Des Plaines, Ill—California’s San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had the nation’s highest per capita vehicle theft rate in 2014, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) latest Hot Spots report. NICB’s Hot Spots report examines vehicle theft data obtained from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for each of the nation’s MSAs. MSAs are designated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and often include areas much larger than the cities for which they are named. For example, the Bakersfield, Calif., MSA includes all thefts within the entire county of Kern, not just the city of Bakersfield. Moreover, as a population-based survey, an area with a much smaller population and a moderate number of thefts can—and often does—have a higher theft rate than an area with a much more significant vehicle theft problem and a larger population to absorb it. For 2014, the 10 MSAs with the highest vehicle theft rates were: (thefts in parentheses)
Although vehicle thefts are down dramatically around the nation, the reasons they are stolen remain the same. Older vehicles are stolen primarily for their parts value while newer, high- end vehicles often are shipped overseas or, after some disguising, sold to an innocent buyer locally.
Others, meanwhile, are still taken for the oldest of motivations—a “joyride” and when the thrill is gone, it is abandoned undamaged. The full Hot Spots report is available at www.nicb.org. NICB recommends that drivers follow our four “layers of protection” to guard against vehicle theft: Common Sense— The common sense approach to protection is the easiest and most cost- effective way to thwart would-be thieves. You should always:
Remove your keys from the ignition
Lock your doors /close your windows
Park in a well-lit area
Warning Device — The second layer of protection is a visible or audible device which alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Popular devices include:
Steering column collars
Steering wheel/brake pedal lock
Theft deterrent decals
Identification markers in or on vehicle
Micro dot marking
Immobilizing Device — The third layer of protection is a device which prevents thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some electronic devices have computer chips in ignition keys. Other devices inhibit the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated. Some examples are:
Starter, ignition, and fuel pump disablers
Wireless ignition authentication
Tracking Device — The final layer of protection is a tracking device which emits a signal to police or a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. Tracking devices are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles. Some systems employ “telematics” which combine GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of a vehicle. If the vehicle is moved, the system will alert the owner and the vehicle can be tracked via computer.
While car thefts are declining across the country, the thefts of some parts and accessories are proving to be a lucrative business for professional thieves.
In the Detroit area, it’s become a huge problem that‘s costing consumers, insurance companies, car dealers and car rental companies.
“We hear all this good news about auto theft being down in Michigan, but unfortunately, what’s replaced that is component theft,” said Terri Miller, executive director of Help Eliminate Auto Thefts (HEAT). “Because it’s harder to steal an entire vehicle these days, they’re stealing the parts. The tires and rims are not marked and they are very, very marketable.”
Cars up on blocks, missing their tires and rims, are a frequent sight in the Detroit area.
Organized crime rings are targeting newer vehicles parked in neighborhoods, in parking lots, even at dealer lots – anywhere they can quickly jack the car up, remove the wheels, and leave it sitting on blocks.
Rental car companies have been particularly hard hit with hundreds of newer model cars targeted.
In some cases, thieves break the window, pop the hood and disable the gear shift to put the car in neutral. They then use another vehicle to push the car away to a nearby empty garage or lot where they can safely strip it.
According to Michigan State Police Detective Lieutenant Ray Collins of the Southeast Auto Theft Team (SEATT), the person stealing the tires and rims may be paid $150 to $400 for their work but more money is made by the middle man who resells the stolen property to smaller tire dealers or collision repair shops for $700 to $900. The repair shop may then install those tires and rims on a car and bill an insurance company for $1,200 or $1,300. And an insurance company has likely already paid a claim for those same stolen tires and rims.
Some of the 240 tires and rims recovered by law enforcement following a lengthy theft investigation.
Unless a thief is literally caught in the act, trying to prove a theft is frustrating for law enforcement. One lengthy investigation led officers to recover some 240 tires and rims from shops that were allegedly reselling them. But tracking them back to the owners will be difficult since tires and rims are not marked with any identification records.
“I encourage people to put some kind of identifying mark on their tires and rims,” said Collins. “If they report them stolen, we may be able to tie them back to the victims if we recover them.”
Some manufacturers are working on technology to help track these parts when they are stolen, but there’s no immediate solution on the horizon.