Expert insights to deter car theft
By Jeff S. Bartlett
Car thefts are on the rise, up 17 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), an industry membership organization. And the crime wave continues in 2022, fueled in part by economic stress, strained public resources, and social media posts.
Major metropolitan areas such as Minneapolis, New York, and Philadelphia saw increases ranging from 230 percent to well over 500 percent since 2019, reports NICB.
Lt. Bruce Hosea, an auto theft specialist with the Los Angeles Police Department, tells CR that much of the increase in thefts they’ve seen involves cars deemed easy marks by criminals—older models without anti-theft technology and cars with keys or fobs left inside. At the same time, police say some thieves have become more tech-savvy, using electronic tools to steal vehicles without damaging windows, locks, or steering columns.
Hyundai and Kia models, in particular, have been a key factor in the recent trend, as online videos expose how to steal models without engine immobilizers, which would prevent them from starting without a key. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that Hyundai and Kia thefts rival those of muscle cars and luxury SUVs. Based on an analysis of insurance claims conducted by its Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat was the most frequently stolen car based on registered models from 2018 to 2022. However, among 2015-2019 model-year vehicles, theft claims were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles as a group as for all other manufacturers, according to a recent HLDI report.
“Car theft spiked during the pandemic,” said HLDI Senior Vice President Matt Moore. “These numbers tell us that some vehicles may be targeted because they’re fast or worth a lot of money and others because they’re easy to steal.”
IIHS explains that "many 2015-19 Hyundai and Kia vehicles lack electronic immobilizers that prevent thieves from simply breaking in and bypassing the ignition. The feature is standard equipment on nearly all vehicles of that vintage made by other manufacturers."
A Kia spokesman told CR, “All of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition system.”
Kia models from the 2022 model year forward, and Hyundai vehicles built after Nov. 1, 2022, have engine immobilizers. Representatives told us that the automakers are providing steering wheel locks to police departments that are hard hit by these crimes. Further, Hyundai will offer a security kit through its dealerships in October 2022 that can be added to at-risk models.
The most stolen vehicles in American, according to NICB, are the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry. Popularity and availability play a key role in these rankings.
No matter what brand car you own, the tips below show how to keep your car from becoming a target and how to save on car insurance in the process.
Remember: The key is to deter theft by making your car seem like more trouble than it is worth.
Practice Smart Parking
Simple habits can make a big difference. Never leave your unattended vehicle unlocked or running, and try to park in busy, well-lit areas. “The overwhelming majority of vehicle thefts and burglaries are a result of unlocked vehicle doors,” says Crystal Clark, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Double-check that you have the key or fob with you, and stow valuables out of sight to discourage smash-and-grab thefts.
Add a Lock and an Alarm System
Police say visible steering wheel locks, such as The Club and Disklok, work well as deterrents, and adding an aftermarket alarm system, which often includes a visible blinking red light, can be a good idea for older vehicles without a built-in system.
Auto security company Voxx Electronics Corp. says an alarm usually costs $300 to $700, plus $200 to $600 for professional installation, depending on features and the system. An alarm can also be added to a new car.
Install Lights at Home
Lighting can be an effective theft deterrent, especially if you park in your driveway, says Captain Martin Rodriguez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He recommends motion detection lights, which can startle a would-be thief and alert those at home.
Doorbell cameras, such as Google Nest Hello and Ring, can help police identify suspects. Also remember to store keys in the house. Never leave them in the car or garage. (See the best video doorbells of the year.)
Track Your Car
Aftermarket tracking systems won’t prevent theft, but they can help find your car after the fact. Some basic GPS devices plug into your vehicle’s computer port, but they can also be easily removed. More complex, integrated systems, such as LoJack, require professional installation. Some recent car models provide tracking through subscription-based services. For example, GM’s OnStar offers a plan that costs $30 per month with stolen vehicle assistance.
Save on Insurance
Some insurance companies offer discounts for cars with anti-theft devices, usually up to 15 percent off comprehensive coverage. The discount can vary based on where you live and the insurer, says Loretta Worters, vice president at the Insurance Information Institution. Worters says outfitting your vehicle with an alarm, GPS tracking, and a hidden ignition kill switch that prevents the car from starting, even with a key, can often qualify you for a discount. (Find out which are the best car insurance companies from CR’s exclusive ratings.)
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since it originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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