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Most-stolen cars? It's debatable

Go figure.

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.

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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.

Discrepancies galore
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:

1. Toyota Camry
2. Honda Accord
3. Honda Civic
4. Oldsmobile Cutlass/Supreme/Ciera
5. Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee
6. Chevrolet Full-Size C/K Pickup Truck
7. Toyota Corolla
8. Ford Taurus
9. Chevrolet Caprice
10. Ford F-150 Pickup Truck

For the top 100 stolen cars, according the NICB, click here.

Here are the top 10 most frequently stolen vehicles in 2001 by NHTSA criteria:

1. Chrysler Town & Country MPV
2. Dodge Intrepid
3. Chevrolet Metro
4. Acura Integra
5. Plymouth Neon
6. Dodge Neon
7. Dodge Stratus
8. Mitsubishi Mirage
9. Suzuki Esteem
10. Chrysler LHS

For a list of the top 200, according to NHTSA, click here.

CCC Information Services Inc. reports its top 10 with model years included. They are:

1. 1989 Toyota Camry
2. 1991 Toyota Camry
3. 1990 Toyota Camry
4. 2000 Honda Civic SI
5. 1994 Honda Accord
6. 1994 Chevrolet C1500 4X2
7. 1995 Honda Accord Ex
8. 1988 Toyota Camry
9. 1994 Honda Accord LX
10. 1996 Honda Accord LX

  Rod Gibson is a freelance writer based in Georgia.

-- Posted: Sept. 23, 2003

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