What You Should Know About Car Theft

Car theft is one of the costliest common major crimes in America. In the spirit of forewarned is forearmed, let’s take a look at the trends and stats.

You may think Grand Theft Auto is a cool video game, but it’s no fun at all when car theft happens to you in real life. And anyway, what can you really learn from a game that teaches that the best way to get across town is to hit a little old lady, and then steal a police car when the cops come to investigate?

In all seriousness, car theft is a horrible crime, and a nasty shock. But as with so many other things, you can take some precautions if you know what the thieves are after. In this article, let’s examine some current car theft trends.

The Stats

In the U.S., someone steals a car every 33 seconds. Thieves steal pieces of cars just as often; in fact, component theft is a growing trend. They smash windows to grab stereos and GPS units, and sometimes they’ll rip a car apart to acquire expensive bits like roof racks, spoilers, and wheel rims.

Ironically, sometimes certain pieces of a car are more valuable than the car itself, depending on resale demand.


One way car thieves get around the limitations of things like microchipped ignition keys, which make hotwiring almost impossible, is to hijack a car along with the keys. Carjacking isn’t the plague it once was, but it’s still a problem throughout the country.

The autos that thieves prefer aren’t necessarily the ones you’d expect off the top of your head, either. As of 2010, the most commonly stolen vehicles are Honda Accords and Civics, and Toyota Camrys — mostly dating from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Pickups and Jeeps are also fairly popular.

Where You Live

Auto theft rates are higher in some areas of the country, but again, probably not the ones you’d expect. Three times more cars are stolen in the South, for example, than in the Northeast (38 percent vs. 10 percent of the total). But as of 2009, the top five cities in the U.S. for car theft were:

1. Laredo, Texas
2. Modesto, California
3. Bakersfield, California
4. Stockton, California
5. Fresno, California

(Sorry, CA, stats are stats.)

The Upshot

None of the above means that you need to move or change your car’s make and model to avoid thefts. Thieves steal all kinds of cars for all kinds of reasons. But if you know what regions have higher theft rates and which cars are most commonly stolen, you can keep your eyes open and take precautions.

Your best bet is to depend on insurance and technology. No, not a car alarm; no one pays attention to those. But smart keys and digital locks can really help protect you from car theft.