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Last updated: June 12, 2024

You’re More Likely to Experience Car Theft If You Live Here

Colorado, Washington, and Washington, D.C. had the highest population-adjusted rates of vehicle theft.

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Picture this: You’ve just had a long day of shopping at the mall and you’re exhausted. With several bags in hand, you return to the parking lot and look for your car. Even though you remember the spot you parked in, your car isn’t there. You pinch yourself. No, this isn’t a nightmare — it’s very much your new reality.

Car theft can happen to the best of us, and if you live in certain states, you have an increased chance of your car being stolen. Here are the states where car theft happens the most, some risk factors to be aware of, and how you can avoid being a victim.

Key insights

  • According to the FBI, Colorado has the highest rate of auto theft of all states, at 786 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Washington state and Washington, D.C. had the second and third highest rates of motor vehicle theft.
  • In a one-year period, motor vehicle thefts rose most dramatically in Illinois, Florida, and Washington.
  • Commerce, California, Tukwila, Washington and Fife, Washington had the highest rates of motor vehicle theft among U.S. cities.
  • When looking at the top 20 cities for motor vehicle theft, six of the worst cities were in Washington, five in California, and four were in Colorado.
  • In 2023, Hyundai Elantras, Hyundai Sonatas, and Kia Optimas were the types of cars most likely to be stolen.

Most Common States for Car Theft

According to the most recent FBI data, Colorado has the highest rate of auto theft, at 786 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. There were approximately 45,883 reports of stolen cars in 2022 alone in Colorado. Washington comes next, followed by Washington D.C., Oregon, and New Mexico. Find where your state falls in the map below.

States with highest rates of motor vehicle theft States with lowest rates of motor vehicle theft
Colorado 786 New Hampshire 67
Washington 639 Maine 71
Washington, D.C. 577 West Virginia 89
Oregon 552 Idaho 91
New Mexico 542 Vermont 93

In contrast to Colorado, New Hampshire saw only 42 thefts per 100,000 residents, a rate 480 percent lower than the national average. In general, the Northeast has lower auto theft rates compared to the West.

Between 2021 and 2022, motor vehicle thefts increased in 33 states, and declined in 17 states plus Washington D.C.

State Increase in motor vehicle thefts, 2021-2022
Illinois 62%
Florida 42%
Washington 40%
Ohio 28%
Vermont 27%
New York 25%
Michigan 24%
Missouri 23%
Tennessee 23%
Pennsylvania 22%

Motor vehicle thefts declined most dramatically in the same time period in Wisconsin (-20%), Oklahoma (-18%), and Utah (-18%).

Worst Cities for Car Theft

While the tables and charts above clearly show that motor vehicle theft is a nationwide problem, some cities are experiencing unusually high rates. According to the latest FBI data, Commerce, California, and Tukwila, Washington, had the highest population-adjusted rates of motor vehicle theft among cities with at least 10,000 residents.

Top 20 cities for motor vehicle theft rates (per 100,000)

City Motor vehicle theft rate per 100,000 people
Commerce, California 4208
Tukwila, Washington 4168
Fife, Washington 4083
Tacoma, Washington 2694
St. Louis, Missouri 2550
Emeryville, California 2214
Denver, Colorado 2155
Harper Woods, Michigan 2053
Englewood, Colorado 1877
Puyallup, Washington 1837
Santa Fe Springs, California 1827
Signal Hill, California 1812
Oakland, California 1797
Seatac, Washington 1765
Memphis, Tennessee 1748
Aurora, Colorado 1735
Portland, Oregon 1723
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1681
Ferguson, Missouri 1606
Lakewood, Washington 1580
Greenwood Village, Colorado 1576

When looking at the top 20 cities for motor vehicle theft, a few states appear multiple times. Six of the worst cities were in Washington, five in California, and four were in Colorado.

What Makes Car Theft More Likely?

If you took AP Statistics, you may remember that correlation does not mean causation. That said, these factors correlate with higher rates of car theft and may be why your state has an increased or decreased risk.

