Having your car stolen may feel like one of those “it won’t happen to me” scenarios. But car theft is more common than you may think. If you own or drive a car, knowing how to prevent car theft is crucial — and could save you time, money, and a huge headache.
Ready to learn all about car theft in 2023 — and, most importantly, how to keep your vehicle safe from thieves? Read on.
Why Is Car Theft So Prevalent?
Car theft is prevalent for several reasons.
First, cars are valuable and in demand. This makes them attractive targets for thieves who can sell them on the black market or strip them for parts. Even older or less expensive cars can be stolen and sold for parts, and underground markets are full of people who are willing to buy a stolen car for a cheaper price.
Second, cars are often in situations where they’re relatively easy to steal. They get left unattended in public places, making them easy targets for thieves, and many car owners also don’t take adequate security measures to protect their vehicles, such as locking the doors or installing an alarm system.
And finally, car theft is prevalent because it’s low-risk compared to many other types of crime. Car thieves are not often caught, and even if they are, the penalties for stealing vehicles are often relatively lenient compared to other crimes.
Who Steals Cars?
The majority of auto thefts are committed by professional car thieves. These types of thieves tend to prefer high-performance cars with higher resale values, or very popular models with interchangeable parts. Often, professional thieves sell the cars to “chop shops,” which then dismantle them to sell for parts. Professional thieves also may steal cars they can export to other countries where cars are very expensive or difficult to buy.
Another common type of vehicle thieves are joy-riders. These thieves target luxury and high-performance vehicles. In many cases, cars stolen by joy-riders are recovered, but usually with significant damage.
In some parts of the U.S., carjackers are another common type of car thief. These thieves steal cars while they are being driven. Common tactics used by carjackers include jumping into the car while it is at a stop sign or red light, threatening the driver with a weapon, or bumping the car from the rear, then stealing it when the driver gets out to look for damage.
What Else Do Thieves Steal from Cars?
Thieves may steal a variety of items from cars, including:
- Valuables: Thieves often target cars that have valuables visible inside, such as cash, electronics, and jewelry.
- Car parts: Certain car parts, like catalytic converters, are valuable on the black market and can be quickly and easily removed from a car.
- Personal items: Thieves may steal personal items left in the car, such as identification, credit cards, and mail, which they can use for identity theft.
- Spare change: Even small amounts of loose change left in a vehicle can make it a target for thieves.
Car Theft Statistics (2023)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that there were around 804,000 cars stolen in the U.S. in 2020. But the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) estimated that the number of stolen cars rose sharply during the pandemic, and was up to about a million by 2022. There’s no indication that the recent wave of car theft, fueled by economic stress and strained public resources, is slowing down.
Here are some statistics that show why car theft can happen to anyone, even if it seems like a rare crime.
- The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program reports that the estimated rate of motor vehicle theft in the United States in 2020 was 219.9 per 100,000 people.
- According to the NHTSA, car theft cost vehicle owners more than $7 billion in 2020.
- A car was stolen every 39 seconds in 2020.
- Passenger vehicles make up 74 percent of all vehicles stolen
- Summer is the most common time for car theft.
- According to the NICB, the top five states for car theft in 2020 were California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and Washington.
- According to the NICB, the recovery rate for stolen vehicles in the United States was 57.4% in 2020.
- Car theft has risen the most in major metropolitan areas. Cities like Minneapolis, New York, and Philadelphia saw increases ranging from 230 percent to well over 500 between 2019 and 2022.
- The most stolen vehicles in the U.S. are the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry.
9 Tips to Prevent Car Theft
Luckily, there are many things drivers can do to help reduce their risk of car theft. Below are nine tips that will help you secure your vehicle, make it less attractive to thieves, and keep it safe.
1. Lock Your Car Doors
Always lock your car doors when you leave your vehicle unattended. This protects your car and your belongings from theft. Unlocked car doors make it easy for thieves to gain access to your car and steal your valuables or the car itself. Locking the doors creates a physical barrier that can deter thieves from attempting to break into your car.
It’s equally important to lock the doors while you are driving. This can help prevent other types of crimes, like carjacking.
Keep in mind that many car insurance policies require that you take reasonable precautions to prevent theft — including locking your car doors — in order to be eligible for coverage. Failing to lock your car doors could result in your insurance claim being denied if your car is stolen.
