Car Theft in the US: Prevention and Facts

car theft prevention guide

Car theft involves the illegal act of stealing or attempting to steal a motor vehicle. Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does not exclude the theft or attempted theft of automobiles, buses, trucks, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and scooters in its definition of vehicle theft.

In Virginia, over 9000 motor vehicles are lost to car theft every year, while these stolen vehicles and parts are valued at over $80 million yearly. Vehicle theft happens to be a multi-billion dollar crime.

Car Theft Statistics in the US

In 2016, over three-quarters of a million vehicles were stolen in the United States – nearly half of which were attributed to error from drivers. In 2017 alone, approximately $6 billion was lost to motor vehicle theft, with the average dollar loss per theft amounting to $7,708. For every 100, 000 persons in the U.S, 237.4 motor vehicles were stolen in 2017. The total number of stolen motor vehicles amounted to 773,139, 0.8 percent up from 767,290 vehicles stolen in 2017. That is to say, for every 40.9 seconds, one motor vehicle was reported stolen in the US.

According to the FBI, vehicle thefts have been on the downtrend over the past 25 years since its peak in 1991. This has been credited to a combination of efforts from law enforcement agencies, specific anti theft programs, technology, and insurance company supported organizations such as the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

car theft statistics in the US

However, it is important to note that vehicle thieves are constantly devising new and sophisticated means of stealing such as switching vehicle ID numbers, acquiring smart keys that remove hot-wiring, using fake or stolen identities to secure loans for luxury vehicles.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the top ten metropolitan areas with the highest auto theft rates in 2017 include:

  1. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  2. Anchorage, Alaska
  3. Pueblo, Colorado
  4. Redding, California
  5. St. Joseph,
  6. Bakersfield, California
  7. Modesto, California
  8. Stockton-Lodi, California
  9. Yuba City, California
  10. Springfield, Missouri

Those living in urban areas and higher crime areas stand more risk of being victims of auto theft. A study from the NICB shows that “of the top 25 metro areas in the nation for vehicle theft, nearly half are ports or communities with easy access to borders.”

Preventing a Car Theft

While you may be wondering what you can do to reduce the risk of being a car theft victim, the truth is that there are so many options- most of which are actually basics that are often ignored. Here are some simple car thefts deterring strategies:

  1. Lock your doors: This is usually the first and the most important step. Keep your car doors locked at all times. It is much more difficult and time-consuming to steal a car with locked doors. A car thief would easily opt for something more accessible. Also, ensure that your windows and sunroof (if any) are always shut.
  2. Avoid keeping your keys inside the car: whether it is a spare key or anything, ensure you do not keep or hide your car keys inside your car. It is simply an open invitation to a car thief as almost nothing can be done to salvage the situation once they grab the key.
  3. Get a car alarm: You could easily agree that car alarms can be quite noisy and easily triggered, so thieves might easily opt for something that wouldn’t cause so much stare. Despite the fact that these alarms can be easily and quickly disarmed, pairing it with other strategies would surely help. And they don’t cost much too.
  4. Keep valuable documents out of sight: from shopping bags to phones, money, backpacks or vehicle titles and registrations, avoid keeping anything inside that could make your car attractive to car thieves. You don’t want to replace a broken window due to a smash and grab. More importantly, you make selling your car a lot easier for the thief by leaving your vehicle documents.
  5. Park in areas that are well lit: Ensure that you park close to street lamps and in populated areas. Areas full of pedestrians will deter car criminals as they will be easily noticed.
  6. GPS Tracking: With real-time location updates from GPS trackers which can be relayed to local law enforcement agencies; it is easier to recover stolen cars with this feature. While some modern vehicles come with in-built GPS trackers, you would need to purchase and install them for the older vehicles, alongside an on-going service plan from the provider.
  7. Etch your VIN unto your Windows: Every vehicle comes with a vehicle identification number (VIN), which is a unique 17-digit code that contains details about your vehicle such as the make, model, year etc. it is usually stamped on the vehicle interior (dashboard, engine bay, inner door frame) and easily allows authorities to track and recover your stolen vehicle. Etching your VIN unto your windows makes your vehicle easier to trace, and more difficult for the thief to reselling in whole or in parts. This is usually done for a fee or at some police station host events for free. Another possible option if you are a buyer and want to avoid getting a stolen car is running a VIN Number search before making the final decision.
  8. Don’t leave the car running: it doesn’t matter if you’re going to quickly grab something at the mall, or just warming your car; all it takes to steal your car at this point is to smash your window or open the lock since your key is already on the ignition and running. Just don’t make the job easier for the criminals.

These measures detailed above can help protect you from being a victim of car theft. However, note that some criminals are smart enough to bypass some of these measures. It is your responsibility to ensure that you park well, learn these strategies as well as get a car insurance policy.