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Hard times for car thieves

By Claes Bell ·
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

The grand theft auto business ain't what it used to be.

The most striking thing about the 10 Most Stolen Vehicles list released this week by the National Insurance Crime Bureau is there's not a single model produced after 2004 on it:

  1. 1994 Honda Accord
  2. 1995 Honda Civic
  3. 1991 Toyota Camry
  4. 1999 Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)
  5. 1997 Ford F150 Series/Pickup
  6. 2004 Dodge Ram
  7. 2000 Dodge Caravan
  8. 1994 Acura Integra
  9. 2002 Ford Explorer
  10. 1999 Ford Taurus

The NICB study found that new theft-prevention technology, like the now-ubiquitous electronic ignition immobilizer, is stymieing car thieves and contributing to a long-term downward trend in car thefts. From the study:

Overall, vehicle thefts continue their decline. Preliminary 2010 FBI crime statistics point to a further 7.2 percent reduction over the thefts posted in 2009. Should the preliminary numbers hold when the FBI produces its final statistics later this year, 2010 will post the fewest vehicle thefts since 1967.
Improved technology is one of the keys to lower theft rates and the Hot Wheels statistics demonstrate that. Of the nearly 52,000 Honda Accords stolen in 2010, over 44,000 were models made in the 1990s, compared with fewer than 5,700 that were produced since the year 2000.

One wonders what thieves will do once all these easy-to-steal cars reach the end of their life cycle and are retired to junkyards. Unless thieves really upgrade their technology skills, it looks like they may have to seek out a new profession, and that would be just fine with me.

As the former owner of 1997 Honda Accord, I can attest to the inconvenience caused by having a car thieves love to steal. Despite faded paint and an exhaust note that sounded like some sort of giant deranged Canadian goose, local car thieves made not one but two attempts to steal it. The second attempt was successful, but the thief must have realized his mistake; the car was dumped unceremoniously a few hours later in parking lot and recovered by police. Both times, all the thieves needed in the way of tools was some kind of a Slim Jim to open the car and a plain old flathead screwdriver to get it started.

For me, the consequences were pretty disruptive. Not only did I have to file police reports both times, but I nearly lost the reliable means of transportation I depended on to get to work. Because the car had a fairly low Blue Book value, I likely wouldn't have gotten enough from my auto insurance company to replace it with a similarly reliable vehicle.

What do you think? Will technology eventually make car thievery so complicated it ceases to be a major pursuit for criminals? Or will criminals simply adapt, as they have in the past, and reverse this trend?

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Jun Yan
September 09, 2011 at 7:32 pm

It is ridiculous to suggest that thieves will go out of business because they cannot keep up with technology. If that had been true, there would not have been thieves ever since locks were invented.

The entire article is based on the assumption that thieves steal cars from 90s because they cannot break into newer models, that assumption is dubious at best. I think they steal old cars because old cars are more profitable than newer cars.

August 08, 2011 at 2:15 am

You will start to see more of the newer cars showing up on this list as their factory parts wear out and warranties expire. Auto theft isn't just a criminal act, it's an underground industry. In many cases, thieves don't just steal random cars. They steal popular cars who have replacement parts in high demand. These cars are taken to chop shops where they are quickly broken down and the parts resold. As Louie said, thieves are very resourceful. They will find a way. The new technology will slow them down at first but anything man can construct can be deconstructed by another and it will happen.

Louie R.
August 07, 2011 at 9:35 am

This merely means that thieves will have to change their tactics.
These Hondas and many others from before 2005 were easily broken into and easily started and driven away.

Newer cars with the engine immobilizer technology will simple be towed. Afterall, if you see someone placing a car unto a flatbed, do you assume its being stolen? I don't! I think they're being taken for repairs or reposession. Thiefs will find a way!