Good news for drivers from the FBI's annual crime report: Auto theft was down 17 percent last year compared to 2008 and down 31.5 percent compared to 2000. You can check out all the data, including for your hometown, at the FBI's Web site.
As anyone who's had their car stolen can tell you a vehicle theft is a financial hit even if you have full-coverage auto insurance. That's because most policies don't pay out the amount you'd need to buy a new auto; most of the time, they simply pay the value of the car at the time it's stolen.
That amount is usually enough to pay off any existing loan you have on the car, especially if your policy includes gap insurance, but not enough to give you a down payment on a new vehicle. Plus you'll be on the hook for an out-of-pocket deductible that can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000 and up.
The states where your car was most likely to be stolen in 2009 were Nevada and California, with 468.4 and 443.8 thefts per 100,000 residents, respectively, according to the FBI data. However, if the District of Columbia were a state, it would put them both to shame with 922.5 thefts per 100,000 residents.
Unfortunately, the data also shows fewer stolen cars are being recovered than in the past. Since 2006, the percentage of property value recovered from auto thefts has fallen from 59 percent to 56.8 percent, according to FBI data.
To avoid taking the financial hit of a theft, here are some handy tips from the San Diego Police Department (about 570 thefts per 100,000 residents):
- Park in open, well-lighted, and populated areas near your destination, preferably one in view of a security camera. Avoid parking near trucks, vans, dumpsters, and other objects that obstruct visibility and provide hiding places. Avoid parking near strangers loitering or sitting in vehicles.
- Park in lots or garages where you don't have to leave your keys.
- Park in your garage, if you have one. Don't leave your vehicle on the street, in an alley, or on your driveway. If you have to park on a street, avoid dark or isolated areas.
- Turn off your engine, roll up all windows, lock all doors and take your keys with you even if you are making a quick stop at a store or gas station, or even in your driveway. Close all windows and lock the trunk and hood.
- Don't leave spare keys in your vehicle. An experienced thief knows all the hiding places. Store spare keys in your wallet.
- Don't leave your vehicle in an unattended public lot for an extended period time.
- Buy a vehicle with interior hood and trunk lock releases. Install a secondary hood lock if your car does not have one.
- Replace knob-type door lock buttons with tapered ones.
- Install an alarm system that will sound when someone attempts to break in, move, tilt, or start your vehicle. Always activate the system when leaving the vehicle.
- Check your vehicle if you hear the alarm sound. But don't try to stop a person attempting to break in. Get a good description of the person and call 911.
- When you lock your vehicle with a Remote Keyless Entry fob, make sure that all the doors are locked before leaving your vehicle, especially in public parking lots. There has been an increase in the use of jammers to prevent the RKE signal from activating the door locks.
(h/t to Consumer Reports)