With stay-at-home orders mandated for quarantine throughout the U.S., there has been a significant drop in cars on the road. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported seeing a 60% year-over-year decrease in traffic on California’s roadways.
With more cars parked and staying in place, coupled with the economic strain affecting people who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced in the wake of COVID-19, concerns about car theft are on people’s minds.
For example, WSB-TV Atlanta reported car thefts have been more prominent since coronavirus — up to a 95% increase in one zone. The New York Post reported car theft was up 65.5% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2020, while a car thief in St. Petersburg, Florida blamed his attempt to steal a car on the coronavirus. And WFMY News in Greensboro, North Carolina reported crooks are targeting cars at home during coronavirus. Wherever your car is parked, it pays to be vigilant during these high-stress times. Know the risks of car theft in the U.S., what kind of coverage auto insurance provides for stolen cars, how to file a police report and insurance claim for a stolen car, and how to lower your likelihood of having your car stolen with these smart strategies.
Car Theft Statistics
According to the Insurance Information Institute’s (III) latest statistics, around $6 billion was lost to motor vehicle theft in 2018. There were 748,841 vehicles stolen that year, which the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program reports translates to 228.9 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. The III reports car thieves are devising increasingly sophisticated techniques for auto vehicle theft, including:
- Switching vehicle identification numbers
- Using smart keys that negate the need to use hot-wiring for car theft
- Using stolen identities to get loans for luxury vehicles
Even if a car thief doesn’t steal your car, identity information they find in an attempted robbery can lead to additional problems related to identity theft.
Certain vehicles are more likely to be stolen. In 2018, the Honda Civic was the most frequently stolen passenger vehicle, with 38,426 thefts among all model years of the car, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Most thefts were older models that lacked anti-theft technology. The Honda Accord ranked second, with 36,815 thefts. In third place was the Ford Pickup (full size), with 36,355 thefts.
Based on car theft reports from around the country since the coronavirus outbreak, sitting vehicles may be more vulnerable to theft than in previous years. For example, in 2017, there were 7,310 car thefts in Connecticut, an average of 20 cars stolen per day. According to a FOX 61 report from Connecticut, there were 27 cars stolen in a single day in March 2020, a growing number, with most thefts happening in the suburbs.
What Puts Your Car at Risk for Theft?
Be aware that the state of your vehicle and other characteristics may make it more susceptible to car theft. Here are factors to be aware of.
Type of vehicle
Older vehicles that lack security features are more vulnerable to car theft.
The model of your car may also be more vulnerable to theft. One possible reason is that certain models are more common throughout the United States. The popularity of certain brands and models make these cars more attractive to car thieves as well, since the car or the parts are more likely to be able to be sold.
According to Forbes, well-worn makes and models are less likely to be noticed when they’re stolen from crowded parking lots. Also, older cars are frequently targeted in thefts so they can be dismantled for their parts, which may be in higher demand and more versatile, making them easier to sell. As parts are sold off, the entire vehicle becomes impossible to track down.
According to the III, the following list shows the 10 most frequently stolen vehicles in 2018.
|3||Ford Pickup (Full size)||36,355|
|4||Chevrolet Pickup (Full size)||31,566|
|8||GMC Pickup (Full size)||11,708|
|9||Dodge Pickup (Full size)||11,226|
|10||Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee||9,818|
Even if your car’s not on this list, newer makes and models are also vulnerable, which is explained below.
Different states have different motor vehicle theft occurrences. More densely populated states will typically have higher amounts of car thefts.
Some states have higher rates of car theft despite not being as densely populated. According to Statista, the following is the top 10 ranking for motor vehicle theft rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the U.S. in 2018.
|State||Motor vehicle theft rate per 100,000 inhabitants|
|District of Columbia||369.1|
The location of the vehicle can also place your car at risk. Parking a car in an area that is not manned by security or that is not well lit puts it at risk. A car parked in a bright area or in a garage that has security guards is less vulnerable than a car left in a dark parking lot or driveway.
Ways to Prevent Car Theft
Now that you know the risks, use these tips to protect your car and lower the likelihood of it being stolen.
