One car is stolen every nineteen to twenty-one seconds in the United States. That's less time than it takes most people to unlock their car, put on their seat belt and start the engine.
If auto theft was a legitimate business in the United States, it would rank 50th among the Fortune 500 companies (Motor Trend, January, 1991). The cost to consumers in terms of insurance premiums, out-of-pocket repair costs, and new car costs has increased 134 percent since 1970, from $3.2 billion to $7.5 billion. This is due to the increased price of new vehicles, and the fact fewer stolen cars are recovered; 62 percent today compared with 84 percent in 1970.
Unfortunately, if your car isn't found within one week, the chances of recovering it intact is almost nil. In 1994, 31% of recovered stolen vehicles were completely stripped at chop shops, and another 31% were stripped of accessories such as radios, air bags, and seats. In 1970, only 25% of vehicles were stolen for parts, resale, or for use in another crime (Consumers Research Magazine, 10-01-95).
Car thieves no longer tend to be young joyriders. Increasingly, they are involved in professional rings operating parts-stripping and reselling scams, usually global in scope. Chop shops can strip a stolen car in less than thirty minutes. The parts are then sold to repair and body shops, netting the thieves two to four times the price of the whole car. Many of these parts don't carry the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and can no longer be identified. Older cars are not exempt; as cars age, their parts become more valuable. Air bags are latest hot item for car thieves. Thieves will receive between $100 to $600 per air bag, which the body shop will then install for a cost of around $1,500. Ultimately, this scam causes higher auto insurance premium rates.
One of the more sophisticated scams is the "strip and run". A vehicle is stolen, stripped for parts, and the frame is abandoned. When it is eventually recovered by the police, the case is cleared, and the frame sold at an insurance or police auction. The thieves buy the frame, reattach the parts, and now have a vehicle that is not stolen.
Another scam is the "salvage switch." An extensively damaged, burned or stripped or otherwise irreparable car is bought from the salvage yard for its title and VIN. A car of similar make and model is stolen, and the VIN plate is switched. The car can then be rebuilt and sold to an unsuspecting buyer.
Park where you can find it again
Parking your car away from the other vehicles in the lot will protect your car from door dings. But it also provides the thief with the solitude and time to steal your car. Try to park in a populated, well-lighted and well-traveled area. When possible, park your car in a locked, patrolled or otherwise secured parking garage or parking lot. Remember to always lock your own garage door and the door leading into your home. Not only will that protect your car, it also may protect the contents of your home. When parking on a street, leave the front wheels pointed sharply toward the curb and the emergency brake set to discourage towing.