Car theft: tips to keep your vehicle safe

Car thief breaking into a car window

Auto theft increased dramatically in the United States during the first three months of 2022. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a nonprofit research group funded by the insurance industry Nearly a quarter of a million vehicle thefts were reported as of January. to March 2022. That compares with 2021, when 936,315 Americans had their cars stolen.

Auto theft had been on the decline for two years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But something about the downturn in the economic fortunes of many Americans and a drop in total miles driven caused that trend to reverse.

The risk is not the same everywhere

The rise in vehicle theft is not universal, the NICB reports. Some areas saw dramatic spikes. Residents of Washington, DC saw their risk increase by 40% in just one year. Colorado saw a similar increase, nearly 36%.

RELATED: Does car insurance cover theft?

Bakersfield, California has had the highest auto theft rate in the country for the past two years. But there is little pattern in the numbers. The five areas with the highest theft rates represent both the coasts and several intermediate states and include highly urban and mostly rural states.

Thieves use technology to target vehicles

Some thieves use technology, from stealing signals from key chains to using tile tracking devices.

They will scan a target house for key fob signals, and using a device, thieves can hack a signal and transmit it to another person in the car. Depending on the force, the criminals can enter or even steal the vehicle.

Criminals also use tracking devices like Apple AirTags. Law enforcement authorities say the thieves began hiding tracking devices in the car, such as behind the license plate of a targeted vehicle. Some vehicle owners keep tracking devices on their cars to locate them if someone steals them, muddying the technological picture a bit.

If you find yourself in the situation of a stolen vehicle with a tracking device, always call the authorities and let them know first before trying to track it yourself.

Other thieves recently began targeting older Kia and Hyundai vehicles with push buttons to start the cars and a mechanical key, not a key fob. The thieves then use a USB cable to plug in the car.

Some base model Hyundai and Kia vehicles from 2010 to 2021 lack electronic immobilizers, standard equipment on many other makes. Engineers program immobilizers to prevent thieves from bypassing the ignition.

A Kia spokesperson confirmed to KBB that this claim is only accurate for base model cars. Most Hyundai and Kia models from that period contain immobilizers, but not the less expensive versions.

“While all of our vehicles meet or exceed federal motor vehicle safety standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been the subject of a coordinated social media effort,” a Hyundai representative told the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (IIHS).

All 2022 and 2023 Kia and Hyundai models, including base models, include immobilizers. Kia and Hyundai have worked with police departments in cities with a high rate of auto theft to make mechanical steering wheel locks available to owners at no charge and plan to launch an electronic upgrade kit to help eliminate the risk of theft. .

the Highway Loss Data Institute says you can expect to see the kit available for purchase and installation at dealerships and other authorized installers in October 2022.

States with the highest rates of car theft

According to the NICB, between 2016 and 2020, these states had the highest rate of auto theft per 100,000 residents:

  • Washington D.C.*
  • Colorado
  • California
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico

* NICB treats Washington, DC, as a state for statistical purposes.

States with the lowest rates of auto theft

  • Massachusetts
  • Puerto Rico*
  • Vermont
  • new hampshire
  • Maine

* The NICB treats Puerto Rico as a state for statistical purposes.

The most commonly stolen cars

The list of commonly stolen cars mirrors the list of best-selling vehicles most years because top sellers are readily available and their parts are worth more because they are in high demand.

Here are the 10 most commonly stolen cars in 2021 (the most recent year for NICB statistics):

Range Vehicle make and model robberies Most common model year stolen
1 Full Size Chevy Pickup 48,206 2004
two Full-Size Ford Pickup 47,999 2006
3 Honda Civic 31,673 2000
4 honda accord 30,274 1997
5 toyota camry 17,270 2007
6 Full Size GMC Pickup 15,599 2005
7 nissan altima 14,108 2020
8 Honda CR-V 13,308 2000
9 Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee 13,210 2018
10 Toyota Corolla 12,927 2020

Source: NICB

A Growing Problem: Catalytic Converter Theft

catalytic converter of a vehicle

In addition to vehicle theft, NICB says thieves began targeting expensive catalytic converters in recent years. The theft of these devices has skyrocketed, with an increase of 1,215% since 2019.

A catalytic converter is a loaf-sized device (larger on vehicles equipped with larger engines) in your car’s exhaust system. Located in front of the muffler, it is often easily accessible under the center of the vehicle.

The catalytic converter helps filter harmful contaminants from your car’s exhaust. It sends hot exhaust gases through a honeycomb of rare metals, like rhodium and palladium, that act like sponges and absorb harmful chemicals.

Those rare metals created a catalytic converter crime wave. Their prices have skyrocketed recently, making a relatively new converter worth thousands of dollars.

Thieves can remove catalytic converters in minutes by sliding under the car and prying them out of the exhaust system with a reciprocating power saw.

Tips to keep your car safe

Keeping your car relatively safe from thieves is not complicated or expensive.

Thieves target cars that leave them least at risk. So a few common sense steps can make it easier for them to avoid your vehicle and shop around for a brand.

PRO TIP 1: Avoid “blowing” or keeping your vehicle running while running an errand. Heating and leaving a car unattended in some states and municipalities is illegal. Many owners also leave key fobs inside, making vehicles easy targets for thieves. See more protection tips below.

RELATED: Cars that use digital keys

Try these four layers of NICB protection:

Protecting your catalytic converter involves the same steps as protecting your car.

Parking in a locked garage is your best defense if you’re worried about thieves stealing your new car’s catalytic converter. When that’s not an option, park in well-lit areas and consider installing a security camera. Several companies make protections you can install, designed to take too long to remove the converter to make it worth a thief’s time. But we haven’t seen studies examining whether guards deter thieves.

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