It seems the Golden State is indeed golden — for auto thieves. Seven out of the 10 U.S. cities suffering the most stolen cars are situated in California, according to the latest “Hot Spots” report issues by the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Des Plaines, Ill.
San Francisco leads all metro areas in the nation in per-capita car thefts, with more than 29,000 vehicles purloined during 2014. The only non-California cities on the NICB’s top-10 list were Odessa, Texas, and the Spokane and Seattle, Wash. regions (see the accompanying box for the full list).
On the plus side, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says car thefts are steadily on the decline, with a 5.7 percent reduction in motor vehicle thefts reported during 2013 and 2014; they’re down by a whopping 42.8 percent since 2003. The National Highway Safety Administration attributes the decrease to a variety of factors including the increased use of standard anti-theft devices (especially coded keys, engine immobilizers and vehicle locating systems), parts marking, increased and improved prosecution efforts by law enforcement organizations and heightened public awareness.
As before, older cars are most often valued for the sum of their parts; they’re usually driven away and quickly disassembled at so-called chop shops and sold off piecemeal to shady auto supply stores and mechanics. Meanwhile, newer and flashier stolen cars are more typically sold overseas or offered domestically with altered titles, or are simply taken for what amounts to a joyride.
The latest trend in auto theft involves models being quickly and efficiently dismantled on the spot for top-dollar components, with flashy alloy wheels being increasingly targeted by crooks. “Because it’s harder to steal an entire vehicle these days, thieves are stealing the parts,” says Terri Miller, executive director of the organization Help Eliminate Auto Thefts in Livonia, Mich. “Tires and rims are not marked (for identification) and they are very, very marketable.”
No matter where you live or what you drive, it’s important to take every precaution to protect what is one of a family’s largest expenditures. Aside from the surprisingly often ignored common sense tips like closing the windows and locking the doors, parking in a well-lit area and never leaving the keys in the ignition while the vehicle is unattended, the NICB advises motorists make their vehicles as theftproof as possible.
This includes using an antitheft device, which will often also warrant a discount on your car insurance. Having a simple ignition “kill switch” installed in a hidden location makes it more difficult for a crook to start a car or truck and drive it away.
It’s also a good idea to have your car or truck’s vehicle identification number etched on the windshield and major components to make them more difficult for chop shops to sell as replacement parts.
And especially if you’re driving a costly luxury sedan or sports car, go the extra mile and use a subscription based telematics system like General Motors’ OnStar or similar technology offered by other automakers. Such systems use GPS technology and can help police departments locate cars and trucks if they are stolen. Some cars can even notify their owners if they’re broken into or moved via a connected smartphone app.
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