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 2016, there were 765,484 thefts on cars nationwide. This increased 7.4% since 2015. 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) 2017 Hot Wheels Report, the Honda Civic was the number-one stolen car in 2017 and the Honda Accord 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:
- 1998 Honda Civic
- 1997 Honda Accord
- 2006 Ford Pickup
- 2004 Chevrolet Pickup
- 2017 Toyota Camry
- 2016 Nissan Altima
- 2016 Toyota Corolla
- 2001 Dodge Pickup
- 2017 GMC Pickup
- 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 stolen vehicles are:
- 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
The National Insurance Crime Bureau found that car thefts in 2017 were most prevalent in the West, particularly California. The top ten cities for car theft included:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Pueblo, Colorado
- Redding, California
- St. Joseph, Missouri
- Bakersfield, California
- Modesto, California
- Stockton-Lodi, California
- Yuba City, California
- Springfield, Missouri
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.
8 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:
- Lock your car, even when at home or stopping for quick errands. Double check that the doors are locked before walking away.
- Never leave your car running and unattended. It’s an open invitation for thieves.
- Never leave valuables in plain sight 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.
- 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.
- Park in well-lit areas.
- Don’t keep a spare key in or around your car. Thieves know exactly where to look for them.
- 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.
Certain anti-theft systems can be easy to acquire. For instance, you can get a steering wheel lock at your local Walmart or auto parts store. These can fit old and new cars. For other anti-theft systems such as kill switches, you may want to hire an auto professional. Installing them yourself is an option, but can be tricky. Auto mechanics or other professionals can answer any questions you have regarding anti-theft devices for your specific vehicle.
What to Do If Your Car Is Stolen
If your car goes missing there are steps you should take immediately. They include:
- Verifying that your car has actually been stolen and not towed.
- Checking with area businesses or the parking lot attendant for more information, if your car was parked on private property.
- Checking websites that allow you to quickly locate towed vehicles by entering a license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN). One website to consider for towed cars includes FindMyTowedCar.com.
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
- License plate number
- Any distinguishing characteristics
If your car has Onstar installed, you may be able to GPS track it’s location. In addition to this, your Onstar services can actually remote block your ignition from starting or reduce the speed of your engine. This can help police catch up to thieves that have stolen your car. It can also prevent thieves from driving it too far. If your car is stolen, be sure to mention your Onstar services to police. It may help you locate your car faster.
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. However, if you owe more on your car than it’s worth, you may want to consider gap insurance. This can help cover the difference between what your vehicle was worth when it was damaged and what you still owe on it. Essentially, it fills in the payment gap for you.
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.
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