As it has for several years, the 1994 Honda Accord retained its title in 2011 as the nation's most-stolen vehicle in the National Insurance Crime Bureau rankings. The rest of the top 10 looked familiar as well, with crooks maintaining their preference for imported sedans, Detroit pickups and the occasional minivan. Yet this year's list comes with a warning: After a decade of losing targets to electronic deterrents, thieves are getting smarter.
The major trends in the annual NICB report remain as they have for years, with declining car thefts focused on older models with fewer anti-theft devices whose parts are in high demand. NICB also produces a state-by-state breakdown of the most-stolen models; in Kentucky, the full-size pickups lead the list, while only in Vermont do three models of Subarus crack the top ten.
Overall, car thefts have declined to 737,141 in 2011 as tallied by the FBI -- a 3.3 percent drop from a year earlier, and the lowest level of theft since 1967. Thank a combination of technologies -- including keys with embedded chips that require a matching code from the vehicle and tracking technologies like OnStar and LoJack. Even iPhones left in stolen cars have led to arrests after their owners used the "Find My Phone" feature to locate their stolen swag.
But the NICB says a small segment of savvier larcenists have begun to crack those codes, like the ring busted in New York earlier this year that used a source at a dealership to make coded keys on the curb and drive away. The NICB says it has reports of about 300 such thefts from the first three months of this year, and in Europe thieves have targeted hundreds of new BMWs by reprogramming the car through its data access port -- sharing their secrets for doing so on YouTube. Automakers have made great strides in securing their vehicles over the past decade. Now they will have to think of ways to make their software as hard to break into.