Here we go again: After a 10-year drop in activity, auto theft is back.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the FBI's stolen-car reports increased 5.7 percent from 2000 to 2001. An estimated 1.2 million vehicle thefts were reported in 2001.
Big deal? You bet -- to the tune of almost $8.2 billion worth of cars disappearing in this country each year.
In addition to the NICB, a nonprofit organization supported by property-casualty insurance companies to battle theft, the Highway Data Loss Institute and CCC Information Services also track the who, what, where and when of stolen cars.
"Stolen car lists catch the public interest," admits Chris E. McGoey, owner of McGoey Security Consulting in Los Angeles. "Some people will avoid buying a car on these lists, but that's a false sense of security."
After all, someone steals a car every 26 seconds in the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute. That's one vehicle that wanders off for every 196 on the road, and only 13.6 percent of those thefts led to an arrest back in 2001. (Is it any wonder studies also show these criminals rate their chances of getting caught in the low-to-zilch range?)
And car theft tends to follow a local flavor of the month. For example, Texas thieves prefer pickups. Michigan's criminals lean more toward domestic cars, while California and New York lowlifes drool over imports.
They love them so much on the East Coast that you won't find a domestic car on New York's lists until number five. Phoenix holds NICB's current top honors for most stolen vehicles in 2001 with State College, Pa., coming in dead last at number 330.
"Groups of thieves pass the knowledge of how to steal a particular vehicle on to the next person, and they tell two friends who tell two friends. Pretty soon you have a whole section of the country that specializes in a certain type of vehicle," says Michelle Lanham, manager of the Reduce Auto Theft in Texas office.
So dig deep enough and you'll find your baby listed on someone's Stolen Hall of Fame.
"But you do get points for doing research and making informed choices to reduce your risk," says McGoey.
Take a peek at some of the whys behind the NICB's latest reports from the FBI statistics to see if you're in the hot seat:
Top stolen cars
in the United States
||Chevrolet Full-Size C/K pickup
||Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee
||Ford F150 pickup
1. Toyota Camry -- This car also topped CCC's list for the past five years, the 1999, 1989 and 1990 models to be exact. In this case, popularity has its downfalls. When you look at the per capita sale rate for vehicles in this country, the Camry and Honda Accord lead the pack.
2. Honda Accord -- It's a common posting in the classifieds: silver 1994 Honda Accord, chrome wheels, air rod suspension, stolen in Pennsville, N.J.
"Honda Accords have an easy ignition mechanism to bypass, more so than the Camry," Lanham says.
Also, the youth group loves the Accord's sleek, small body style. Throw in a bigger engine, and you have a street-racing demon.
"The less metal and weight to the car's frame, the more attractive it is for this big trend," Lanham adds.
3. Honda Civic -- "Though we cannot determine with absolute certainty the reason for vehicle theft, trends show that cars are often stolen for the value of their parts," says Mary Jo Prigge, CCC's president of sales and service.
It's a good guess in this case. According to McGoey, thieves can pocket $30,000 in parts from stripping a $20,000 car. And Honda tends to manufacturer interchangeable parts for all its model years, which raises the black market profit on these individual gadgets and gewgaws. Finally, chimes in the Palm Beach County Auto Theft Task Force, these parts move quickly.
4. Oldsmobile Cutlass -- Anything in the General Motors family finds itself vulnerable to this Top 10 because they're "notoriously easy to steal," in Lanham's words. Defeating the door locks and bypassing the ignition is as easy as 1-2, which is why the Cutlass is 4.
Straight from MrWowler's Web site, which you can study by merely typing "how to steal a car" at Google: Hammer a large flat-head screwdriver in the keyhole and turn hard. This should break the pins and allow you to turn the chamber, which opens the car.
5. Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee -- Want to predict your car's vulnerability? Just follow the money, advise officials at Auto Insurance Advocates. Americans love sports utility vehicles, so count on SUVs to catch thieves' fancy.
6. Chevrolet Full-Size C/K pickup -- The alias MrWowler once again provides a clue to this model's appearance in the Top 10. "If you can drive manuals, take them because they're less likely to have an alarm," he recommends. Real men buy stick-shift trucks, so real riff-raff rip them off.
7. Toyota Corolla -- Yes, vehicles vanish from street curbs, driveways, parking lots and even car dealership lots. But, says McGoey, the frequency increases when the dishonest can bet you'll be gone for an extended time. Think airports, movie complexes, large apartment complexes at night, shopping centers during business hours, fairgrounds and sporting events. They tend to avoid fee-based parking lots (too much hassle explaining to the old guy sitting in the little booth why they don't have a ticket) as well as stacked parking garages that offer just one escape route.
But consider open lots as a smorgasbord, McGoey adds. Toyota Corollas are the salad bar.
8. Ford Taurus -- According to McGoey, some cars are stolen on order, meaning that someone has placed an order for a specific make, model and color. The Pennsylvania State Police find that of this state's 93 stolen cars each day 40 percent end up being sold whole or in pieces, 44 percent serve as transportation for thrill-seekers, 11 percent are used to commit other crimes and 5 percent can be traced to insurance fraud.
9. Chevrolet Caprice -- Chalk up another one to the General Motors curse and the dazzle of American styling.
"The Top 10 vehicles are popular in other countries and organized theft rings will illegally export them to foreign destinations," confirms NICB president and CEO Robert M. Bryant.
Criminals in custody cite Poland, Russia and other Eastern-bloc countries as their best customers.
Approximately 200,000 vehicles cross our borders. To rub salt into the wound, the United States Customs Service employs $63,000 machines at 11 of its Southwest crossings that beep when a stolen plate rolls into Mexico.
The technology works, because that machine sounds the alarm four to eight times a day in San Ysidro, Calif. But the total of recovered cars: 0.
"It's not like we can just throw ourselves in front of every stolen car we see and say, 'Stop!'" a representative told the New York Times last year.
10. Ford F150 pickup -- "We've built a rich heritage for more than 50 years by offering customers what they wanted, when they wanted it," Gurminder Bedi, vice president of Ford North America Truck, brags in the company's media kits.
It isn't just customers who get what they want.
"Ford and General Motors will never be weeded out of this list completely. It's that law of averages again," says Lanham. "A lot of people still have the 'buy American' philosophy."
Make that "steal American," especially for a vehicle like the F150 that has been the best-selling truck for 25 consecutive years.
Commonly, victims replace the cars wrenched from their lives with duplicates, a move Lanham endorses.
"If you're just really fond of that car, we say go ahead. Because the bottom line is that a car will be stolen -- no matter what -- if a thief really wants it," she admits. "Anything man creates, man can defeat."