2. Never Leave Your Keys in Your Vehicle
You should never leave your keys in your vehicle, even if you’re only going to be away from the car for a short period of time. Leaving your keys in the car makes it easy for thieves to steal your car or your belongings.
This goes for spare keys, too. It’s common for many people to hide a spare key somewhere inside, on, or near their car, in case they lose their keys. But keep in mind that even if a spare key is hidden, thieves can find it, and having a spare key makes it irresistibly easy to steal a car.
3. Never Leave Your Car Running While Unattended
You should never leave your car running while unattended. Doing so creates a perfect opportunity for thieves to steal your car. If you leave your car running with the keys in the ignition, it only takes a few seconds for a thief to get in and drive away with your vehicle.
To help cut down on vehicle theft, many states and cities have laws against leaving a running vehicle unattended. Even if your car stays safe, you could be fined or face other legal consequences if you leave it running while you’re out of sight.
4. Close Your Car Windows
Like unlocked doors, open windows create an opportunity that many car thieves will find impossible to resist. Even if a window is only cracked open, it can give thieves the space they need to force the window down further or reach the unlock button on the door. Then they can easily steal your car or belongings.
5. Park in Well-Lit Areas
Like many other kinds of crime, car theft happens most often at night. Parking in a well-lit area can help deter thieves by making it easier to spot any suspicious activity near your car — thieves are less likely to target cars parked in well-lit areas because they are more likely to be noticed by other people or security cameras.
A well-lit area can also increase your visibility as you approach or leave your car, making it less likely that you’ll become a victim of a crime.
6. Use an Anti-Theft Device
There are many different kinds of anti-theft devices you can install on your vehicle, ranging from low- to high-tech.
Something as simple as having your car windows etched with your vehicle’s VIN number can deter thieves — most car thieves look for vehicles without that kind of identifying information that makes them easier for law enforcement to recognize and recover.
Steering wheel locks can make it harder for thieves to drive your car if they manage to break in and start it, and hood locks can prevent them from accessing the engine to steal parts.
On the higher tech end of the spectrum, you can install an alarm system, which will sound an alarm if someone tries to break into or steal the car, or an immobilizer, which prevents the car from starting unless a specific key or code is used. Keep in mind that alarms and immobilizers typically need to be installed by professionals.
7. Install a Tracking System
It’s also possible to equip your vehicle with a tracking system. This isn’t so much for deterring thieves from stealing your car; however, in the event that your car is stolen, a tracking system can help you and law enforcement recover it quickly — and possibly catch the thieves in the process.
8. Never Leave Valuables in Your Car
Leaving valuables in your vehicle in plain sight, such as on the seats or dashboard, can attract the attention of thieves and make them more likely to break into your car.
Thieves often look for easy targets. Leaving valuables in your car can make it an attractive option — especially if you leave items like cash, electronics, jewelry, and other valuables that can be quickly and easily stolen and may be difficult or impossible to recover.
If you must leave something in your car, try to keep it out of sight, in a locked compartment or trunk, or cover it with a blanket or other item to make it less visible. This can help reduce the risk of theft and keep your belongings safe.
9. Stay Alert and Aware of Your Surroundings
And finally, you can prevent car theft by always staying alert and aware of your surroundings.
If you notice something suspicious, like someone trying to break into your car or tamper with the locks, being alert and aware can help you take quick action to protect your vehicle. You may be able to call for help or intervene before the thief is able to carry out their plan.
Being alert and aware can also help you identify suspicious behavior or people who may be attempting to steal your car. You may be able to provide a description or other information that can help law enforcement track down the thief.
Part of being aware of your surroundings is avoiding potentially dangerous situations in the first place. For example, don’t drive in high-crime areas if you can avoid it — especially at night.
What To Do If Your Car Is Stolen
If your car is stolen, the NHTSA says to take these steps:
- Contact the police immediately to file a stolen vehicle report. Make sure to get a copy of the report and the case number to provide to your insurance company.
- Gather the right information to provide to the police. This generally includes your license plate number; the make, model, and color of your vehicle; your VIN number; and any identifying characteristics that can help officers recognize your car.
- Contact your insurance company within 24 hours to notify them of the theft and file a claim.
- If you find your vehicle before authorities do, contact both the police and your insurance company right away.
Car theft is a more common crime than many people think, but it’s still avoidable in many cases. Knowing the facts and taking the right steps to protect yourself and your vehicle can help prevent car theft, making the world safer for all drivers.