Vehicle Theft on the Rise

With increasingly sophisticated theft-deterrent devices reaching the automotive market, one would think auto thieves may be forced out of business. In fact, the car theft trade is alive and well.

More on Avoiding Vehicle Theft

In 2003, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that vehicle theft rates rose by nearly 14,000 from 2002 to 1.260 million vehicles. This increase marks the fourth consecutive year the auto theft rate has climbed, although the 2003 figures are still lower than the 1.539 million thefts reported in 1994.

Higher theft rates in light of the proliferation and increased sophistication of anti-theft systems suggest this added equipment isn't worth it. But experts such as Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, and Ed Sparkman, an NICB agent, disagree.

"In general, theft-deterrent devices, especially engine immobilizers, are doing their jobs," Hazelbaker said.

Sparkman said anti-theft devices are even more important now as the NICB predicts theft rates will climb further and vehicle recovery rates will continue to fall because the focus of police agencies has shifted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And, of course, thieves are a determined lot.

The car you drive affects its chances of being stolen. The NICB listed, from highest to lowest, the 2000 Honda Civic, 1989 Toyota Camry, 1991 Honda Accord, 1994 Chevrolet 1500 pickup, 1994 Dodge Caravan, 1997 Ford F-150 pickup, 1986 Toyota Truck, 1995 Acura Integra, 1987 Nissan Sentra and 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass as the most frequently stolen vehicles in 2003, the latest year for which data is available.

Vehicle Thefts in the United States
Vehicle thefts have been climbing steadily in the United States since 1999, though they are well off 1994's total of 1.539 million.
YearVehicle Thefts (millions)

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports

Another factor is location. Owners who live in an urban area, a port city, or a town that borders Canada or Mexico should consider extra protection. The NICB lists the 10 cities, including their surrounding counties, with the highest vehicle thefts in the 2003 calendar year as, from highest to lowest: Modesto, Calif.; Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.; Stockton-Lodi, Calif.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Sacramento, Calif.; Fresno, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; Miami, Fla.; San Diego, Calif.; and Detroit, Mich.

According to the NICB, the total loss for owners and insurance companies due to vehicle theft is more than $8 billion annually, a figure that grows higher every year as cars and trucks become more expensive. In fact, the average value of cars reported stolen in 2003 increased by $96 to $6,797 in 2003, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Thefts also cost consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums. The average price for comprehensive coverage — the portion of your insurance that encompasses vehicle thefts — rose 9.9 percent from 1998 to 2002, according to III.

Posted on 3/1/05