of your car, assuming it is not returned, or for damage that was done to the car as a result of the theft. Any parts that were stolen, such as your car stereo, may also be covered—provided they were permanently installed or attached to the vehicle.

Other items that are stolen from the car, such as a cell phone or purse, would likely be covered under your homeowners insurance or rental insurance policy.

Statistically, vehicle thefts have been trending downward since their peak in 1991, which NICB credits to technology, law enforcement efforts and the creation of anti-theft organizations whose mission is to combat auto theft.

But thieves are always finding new ways to adapt and hone their craft. Your preventive efforts can deter them and help ensure that your car remains safely in your possession.

Keep Reading: Auto Insurance Rates Explained: It’s Not Just About You

4 Responses to "What Car Thieves Look For and What You Can Do"
    • Arthur Taylor | November 17, 2017 at 1:24 am

      Do you have a list of accepted security systems for both home and car. I don’t want to purchase a system and have be unaccepted.
      Thank you,

    • Lisa Gross | November 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      What safety tips do you have for carjacking?

    • Aurora | November 18, 2017 at 11:29 pm

      Thank you for the heads up. I didn’t realize that my truck is a desirable theft object. Ill take steps to make it safe.,

    • Bobby | November 21, 2017 at 12:36 am

      Any advice for hybrid owners? I don’t think anyone can steal it without the fob but I’m probably wrong.

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