While most of us will never have to worry about getting carjacked by an armed assailant, the risk of waking up to discover your car has been stolen is more likely. For being one of the most powerful countries in the world, we sure do have some staggeringly high crime rates, which you can investigate in depth in the FBI’s annual crime report.
Awhile back, Cheap Car Insurance launched an ambitious project that was designed to rank states based on car thefts per 1,000 registered vehicles instead of utilizing the typical per capita approach. This methodology was chosen around the reasoning that states with dense urban sprawls and reliable forms of public transportation typically have lower rates of car ownership than rural ones. On one hand, New York may only have 26.1 registered vehicles per 100 people, but Alabama has twice as many, with 52.1 registered vehicles per 100 people.
In order to understand why particular vehicles are more likely to be stolen than others and where they are being targeted the most often, the National Insurance Crime Bureau mapped more than 650,000 vehicle thefts around the country. The data showed a nationwide trend where thieves still favored older models of cars, despite a recent spike in new vehicle theft.
Reports also unearthed that the make and model of a vehicle can greatly increase its chance of being targeted as an easy steal. Year after year it seems that the Honda Accord continues to reign supreme as the most desirable car to steal, followed by its baby brother, the Civic, and then a variety of full-size Ford pickup trucks.
A thieve’s preference can also vary quite a bit from these top three depending upon what state is in question. Reports show that thieving hoopleheads in Alaska and large portions of the Midwest prefer Chevy pickups, while crooks in D.C., Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Ohio prefer to pinch Dodge Caravans.
In order to accurately identify the metro areas that are most prone to car theft, researchers had to take a different approach to analyzing crime because vehicles are always registered to a particular state, not a city. So to rank urban sprawls, researchers had to first calculate the number of car thefts per 100,000 residents, which is where public crime data from law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Seattle from 2015 came in handy. All of the cities on the list were chosen due to their concentrations of heavily populated metropolitan areas and excellent public data sets, and not because of their rates of theft.
Not all states are filled with car thieves either; according to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Transportation, our nation’s capital remains the shadiest place to leave your ride, and even though it’s not technically a state, researchers treat it as such. With an average of 17.5 vehicle thefts per 1,000 registered vehicles, D.C. landed the top spot in the study, as the amount of swiped rides is well above the national average. After D.C. came Washington, California, and Nevada, all of which averaged between 10 and 11 thefts for every 1,000 cars. The safest states to park were Vermont and New Hampshire, which respectively had just 1 and 1.5 stolen vehicles per every 1,000 cars on the road.
Just as risk varies depending on what state you are in, so too does it change depending on what city is in question. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the communities most prone to swiped rides are the California cities of Modesto and Bakersfield, followed by Albuquerque, New Mexico, all three of which saw thousands of vehicle thefts in 2015. Sadly, it isn’t just Modesto and Bakersfield that are prone to this problem, as eight of the riskiest cities on the list happened to be in sunny California.
Research shows that thieves tend to favor vehicles from the 1990s, which is likely due to the fact that engine immobilizer systems were not very commonplace until the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even though these systems have been the norm since 1998, many of them being better now than ever before, new cars can still be stolen by a hacker with the right software, a laptop, and some patience.
So what do you do if you end up being one of those unfortunate souls who wakes up one morning to discover their car is missing? Surely there is a strong chance that the authorities will return it to you unscathed with the perpetrator behind bars, right? Sadly this is often not the case, because for all of our technological advancements, the truth is that vehicular theft crimes are still difficult to solve, and nationally, fewer than 15% of all car thefts land someone in front of a judge. Researchers say this can be attributed to the fact that many of the stolen vehicles in these statistics are hastily spirited out of the country by highly trained car heist rings like what we saw in the film Gone in 60 Seconds.
According to reports from the FBI, the chances of seeing a perpetrator get locked up remain best in the East-South-Central parts of the country, where more than 22% of all car thefts result in an arrest. Back out on the West Coast, fewer than 9% of car thieves get arrested, which some analysts believe attributes to higher theft levels in California and Washington.
Luckily, there’s also some good news: Nationally, car theft in the United States has been declining for the past decade. Back in 2003, more than 433 car thefts were recorded per 100,000 people. Nowadays that number hovers around 215, which is about a 50% drop, which means that vehicles are safer than ever before.
Nevertheless, when you break down all these numbers and spread it out over time, these stats show that a motor vehicle is still being stolen every 46 seconds in America. So protect yourself and that ride of yours by parking in well-lit, safe areas, or in locked garages. Also, if you happen to live in one of these high-risk cities be sure to check out our guide to deterring car thieves with things like baby monitors, special locks, and kill switches.