- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

At the risk of frightening certain car owners, here is the list of the most frequently stolen vehicles, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB):
1. Honda Accord
2. Toyota Camry
3. Oldsmobile Cutlass
4. Chevrolet Silverado
5. Honda Civic
6. Toyota Corolla
7. Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee
8. Chevrolet Caprice
9. Ford Taurus
10. Chevrolet Cavalier
The best way to discourage thieves is the "layered prevention" approach. This means using a combination of anti-theft devices. The first level of defense is to take your keys out of the ignition and lock your car — duh.
Next comes an alarm system with a flashing light on the door, the dash or somewhere obvious. You want the man — and they are almost always men, political correctness police please note — who's thinking about stealing your car to see that he is going to have problems.
Also effective, the NICB says, is etching your vehicle identification number into the corner of each window. Thieves hate that. It means they would have to replace each window of your car, unless they were going to chop it up just for the parts.
The Club and its various imitators are formidable deterrents. It's something of a chore to put it on and take it off each time you leave and enter your car. Of course, there was a time when putting on a seat belt was also considered a chore. Now, you do it without thinking. I suspect it's the same for Club users.
Car manufacturers have gotten into the act and now have all manner of fuel cutouts, ignition killers, etc., to make life difficult for car thieves. For example, Ford has SecuriLock, a passive anti-theft chip that is embedded in the ignition key. This acts as a transmitter. When you insert your key, the vehicle senses if it's the proper key. If not, the ignition won't work. This prevents a bad guy from jamming a screwdriver into your ignition and forcing it mechanically. Other manufacturers have comparable systems.
Ford says this chip system has been so effective that the Mustang, which used to be one of the most frequently stolen cars in the country, has now dropped off the most-stolen lists.
The last resort for theft prevention is a car-tracking device, which tells the cops where your car has been taken. It's costly, but so is losing your car.
In which cities are you most likely to have your car stolen? For the most part they are either cities in border states, or large cities with a major port. Phoenix, Miami, Detroit, Jersey City and Seattle/Tacoma are among the top 10 places where your car is most likely to be "permanently borrowed."
There are some anomalies on the list, however. Fresno, Calif., has long been a bad place to leave your car idling while you run into the bank. Perhaps the reason is Fresno's proximity to Interstate 5, a major route north to San Francisco or south to Los Angeles. Another anomaly is Jackson, Miss. Sources say this is a jumping-off place for a run to New Orleans.
According to one police source, car thieves aim to steal your car in under 30 seconds. Anything that would prevent them from breaking the 30-second mark would probably cause them to bypass your car. For that reason, car alarms are still effective, even though we tend to ignore them. For a thief, the chance that someone will look up and say, "Hey, that's my car" is a strong deterrent.
"But if they want your car, they'll get it," said Detective Luke Magee of the Los Angeles Police Department. "The simplest method is to tow your car away."
The only foil in that case is a tracking device. These have often summoned police to piers where stolen cars were waiting to be hoisted onto ships. The destinations are usually countries where there is a large tariff on imported cars, such as South America, the Middle East and Asia.
People who own older cars may reason that their cars are no longer desirable, so they'll reduce or eliminate theft insurance in an effort to economize. For a person trying hard to make ends meet, losing a car can be devastating, since they may no longer have a way to get to work. A car theft can literally ruin your life.
But why would a thief steal an older car when newer autos can be just as easy to steal? According to Detective Magee, unscrupulous repair shops increase profits by buying low-cost parts from thieves who dismantle stolen older cars. These shops bid low on accident repairs, then use cheap stolen parts to do the job.
Another favorite strategy for crooks is to steal a car, then buy a similar wrecked car from a junkyard and switch the vehicle identification number, federal labels and other markings. This also provides clean paperwork from the wrecked car. Advertising through classifieds, they will sell the re-marked stolen car slightly below market price, offering a sob story such as a need to unload the car quickly because of a death in the family.
Apparently the old adage still applies: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Pass it up, or at least check it out with a call to your Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV will trace the vehicle identification number and/or license plate to make sure the number matches the vehicle.

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