5 vehicles you love and car thieves hate

TheStreet.com

<Thieves steal a car in America every 43.7 seconds on average, but here's a look at five models you can buy that the bad guys rarely bother with.

"These vehicles are less vulnerable," says Matt Moore of the Highway Loss Data Institute, which recently released its latest annual list of cars that crooks target the most and least frequently.

The list covers claims filed last year for stolen cars, parts taken off of vehicles (typically expensive items such as airbag systems) or personal property taken from inside a cabin.

Ironically, the HLDI -- a research consortium funded by the insurance industry -- found that upscale models make up many of the vehicles with the lowest theft-claim rates.

Moore speculates as to why:

"Luxury vehicles are probably more likely to be kept in a [home] garage overnight and parked in a [public] garage when their owners are at work during the day," he says. "As a consequence, they're less vulnerable."

HLDI figures also show that crossover sport utility vehicles account for the lion's share of models with super-low theft rates. Moore thinks that's partly because such models are popular with suburbanites who likely have home garages.

But he adds that even upscale crossovers often cost less than high-end sports cars or fancy pickup trucks, making them less desirable to thieves.

"The penalties are presumably the same if you're caught stealing a brand-new Cadillac Escalade or a brand-new [crossover SUV]," he says. "So, you probably want to steal something that's worth a lot more money."

Figures refer to 2010-12 model-year cars only, and vehicles appear in order of their "claim frequency" -- the number of theft-related claims filed for every 1,000 insured vehicle years. ("Insured vehicle years" refer to how many of a given model are on the road multiplied by how long each car has been in service. For instance, the HLDI considers 2-year-old cars as accounting for two "insured vehicle years.")

Estimates of how much thefts boost a vehicle's insurance premiums refer to the total amount that insurers paid a model's theft victims last year divided by how many 2010-12 versions of the car are still on the road.

Fifth-best vehicle for avoiding thefts: Toyota Matrix

Claims rate: Claims rate: 0.408 for every 1,000 vehicle years

Moore thinks thieves take a pass on the Matrix primarily because the Toyota is popular with suburban moms who have garages, making it harder for crooks to notice the car and/or steal it.

Besides, the Matrix is a small, station-wagon-like hatchback that Moore figures few self-respecting car thieves want.

"When I think about the kind of vehicles that get stolen a lot, station wagons aren't it," he says.

All told, the Matrix's theft rate of 0.408 claims for every 1,000 vehicle years is 66% below the U.S. average for all cars of 1.2 reported incidents per 1,000 vehicle years. So thefts boost Matrix owners' insurance bills by only around $3 a year vs. about $8 for the typical U.S. car.

Alas, paying customers apparently haven't thought that much of the Matrix, either. Toyota has discontinued to model for 2014 amid lackluster sales, although used versions (and possibly some unsold 2013s) are still available.

Fourth-best vehicle for avoiding thefts: Acura RDX

Claims rate: Claims rate: 0.398 for every per 1,000 vehicle years

The Acura RDX carries a fairly upscale price (2014s start at $34,520), but Moore thinks many versions of this small luxury crossover from Honda (HMC_) spend their nights in suburban garages -- reducing the vehicle's rip-off rate.

"The RDX is an expensive vehicle, but I'd say garaging cuts down on thefts," he says.

In fact, crooks steal so few of the Acura model that theft claims add only some $3 to the average RDX owner's annual insurance bill.

Third-best vehicle for avoiding thefts: Audi A4

Claims rate: Claims rate: 0.382 per 1,000 vehicle years

You'd think the Audi A4 would have a high rip-off rate, given its good looks and fairly hefty price tag ($33,800 and up for a 2014).

But Moore says European sedans such as the A4 from Volkswagen subsidiary Audi tend to come with sophisticated antitheft systems that deter crooks.

And again, he speculates that most A4s wind up parked overnight in homeowners' garages -- not on the street where thieves can easily get at the cars.

"Luxury vehicles are more likely to be garaged at night than other vehicle types are," Moore says.

As a result, the HLDI estimates theft claims add just $5 a year to the cost of insuring an A4.

Second-best vehicle for avoiding thefts: Volkswagen Tiguan

Claims rate: Claims rate: 0.371 per 1,000 vehicle years

Moore says the Volkswagen Tiguan is another compact crossover popular with suburban moms who likely keep it in garages, deterring thefts.

"Small or midsized SUVs are the class of cars whose sales are most heavily skewed toward women, so many Tiguans are likely to be garaged [mom-mobiles]," he says.

As a result, the HLDI estimates that theft claims add only $4 a year to the cost in insuring the Volkswagen.

Best vehicle for avoiding thefts: Dodge Journey

Claims rate: Claims rate: 0.367 per 1,000 vehicle years

When the lights go down in the city and sun shines on the bay, the odds are that your Journey will still be where you left it the night before.

That's because this crossover from Fiat subsidiary Chrysler takes the HLDI's crown as the car with America's lowest rate of theft claims.

Moore admits he doesn't know why thieves take a pass on the Journey, but it's certainly a family-friendly vehicle that seems more suited to a suburban garage than an urban street.

The Journey also carries a fairly modest starting price: just $19,495 for a 2014 model.

All told, the HLDI estimates that theft claims add just $2 or so to a Journey's annual insurance bill.