After a decade of decline, vehicle theft is on the rise again. And the FBI says the biggest increase is here in the West.
A report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), an organization that gathers information from insurance companies, shows that five of the country's 10 metropolitan areas with the highest theft rates are in California and one is in Nevada. Fresno takes second place to Phoenix and is closely followed by Modesto (third), Stockton (fourth), and Las Vegas (fifth). Sacramento is seventh and Oakland eighth. No Utah locations made the top 10.
The NICB also found that thieves tend to like what the public likes. This means that in the West the hottest cars are Toyotas and Hondas. The car least likely to be stolen, according to the NICB's list of 100 most popular cars among thieves nationwide, is the Plymouth Sundance. This showing may reflect the thieves' low opinion of the car, but since vehicle theft is most often a crime of opportunity, it's more likely owing to the relative scarcity of functioning Sundances.
If choosing a new place to live or giving up your Accord for a Sundance seems an unreasonable sacrifice to make in the cause of theft prevention, there are some easier steps you can take, no matter where you live or what you drive, to lessen the chance a thief will take off in your car. The key factor is that thieves often don't set their sights on a specific vehicle—they value convenience and generally will take the car that's easiest to steal. Since you can't make your vehicle absolutely theft proof, your best insurance is to make it more difficult to steal than those around it.
Get into the habit
* Lock the car when you leave it. Make sure the windows are up and the sunroof is closed.
* Don't let the car idle with nobody in it—even for a moment—as you run a brief errand.
* Take the keys. Hiding a key on the car is akin to leaving your latchkey under the welcome mat.
* Choose your parking place carefully, if you have a choice. An attended lot is better than an unattended one. On the street, a well-traveled, well-lighted place is best, especially at night. At home, your locked garage is the best spot. Second best is your driveway. Wherever you park, even in the garage, lock the car and set the brake.
* If you must leave your keys with an attendant, leave only the car keys—take all others off the chain.
* Leave nothing on the seat or floor of the car when it's parked.
* Avoid storing any personal information in your car that a thief might find useful. For example, keep the registration on your person instead of in your vehicle. You need to have it when you're in the car, but you are not required to leave it in an unattended vehicle. In fact, leave nothing that gives your name or address, especially if you have a garage door opener in the glove box. And keep the pink slip at home.
Although car alarms cry wolf so often that people tend to ignore them, their annoying honking and beeping may well be even more distasteful to thieves, most of whom prefer to work in obscurity. And visually prominent deterrents can be helpful in persuading a thief to look elsewhere. For example, steering column collars and the ubiquitous steering wheel lock may not be invincible, but they do perform a service just by their presence.
If your car is stolen
If your car disappears, notify the police immediately. Be prepared to give its make, color, model, license plate number, and Vehicle Identification Number (a series of letters and numbers unique to each vehicle which you'll usually find on a metal plate near where the windshield meets the dashboard on the driver's side). Consider keeping this information somewhere other than in the car, perhaps in your wallet.
Recovery of a stolen car can be hit-or-miss. If you own a vehicle that you really would like back, consider the various electronic tracking methods, such as LoJack.
Once you've dealt with the police, notify your insurance company.
This article was first published in September 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.