Why thieves hate your new car – and how to keep your wheels safe

car theft new car A shiny new car should be an irresistibly tempting target for car thieves.

But a new report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says newer-model cars are less likely to be stolen -- and more likely to be recovered when they are stolen -- than older-model vehicles.  

The NICB report examined data from the FBI's National Crime Information Center and found thieves have stolen just 34,610 cars from the 2013 model year.

While that may sound like a lot of cars, it is actually less than 5 percent of the nearly 724,000 cars stolen during the report's time period.

In addition, 88 percent of stolen 2013 models later were recovered. That compares to an approximately 50 percent recovery rate for all stolen vehicles.

The five most stolen 2013 model cars were:

  • Nissan Altima.
  • Ford Fusion.
  • Ford Pickup Full Size
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Chevrolet Impala

New technology deters car theft

Why are new cars so unpopular with crooks? Because new technology makes them much more difficult to steal, says Frank Scafidi, NICB spokesman.

The engine immobilizer system forever changed the face of car theft. This type of system employs an ignition key with an embedded microchip. The car dealer programs the key to match a specific car.

"If someone attempts to use a key without the proper chip, the vehicle will not operate," says Steven Wheeler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority.

Beginning in the late 1990s, car manufacturers started installing these systems in new cars. The number of car thefts soon dropped dramatically.

For example, a New York Times report found there were 147,000 car thefts in New York City in 1990. By 2013, that number plummeted to just 7,400.

Wheeler says the advent of the key fob remote also has made a big difference.

Also, most newer vehicles have an alarm system tied to the horn which activates when someone opens the car door without using the key fob.  

Finally, some car manufacturers use a transponder system in which the car starts when a key fob transmits an electronic code directly to the ignition. 

Thieves strike back

To make things easier on themselves, thieves now tend to target older cars not equipped with cutting-edge anti-theft technologies.

The NICB report found that older stolen cars are much less likely to be recovered than newer stolen cars.

That is because older cars are more likely to end up in "chop shops," where criminals harvest the parts from a car and sell them to illicit body shop owners across the country, Scafidi says.

However, rather than simply giving up completely on new cars, today's thieves also are finding more creative ways to steal newer vehicles.

Some criminals now use stolen driver identification cards to lease or buy new cars. The thieves get the vehicle, switch out the car's vehicle identification number and sell it back to other buyers.

These crimes technically are considered to be "financial fraud" rather than auto theft, and are not counted in the auto theft statistics, according to the NICB.

How to keep your car safe -- whether it's old or new

Up to 50 percent of car thefts are the result of careless activity by drivers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"Most thefts could be avoided if the owner follows this simple rule: "Lock your car, take your keys -- every time," Wheeler says.

To prevent your car from being stolen, take the following steps.

  • Use common sense. Always be aware of the risk of theft, and act prudently.  "Employ common sense in deciding where you park your car and what items you leave visible from the outside," Wheeler says.
  • Install an anti-theft device. Anti-theft measures -- such as car alarms, steering-wheel locks and kill switches (which shut down the engine electrical system) -- can keep thieves at bay. 
  • Etch the VIN into your car's windows. Thieves are more likely to shy away from cars with the vehicle identification number (VIN) etched into the windows. "All of the glass would need to be replaced if the thief would try to sell the car, or chop the parts," Wheeler says.

Some police departments provide this service. For example, the Nashville, Tenn., police department offers etching twice annually. "Very small identifying numbers are etched into windows of vehicles to help guard against theft," says spokesman Don Aaron.

Earning car insurance safety discounts

Not only do the above measures reduce the risk of theft, but they also can lower your car insurance bill.

Loretta Worters, vice president at the Insurance Information Institute, says you can save up to 5 percent on your insurance for simple anti-theft devices, such as steering-wheel locks.

Etching your VIN into your windows can save you 15 percent, while having a car-recovery system – such as OnStar or LoJack -- that allows police to track your vehicle if it is stolen can net you savings of 20 percent to 35 percent. 

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