New kind of tailgating: Theft of pickup truck tailgates is on the rise

Emmet Pierce

There’s a disturbing new definition for “tailgating” that has nothing to do with being followed too closely by another vehicle or partying outside a sports stadium with your friends.

The nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau says theft of pickup truck tailgates is on the upswing. Between 2006 and 2009, only 23 such car insurance claims for tailgate theft were processed in the U.S. In 2010, that number rose to 430. In 2011, the figure reached 472. For the first nine months of 2012, the count reached 418, with 557 projected for the entire year.

Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the insurance crime bureau, says tailgates are the latest hot item on the black market for auto parts.

“Hubcaps used to be fashionable,” he says. “It has moved onto different things over the years. Parts are very valuable, and it always comes down to money.”

Many thieves find it’s more profitable to sell stolen auto parts than an entire stolen car, says Richard Weinblatt, a former police chief who is dean of the School of Public and Social Services at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.

“That is something auto theft investigators and insurance claims adjusters have known for years,” Weinblatt says. “If they take a car and break it into pieces, they can make more money.”

‘Shopping list’ for stolen parts

Weinblatt says it's not unusual for thieves to cruise parking lots in search of a car model they need to fill an order for auto parts. “Sometimes people actually go out with a shopping list,” he says.

Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles security consultant and private investigator, says auto repair shops often knowingly purchase stolen tailgates to reduce costs. Demand for tailgates is high, as they’re frequently damaged in accidents.

The market for stolen auto parts especially hot in the West, according to Weinblatt. In the West, he says, “there are more people who are into cars and more young people who are interested in getting parts for their cars,” he says.

While the problem is national in scope, the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that several Western states had been hit especially hard by tailgate thefts. In all, 1,343 tailgate insurance claims were filed in 45 states between Jan. 1, 2006, and Sept. 30, 2012. Among those states, Texas ranked first, with 451 insurance claims (34 percent of the total). California was in second place (272 claims), followed by Arizona (125), Florida (86) and Nevada (36).

Trucks that most often targeted for tailgate theft were built between 1985 and 2012. The biggest single target was the 2008 Ford F250, with 70 claims. It was followed by the 2010 Ford F150 (48 claims) and the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado (39 claims). The oldest pickup identified in the theft report was a 1985 Ford F150.

If you plan to file an insurance claim for a stolen tailgate, you’ll need comprehensive auto insurance. Comprehensive policies pay for damage not caused by car accidents. They typically cover claims involving theft, fire, vandalism, collisions with animals and natural disasters like storms.

Gary Hassen, a spokesman for the San Diego Police Department, says investigators there place the average cost of replacing a stolen tailgate at $2,100.

The most expensive tailgates include such accessories as backup cameras and parking sensors that can detect nearby objects, says Dan Young, a spokesman for the CARSTAR chain of collision repair shops. Buying a replacement tailgate for the often-targeted Ford 250 pickup costs about $1,600 to $2,200, Young says.

Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, says the rise in tailgate thefts is unlikely to affect car insurance rates, since the biggest costs to insurers come from collision and injury claims. “If there is any impact at all, it would be modest,” he says.

Protecting your tailgate

Scafidi says tailgates can be easy to steal. If the tailgate doesn’t have a lock – and many don’t –
a thief can remove it quickly. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says these tips can help make your tailgate less attractive to thieves:

•  Lock your tailgate. If it doesn’t have a lock, get one installed.

•  When you park, try to position your pickup tailgate close to an object or structure to prevent it from being opened.

•  Etch your pickup’s vehicle identification number (VIN) or a personal identification number onto the tailgate. If the tailgate is recovered, this can help police track down the owner.

Free Insurance Quotes