One day a list comes out that says the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord are
the two most frequently stolen cars in America. Next, you see a list that says
the Chrysler Town and Country and the Dodge Intrepid are the vehicles that thieves
love most -- and the Camry and Accord are near the bottom of the list.
Confused? It all depends on whose list you're looking at, along with how and
why they put it together.
The truth of the matter is the lists investigative and insurance groups put
out for popular consumption leave out critical information, such as the model
years in top demand. What's more, they compile their lists from different data,
in different ways for different reasons and for different audiences.
How the lists work
The National Insurance Crime Bureau puts out the list of stolen cars most
often referred to in the media each year. Other lists, from the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration; and CCC Information Services Inc., also proclaim
what cars are most often stolen.
That's about all they have in common. The NICB list, for example, does not
include model years. It's list states the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord
were the most frequently stolen cars for 2001, the last year for which full
information is available.
"Foul," cries the manufacturers of those two incredibly popular
models, who fear that a buyer in the market for a 2004 Toyota Camry or 2004
Honda Accord might be scared off by the alleged fact.
And the NICB admits Toyota and Honda have a valid beef, because what its list
does not say -- and what the media does not report -- is that those "most
stolen" Camrys and Accords were probably 1990 to 1995, or even older, models.
"We are not talking about the 2003 and 2004 models in our report,"
says Ed Sparkman, public affairs manager for NICB. "Over 90 percent of
the vehicles taken were model years 1985 to 1987."
Sparkman says the agency plans to put model years on at least the top 10 in
future studies. "The auto manufacturers have a legitimate gripe about the
model years not being included," he adds.
CCC Information Services Inc., also puts the Camry at the top of its list,
but identifies the specific year. NHTSA, on the other hand, ranks stolen cars
by the number of vehicles stolen compared to the number of models produced,
putting two Chrysler products at the head of the pack.
Impact on consumers
What does it all mean to the consumer? It makes for interesting conversation
around the water cooler but has virtually no bearing on the family finances.
Insurance companies don't base rates on any of those lists, but rather on the
frequency of cars stolen from their policyholders, according to Jeanne Salvatore,
spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.
Rest assured, the agencies that compile these lists are not out to confuse
you. Whereas NICB lists are taken from the FBI reports, the lists from CCC,
a software firm, are from the total losses submitted to it by more than 350
property and casualty insurers.
"We put out the reports for consumer awareness and consumer interest,"
said Michelle Hellyer, strategic manager of public relations for CCC. "The
reports are not definitive. We don't track for what reasons autos are stolen.
It's true that most of the cars are older models.
"It may be that many times those cars have almost interchangeable parts
in cluster years, such as 1992 to 1995. That would seem to make them more popular
for people who are stealing them for parts."
Those years are also before many models put in anti-theft devices as standard
equipment, experts say.
NHTSA's list is not for consumer interest but is used to determine which high-theft
models must have certain parts stamped with VINs (vehicle identification numbers)
by the auto manufacturers and also which autos are exempt because manufacturers
install anti-theft devices as standard equipment.
"The data for these lists is older than that for the NICB lists,"
says Tim Hurd, chief of media relations for NHTSA. "It lags a couple of
years behind current thefts." Models subject to parts-stamping range from
the expensive makes like the Alpha Romeo Milano 161 and Lincoln models and Maserati
Biturbo to the Chevrolet S-10 pickup and the Geo Storm. The idea for stamping
the parts with VINS is to make it more difficult to steal cars for parts and
to prosecute these cases at trial.
NHTSA ranks popularity on the number of vehicles stolen compared to the
number of models produced, so the Chrysler Town & Country ranked first on
its list with 248 stolen for 10,792 produced in 2001, or a 2001 theft rate of
22.98, which means 2.298 percent of those built in 2001 were stolen. The Dodge
Intrepid ranked second with 1,442 stolen for 113,333 made, or a theft rate of
12.72 (1.272 percent).
The Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, which ranked fifth on NICB's list, is
54th on NHTSA's list with 1,376 stolen in 2001 for 338,673 manufactured, or
a theft rate of 4.06. The 2001 Honda Accord was way down at spot 142 with 665
stolen for 379,508 produced, or a theft rate of 1.75 and the Toyota Camry was
80th with 1,123 stolen for 351,813 produced or a theft rate of 3.18.
As sport utility vehicles, trucks and minivans became more popular with the
general public, they also became car thieves' favorites: 17 were in the top
50 most frequently stolen vehicles on NICB's list.
According to NICB, the 10 most common stolen autos in the U.S. in order of
popularity among thieves are: