January 8, 2022

Auto Burglary and Car Theft: Statistics and Prevention

Why older cars get burglarized the most

Share
Twitter brand
Facebook brand
Linkedin brand
Reddit brand
Envelop icon

Worried about car theft? Certain cars get stolen more often than others, but your behavior can greatly reduce the likelihood of your car getting stolen. Simple things like locking your doors and rolling up windows can have a huge impact, and more subtle tricks like parking close to a guardrail can lower your risk even more. There are various other ways to prevent car theft and burglary so you don’t end up a statistic.

Auto Burglary and Theft

Many people believe that thieves want to steal the newest cars, but the truth is older cars are stolen more often, as they often lack the built-in anti-theft technology of newer models.

Common Targets

Here are some common targets for auto theft and burglary:

  • Older cars
  • Cars with custom seats, wheels, etc., as thieves often sell the parts of stolen cars rather than the entire cars
  • Cars with valuables left out in plain sight
  • Cars with open windows
  • Cars with unlocked doors
  • Cars in public parking lots or garages without good security, often in dark and secluded areas
  • Pickup trucks, as they’re easy to disassemble for parts

Factors That Affect Theft of Cars

These are some factors that affect the likelihood of car theft:

  • The year of the car
  • Anti-theft software like GPS tracking systems
  • Whether valuables are left out
  • Whether the car is parked in a city or a suburban or rural area, as cities have higher rates of motor vehicle theft
  • Where you park
  • Whether you locked your doors and windows

Methods

Here are the major ways that thieves break into cars, according to auto theft investigator Marc Hinch:

  • Smashing windows, also known as breaking and entering
  • Entering through open windows
  • Entering through unlocked doors, as 1 in 6 unlocked cars have a spare key inside, according to Hinch
  • Unplugging stock alarm systems
  • Using “slim jim” tools to open the locked doors of older cars
  • For cars with valet keys (cars where you press a button to start), using devices to capture the key fob’s signal and gain access

Prevention Tips

Car theft is preventable with the right tools and tricks. Follow these steps to avoid getting burglarized:

  1. If your car doesn’t already have them, install anti-theft tools like alarm systems, GPS tracking systems, ignition immobilizers, and tire, steering wheel, and hood locks.
  2. If you must park in a public garage, park facing a wall or guardrail, which makes it harder to get around your car.
  3. If you must park on a public street, park under a light with your wheel facing the curb and your steering wheel locked.
  4. Lock your doors and windows every time you leave your car.
  5. Never leave your key in the ignition when you exit your car.
  6. Don’t leave any valuables out in the open.
  7. Put a sticker in your window that indicates an alarm or tracking system.
  8. Get your vehicle identification number (VIN) etched onto your windows to make it harder to sell your car for parts. You can get this done at either your car dealership or your local police station.1

Recovering Stolen Vehicles

If you’ve had a vehicle stolen, you may or may not be able to recover it. However, it’s still worth contacting the police and your auto insurance provider to file an auto insurance claim under theft coverage. How long the auto insurance claim takes depends heavily on your provider.

  1. First, confirm that your car was stolen and not towed legitimately. Check if you were parked illegally, like in front of a fire hydrant.
  2. Once you’ve confirmed that your vehicle was stolen, file a stolen vehicle report with the police, giving them your vehicle’s make, model, color, VIN, and license plate number. Also include any other identifying details, like a scratch on the trunk.
  3. Get a copy of the report as well as your case number so you can give it to your auto insurance provider. You’ll need a police report to file an auto insurance claim.
  4. File a claim with your insurance provider within 24 hours of the theft.
  5. If you have a GPS tracking system, check it to see if you can find your vehicle’s location.
  6. Drive around the area where your car was stolen.
  7. Ask surrounding businesses if they have any outdoor surveillance equipment that could contain evidence of the theft.
  8. Use the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) VINCheck, a free lookup service where you can see if someone found your vehicle or reported it as a salvage vehicle.
  9. Search for your car on online car-selling websites like Autotrader.
  10. On your city’s ticketing website, enter your license plate number to see if it received any tickets post-theft.
  11. If you find your car, let the police and your insurance provider know as soon as possible.2

DID YOU KNOW?

All car insurance covers theft under property damage coverage. Learn more about what car insurance covers in our car insurance guide.

The Cars Stolen Most Frequently

Older cars are stolen more frequently than more recent cars, as they lack anti-theft devices and GPS tracking. Here are the cars stolen most frequently in 2020, according to the NICB.