  • Vehicle density per square mile: More cars around means more cars to steal. That’s why states with more densely populated metropolitan areas have higher rates of car theft.
  • Vehicle type: Certain types of cars have higher rates of theft than others, particularly older cars. It makes sense: Newer vehicles often come equipped with built-in anti-theft technology, and thieves have had less time to figure out how to crack it. Older cars are less likely to be protected with high-tech security systems and are more familiar to thieves. When commonly stolen cars are parked in dangerous areas, it compounds the problem of auto theft, making them even easier to steal.
  • Proximity to major attractions: Street blocks with restaurants, bars, schools, theaters, arcades, retail stores, manufacturing or storage facilities, and apartment complexes are more likely sites of auto theft. Especially if you’re parked within a block of a bar or a high school, double-check that you’ve locked your doors.
  • Size of parking lots: Parking lots with more than 100 stalls and train station lots have higher rates of theft than smaller parking lots with attendants and security. Parking lots around big-box retail stores, malls, commuter and transit lots, and freeways have higher car theft rates as well. The reason? These lots tend to be large, and people leave their cars there for longer periods of time (especially if you’re watching a super-long movie, shopping for that perfect prom dress, or spending a day at the office), making them more attractive to thieves.
  • Type of neighborhood: Areas with a lower median household income and a higher amount of rental housing have more incidents of car theft than places with a higher median household income and high percentage of homeowners.

Here are the types of cars most stolen in 2023, according to the latest data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Number of cars stolen in 2023 by model

Does Car Insurance Cover Theft?

Now you’re probably wondering: Does car insurance cover theft? The answer is yes, but only if you have comprehensive coverage.

Comprehensive coverage is an optional coverage that applies to vehicle damage from events other than collisions. Not only does it cover theft, but it also covers vandalism and weather-related events like hailstorms.

Note that comprehensive coverage isn’t legally required in any U.S. state. And even if you have it, it doesn’t include coverage for the following aspects.

  • Vehicle upgrades: Did you add any custom parts to your car? Unfortunately, comprehensive coverage applies to original equipment parts only. To cover any add-ons, you’ll need to purchase coverage for custom parts and equipment.
  • Personal items: Car theft insurance via comprehensive coverage applies only to the car itself and its parts, such as the increasingly common catalytic converter theft. It won’t cover any personal items taken from your car, like that MacBook Pro you left in the back seat. However, your homeowners or renters insurance may cover these personal items instead.

The best way to mitigate your losses in the event of car theft is to have the right insurance coverages in place as soon as you buy or lease your car. Of course, there are also steps you can take to lessen the chance of becoming a car theft victim in the first place.

TIP:

Install motion-activated lighting around your home to catch any would-be car thieves in the act.

3 Ways to Prevent Car Theft

Car theft isn’t inevitable, but you can increase your chance of avoiding it by taking a few preventive actions.

  • Park in the right places. Park in open spaces that are well lit. Avoid any parking spots that are visibly obstructed by, say, a dumpster, and park in private garages when you can rather than on streets or in driveways. If possible, try not to park in a public space for a long period of time. That certainly makes public transit more appealing.
  • Install anti-theft devices. These days, many new cars have anti-theft devices built in. However, if your car doesn’t have the latest security technology, consider adding a steering wheel lock, horn alarm, flashing lights, or even a computer chip in the ignition key. All of these measures make it harder for a thief to steal your ride.
  • Lock it up. The most obvious answer is sometimes the best. Make sure to lock your car, along with any garages or gates where your car is stored. Also, hide any valuable items in the trunk, where they won’t be visible, or better yet, take those belongings with you.

Whether you live in Colorado, New Hampshire, or somewhere where the rate of car theft falls between those highs and lows, the best defense is a good offense.

Our data

Our data comes from comprehensive reporting compiled by the FBI and accessed via the Crime Data Explorer website. Motor vehicle theft state figures were drawn from Table 5 of the 2022 Crime in the U.S. Report. City-level figures were drawn from Table 8, Offenses Known to Law Enforcement by State by City. The population figures in that table are U.S. Census Bureau provisional estimates as of July 1, 2020.