Most-Stolen Vehicle List Suggests Car Thieves are Recession-Minded, too

If you think thieves prefer brand-new flashy cars, think again.

The 1994 Honda Accord was the most stolen vehicle in the United States last year, followed by the 1995 Honda Civic and the 1991 Toyota Camry, according to the new "Hot Wheels" report released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

The top three vehicles on this year's list held the same positions last year, and Toyota and Honda models have held the top three slots since 2000.

"For a lot of years, Toyotas and Hondas here outpaced domestic brands, both in sales and durability," says NICB spokesperson Frank Scafidi. "There are more of them on the road, and the people who own them take care of them."

But for the first time since 2000, domestic brands outnumber foreign models in the top 10. Ford took three spots, Dodge took two, and Chevrolet held one, while the remaining four were held by Honda, Toyota and Acura. All those models were in the top 10 on last year's list, too, except the 1999 Ford Taurus, which this year edged out the 2009 Toyota Corolla for the No. 10 position.

The report is based on 2010 theft data submitted by law enforcement to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Oldies but goodies

All the top 10 stolen vehicles are at least seven years old, and most date back to the 1990s. When the oldest car on the list, the '91 Camry, was introduced, the first President George Bush was in the White House. Of the almost 52,000 Honda Accords stolen in 2010, more than 44,000 were made in the 1990s, compared with fewer than 5,700 that were produced since the year 2000, according to the NICB.

Old cars are stolen more frequently because new cars are equipped with technology that makes them harder to steal and easier to track down if they get swiped. Smart-key systems communicate electronically with the car's computer system. Unless the driver has the smart key, the engine can't be started. With services like OnStar, authorities can track stolen vehicles and remotely slow them down and stop them.

Of course no vehicle is 100% theft-proof. New cars do get stolen, but the crime requires some sophistication.

"There are some geeks out there who look at this as a challenge," Scafidi says. "Fortunately, there are not too many of those propeller heads running around."

Newer, more expensive vehicles often are stolen to be resold intact with counterfeit vehicle identification numbers or shipped out of the country. Older cars are usually stolen for their parts (which are more valuable than the cars themselves), joyriding or simply to get from one place to another.

"For some it's easier to steal a car than figure out a bus schedule," Scafidi says.

Car theft driven down by technology and police

New technology and police stings have driven down car theft over the last several years. Preliminary 2010 FBI crime statistics show a 7.2% decline in thefts compared to 2009. If the preliminary numbers hold, 2010 will post the fewest vehicle thefts since 1967.

Unlike other lists of most stolen cars, NICB's Hot Wheels report includes all stolen vehicles, not just those that were insured. Liability car insurance, which is required by all states except New Hampshire, covers only damage and injuries drivers cause to others in crashes. Only comprehensive car insurance, which is optional, covers vehicle theft.

Although car theft is declining, the pain of having a car stolen still is the same.

"Even if we get to a day when there are only half a dozen auto thefts a year, if you're one of those people whose car is stolen, it's still a huge hassle," Scafidi says.

NICB recommends using common sense to prevent car theft -- lock your car and take the keys -- and to take advantage of today's anti-theft technology, including alarms and electronic immobilizing and tracking devices.

If you're considering buying a used car, make sure it hasn't been reported stolen. NICB's free online VINCheck service lets you conduct a search on the vehicle identification number.

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