Vehicle make and model Number of thefts in 2020 Increase from 2019 (rounded to the nearest whole number) Most common model year stolen
Ford Full-Size Pickup 44,014 13% 2006
Chevrolet Full-Size Pickup 40,968 26% 2004
Honda Civic 34,144 3% 2000
Honda Accord 30,814 0% 1997
Toyota Camry 16,915 8% 2019
Nissan Altima 14,668 10% 2020
GMC Full-Size Pickup 13,016 17% 2005
Toyota Corolla 12,515 3% 2020
Honda CR-V 12,309 22% 2000
Dodge Full-Size Pickup 11,991 6% 20013

FYI

The average model year of the top 10 most stolen cars in the U.S. in 2020 was 2007, making the cars an average of 13 years old.

Why are 40 percent of the top 10 most stolen cars pickup trucks? The parts of pickup trucks are easier to disassemble and sell for parts, particularly tailgates and wheels. Older pickup trucks have particularly rare parts, which makes them more profitable to sell.

Items Stolen From Cars Most Frequently

Here are the items that car thieves steal from cars the most:

  • Car registration, documentation, and manuals
  • Catalytic converters
  • Electronics like cellphones, iPods, and portable gaming systems
  • GPS devices
  • Laptops, iPads, and tablets
  • License plates and tabs
  • Portable TVs
  • Radios
  • Rims and tires
  • Speakers
  • Third-row seats that are easily removed
  • Truck tailgates

How to Report Suspicious Activity

If you see a motor vehicle theft in progress, follow these steps:

  1. Call 911.
  2. Take mental notes of the person’s appearance, the car’s license plate number, and other information useful to the police.
  3. Give your specific location to the police.
  4. Let the police know if anyone needs medical attention and if any weapons are involved.
  5. Keep all physical evidence intact.4

Motor Vehicle Theft Statistics

Here are the most recent statistics on car theft in the U.S. and beyond.

By Country

The country with the highest car theft rates in 2018 was New Zealand, which had 80 percent more car theft than the U.S. in the same year.

Selected countries Car theft rate in 2018 per 100,000 inhabitants (rounded to the nearest whole number)
New Zealand 1,172
Uruguay 559
Italy 233
United States of America 229
Greece 228
Sweden 219
Australia 214
United Kingdom (England and Wales) 203
Netherlands 163
Chile 130
Brazil 115
Mexico 109
Finland 105
Portugal 96
Switzerland 90
Colombia 87
Ireland 78
Austria 71
Spain 65
Germany 61
Peru 60
Luxembourg 48
Russian Federation 30
Indonesia 10
Hong Kong 6
United Arab Emirates 6
Republic of Korea 5
Philippines 5
Denmark 4
Morocco 4
Singapore 2
Kenya 15

From 1990 to 2020

Motor vehicle theft rates in the U.S. have decreased by over 60 percent from 1990 to 2020. We believe this decrease is due to increases in anti-theft technology like keyless entry and GPS tracking.

Reported motor vehicle theft rate in the United States from 1990 to 2020 Number per 100,000 of the population (rounded to the nearest whole number)
1990 658
1991 659
1992 632
1993 606
1994 591
1995 560
1996 526
1997 506
1998 460
1999 423
2000 412
2001 431
2002 433
2003 434
2004 422
2005 417
2006 400
2007 365
2008 315
2009 259
2010 239
2011 230
2012 230
2013 221
2014 215
2015 222
2016 237
2017 238
2018 230
2019 221
2020 246

By State

Colorado had the highest rate of motor vehicle theft in the U.S. in 2020, 53 percent higher than the rest of the U.S. The safest state in terms of motor vehicle theft is Vermont, with only 42 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants.

U.S. location Motor vehicle theft rate in 2020 per 100,000 inhabitants (rounded to the nearest whole number)
United States 246
Colorado 524
District of Columbia 477
New Mexico 428
California 428
Missouri 393
Oregon 391
Hawaii 380
Oklahoma 378
Washington 356
Nevada 336
Utah 317
Tennessee 306
Texas 287
South Carolina 282
North Dakota 271
Alaska 269
Louisiana 267
Arkansas 262
Nebraska 261
South Dakota 259
Kentucky 257
Minnesota 250
Kansas 248
Montana 248
Arizona 242
Georgia 238
Connecticut 237
Indiana 229
Alabama 222
Mississippi 205
Iowa 197
North Carolina 194
Michigan 185
Florida 176
Maryland 173
Ohio 172
Illinois 170
Delaware 169
Wyoming 166
Wisconsin 161
Rhode Island 143
West Virginia 127
Virginia 126
Pennsylvania 121
New Jersey 116
New York 102
Massachusetts 99
Idaho 97
New Hampshire 76
Maine 64
Vermont 42

By Type of Region

If you live in a big city like New York City, you’re about 53 percent more likely to get your car stolen than someone in a rural area, according to FBI data. Crime rates are always highest in cities versus suburban or rural areas across all types of crime aside from motor vehicle theft, such as homicide, other types of robbery, property crime, and assault.6

