By Charles Nguyen

The number of car insurance claims for stolen tailgates — the hinged metal gate at the back of a truck that can be lowered for loading and unloading — increased 31% in the U.S. between 2012 and 2013, according to the latest tailgate theft report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

According to NICB data, there were 1,090 tailgate theft claims in 2013, up from 831 the year before.

Drivers with tailgates should be aware of the possibility of theft. The report noted several instances in which multiple tailgates were stolen from one location, including a shopping mall and parking lot.

“Tailgate thefts can occur anywhere,” the NICB warns, noting that it “takes just seconds” for a thief to detach and steal a tailgate, which is an openable door or gate at the back of a vehicle.

Coverage gaps may leave tailgate thefts uncovered

Since the NICB used data from insurance claims, the real number of stolen tailgates may be even higher than reported.

Some tailgate theft victims may not file a claim because they don’t have the proper coverage, says Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the NICB.

That’s because the type of auto insurance that covers tailgate thefts — comprehensive coverage — is optional, so not everyone’s policy includes coverage for this type of loss. About 24% of car insurance policies didn’t have comprehensive coverage in 2011, according to the most recent data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Also, even if theft victims do have comprehensive, they might not file a claim because of their deductible. If your stolen tailgate costs $600 to replace but there’s a $500 deductible, you may just pay to replace it yourself rather than face a premium increase down the road because of your claim.

Texas has most stolen tailgate claims

Texas led all other states in the number of tailgate theft claims, generating 39% of the total.

The total number of claims in Texas, 752, was more than double the number in California, which ranked No. 2.

Every state in the U.S., except South Dakota, had at least one tailgate theft claim. But Texas and states in the Southwestern U.S. generated the highest number of those claims by far.

Rank State No. of tailgate theft claims in 2012 & 2013: 1 Texas 752 2 California 334 3 Arizona 207 4 Florida 148 * 5 Colorado 31

Most stolen tailgate claims were in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas

Texas was home to 6 of the top 10 cities with the most tailgate thefts. Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas led all other U.S. cities. Nearly half of all claims for stolen tailgates in Texas were in one of those three cities.

In 2013, police in Garland, Texas, recovered “a stash” of dozens of stolen tailgates , according to a report from the Dallas Morning News.

Rank City No. of tailgate theft claims in 2012 & 2013: 1 Houston, Texas 145 2 San Antonio, Texas 125 3 Dallas, Texas 91 4 Phoenix, Ariz. 59 5 Tucson, Ariz. 32 6 Miami, Fla. 28 7 Fresno, Calif. 27 8 Austin, Texas 24 9 Ft. Worth, Texas 22 10 Garland, Texas 18

Expert advice for drivers to thwart thieves

According to the NICB’s report, one factor driving up tailgate theft numbers is a “lively” black market for replacement tailgates. Another is how easy it is to swipe the tailgate; experienced thieves can do it in seconds “without the use of complicated tools.”

“It’s like anything else that is attractive to a thief,” Scafidi says. “It’s just a tailgate to the owner, but it’s easy money to a thief.”

According to Scafidi, the “best all-around advice” for drivers to stop thieves is buying an antitheft device, some of which lock the hinge of the tailgate.

Also, drivers can park the back of their cars against the walls of buildings (which prevents thieves from opening the tailgate). Parking in a locked garage also stops thieves.

These thefts can cost a driver big, especially if they have electronics like backup cameras attached to the tailgates. A theft can cost up to $3,000, according to police in Long Beach, Calif., which issued a public advisory about stolen tailgates in February.