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Vehicle thefts have declined for two straight years

But 11 states saw the rate of car theft go up in 2019

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Photo (c) GregorBister - Getty Images
Car thieves are apparently facing greater obstacles when trying to steal cars and trucks because they’ve stolen fewer of them over the last two years.

But the latest report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) suggests that your vehicle is more vulnerable to thieves in some areas of the country than others.

The report covers 2019 and shows that vehicle owners reported 794,019 thefts during the year, down from 819,998 in 2018. Owners reported 833,740 thefts in 2017.

There’s no evidence that criminals have lost interest in stealing cars and trucks -- it’s still a lucrative enterprise. But NICB says their job is now more difficult for a number of reasons.

Cars now come with more security features. While thieves tend to target older models -- their parts are in high demand on the black market -- even these older models now have enhanced protection against theft.

Easy-to-trace parts

Many key engine parts are now marked, making them easier to trace and riskier to purchase on the black market. Technology that can immobilize an engine is also more common, making a vehicle undrivable.

The widespread use of “smart” keys is also cited as an obstacle for thieves, although tech-savvy criminals have been able to get around that barrier. As we reported in 2015, some key fobs were shown to be fairly easy to hack.

Since then, carmakers have begun to address keyless ignition issues because most modern vehicles are controlled by computer systems that can be vulnerable to hacking.

Law enforcement has also been more aggressive in pursuing car thieves, perhaps another reason for car theft’s encouraging downward trend. That said, the rate of car theft -- the number of stolen cars per 100,000 population -- rose last year in 11 states. They are:

  • Missouri

  • Texas

  • Arkansas

  • Nebraska

  • Minnesota

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • South Dakota

  • Delaware

  • Michigan

  • New Hampshire

What to do

NICB says there are a number of simple, common sense steps that car owners can take to reduce the chance of theft, starting with never leaving keys in the ignition or a key fob in the car when it’s not being operated.

Alarm systems are also helpful. Many cars are equipped with systems that sound the horn when someone tries to break into the vehicle. Aftermarket alarms are also available for all makes and models of cars. 

Tracking devices can also help police recover a vehicle if it’s stolen. If your vehicle is expensive or high on a car thief’s list, it might be a worthwhile investment.

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