Area Motor vehicle theft rate per 100,000 inhabitants (rounded to the nearest whole number)
U.S. total 220
Metropolitan statistical areas 235
Cities outside metropolitan areas 159
Nonmetropolitan counties 111

By City

The city in the U.S. with the most motor vehicle theft is Bakersfield, California, with 905 car thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the NICB’s 2020 Hot Spots Report. Aside from auto burglary in California, here are the top 25 metropolitan statistical areas for car theft:

Metropolitan statistical area Number of car thefts in 2020 Rate of car thefts per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020 (rounded to the nearest whole number)
Bakersfield, CA 8,161 905
Yuba City, CA 1,279 724
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 21,112 706
Odessa, TX 1,114 664
San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA 30,774 655
Albuquerque, NM 5,835 632
Pueblo, CO 1,023 602
Billings, MT 1,038 565
St. Joseph, MO-KS 692 565
Tulsa, OK 5,553 552
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 10,867 551
Kansas City, MO-KS 11,837 545
Salt Lake City, UT 6,717 542
Topeka, KS 1,235 535
Vallejo, CA 2,366 529
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 6,418 506
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 23,316 498
Modesto, CA 2,711 493
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 12,299 490
Yakima, WA 1,229 488
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 63,235 482
Amarillo, TX 1,279 481
Merced, CA 1,322 473
Wichita, KS 3,016 4687

Interestingly, the biggest cities for car theft in the U.S. tend to be on the West Coast and in the Midwest. One reason for this may be the superior public transportation on the East Coast, which allows people to leave their cars safe at home when commuting to work.

Here are some other interesting motor vehicle theft statistics from the FBI’s 2019 data:

  • In 2019, there were 721,885 motor vehicle thefts in the U.S., an average of 220 per 100,000 inhabitants.
  • From 2018 to 2019, car theft rates decreased by 4 percent.
  • Total losses from motor vehicle thefts equaled around $6.4 billion, or an average loss of $8,886 per vehicle.
  • 75 percent of the motor vehicles stolen in 2019 were automobiles rather than motorcycles, ATVs, etc.8

Recap

To avoid grand theft auto and the crime of burglary in general, your safest bet is to park in private garages whenever possible.

While your auto insurance coverage should reimburse you for the stolen items or vehicle, motor vehicle theft is still a headache you want to avoid. Learn how deductibles work, as you’ll need to pay your entire deductible before your insurance will kick in. Sometimes the extra features, like keyless entry, are worth the money to make your car harder to break into.

Frequently Asked Questions

Keep reading to learn even more useful information about car theft.

What type of theft is stealing a car?

Stealing a car is known as motor vehicle larceny/theft under the FBI.

What is a vehicle burglary?

A vehicle burglary is when someone steals something valuable from the car rather than the car itself.

What is the penalty for stealing a car?

The legal penalty for stealing a car depends heavily on the state and the specifics of the crime. For example, in Alabama, the theft of a motor vehicle is considered property theft in the first degree; in Delaware, it’s considered a Class G felony. The classification of the crime, among other factors, will determine the sentence.

What is the most stolen car in America?

The No. 1 most stolen car in America in 2020 was a 2006 Ford Full-Size Pickup, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Citations

  1. 18 Things Car Thieves Won’t Tell You. Reader’s Digest. (2021, Jul 23).
    https://www.rd.com/list/car-thief-secrets/

  2. Vehicle Theft Prevention. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2022).
    https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/vehicle-theft-prevention

  3. NICB Releases Annual ‘Hot Wheels’ Report: America’s Top Ten Most Stolen Vehicles. National Insurance Crime Bureau. (2021, Oct.12).
    https://www.nicb.org/news/news-releases/nicb-releases-annual-hot-wheels-report-americas-top-ten-most-stolen-vehicles

  4. How to Report a Crime. New York Police Department. (2022).
    https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/services/victim-services/how-to-report-a-crime.page

  5. Car theft: 2018. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2018).
    https://dataunodc.un.org/data/crime/Car%20theft

  6. Urban Crime: Are Crime Rates Higher In Urban Areas? Law JRank. (2021).
    https://law.jrank.org/pages/2222/Urban-Crime-Are-crime-rates-higher-in-urban-areas.html

  7. NICB ‘Hot Spots’: Auto Thefts Up Significantly Across the Country. National Insurance Crime Bureau. (2021, Aug 31).
    https://www.nicb.org/news/news-releases/nicb-hot-spots-auto-thefts-significantly-across-country

  8. 2019 Crime in the United States: Motor Vehicle Theft. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2019).
    https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/topic-pages/motor-vehicle-theft