Remove the key fob
This easy action can prevent many car thefts. In 2017, motor vehicle theft was at its highest since 2009. The rise is attributed to the prevalence of keyless cars and owners of these types of vehicles leaving the key fob inside the vehicle. When a key fob is inside, a car thief just needs to get in the car and push start to turn the car on to drive away with it.
Higher-end keyless vehicles are attractive to car thieves because they can be shipped to foreign markets for high value. Even if you don’t think your car is an obvious target, you should still protect it by removing the key fob when it’s not in use.
Be careful when carrying your key fob, as well. A lost key fob makes it easy for a thief to use it to locate a vehicle by hitting the alarm button.
Be smart about where you park your car
Knowing that dark, unattended areas can make a car more vulnerable to theft, amplify the security surrounding your car when you’re not using it. At night, make sure your car is parked in a well-lit area. Install a motion sensor near your car if it won’t be lit at all times.
You might want to install a security camera so you can capture footage of a potential thief, as well. You may also be interested in creating a Neighborhood Watch group with your neighbors, so you can look out for suspicious behavior. National Neighborhood Watch has resources for creating your own group.
Also, don’t leave valuable belongings in plain sight in your car. You shouldn’t leave them there regardless, since you may never be able to recover their value, but showing them off to car thieves can make your car more attractive to break into.
When you’re not at home, park your car in an attended garage or lot whenever possible, instead of on the street. Garages may have security cameras and prevent risky people from wandering around cars.
Use theft protection tools
The mere presence of physical devices designed to thwart theft can cause a car thief to move on from your car. Some of the following devices take just a few minutes to install on your car and can protect you from theft.
- Clubs and steering wheel locks: A steering wheel lock or club prevents a steering wheel from moving more than a few degrees. This may deter thieves, since the car will not be able to be steered once it’s stolen.
- Brake/clutch locks: Brake/clutch locks attach to the clutch or brake pedal. They prevent the pedal from being depressed, which also causes a driving problem that can deter thieves.
- Wheel clamps: Wheel clamps are attached to tires to prevent them from spinning. A thief can’t drive off in a car that has a wheel clamp on it.
It does take time to put these devices on your car, but that may be worth it compared to the time you may lose if your car is stolen. You might want to use one type of device for shorter parking periods, like a steering wheel lock, and another for overnight parking, like a wheel clamp.
Use electronic/integrated theft protection
There are also electronic theft protection options that can scare off car thieves. Other forms of integrated theft protection can help you recover a car when it’s stolen. Consider these:
- Immobilizer: An immobilizer is an electronic security device that prevents hot wiring. With an immobilizer, an engine can’t run unless the correct key or other token is present.
- LoJack/GPS tracking: GPS tracking, in forms like LoJack, enables vehicle tracking so you and police can see where a stolen vehicle has traveled.
- Make/model-specific options: Some car makes and certain models provide built-in security right in the car. For example, with Tesla vehicles, car owners can set a PIN to drive, which is a secure, 4-digit code required for driving. Tesla vehicles also come with a dash cam so you can identify a thief who gets away with your car.
- Car alarms: Make sure your car has alarms that will sound when a door or locked trunk is opened without a valid entry key.
- Car hacking deterrents: As cars become more technologically advanced, so do car hacking efforts. For example, in 2015, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles because security experts discovered they were vulnerable to cybersecurity hacks. To prevent car thief hacks, turn off your car’s Bluetooth and WiFi when it’s not in use. Make sure your car’s software is always up to date, and create a secure WiFi password for your car.
Make sure you’re aware of all the security features in your car so you can use them. If any aren’t working, take them to your dealership to get them fixed.
What to Do If Your Car Is Stolen
Having one of your most valuable possessions stolen is often a violating, jarring experience. Try to proceed in a calm manner to quickly start the process to recover your vehicle.
It’s important to report your stolen car immediately to police and your insurance company. Neglecting to do so could put you on the hook for any crimes that are committed using your car.
Call the police to file a stolen vehicle report. Do this before you contact your insurance company, because you’ll need a police report to file an auto theft claim with your insurance provider.
You’ll need to provide police with information including:
- Where your vehicle was parked and when it was last seen
- The make, model, color, license plate number, vehicle identification number, and year of the vehicle
- Unique car features that distinguish it, like bumper stickers, an unusual paint job, or damage
- Any security features within the car, such as a GPS system or dash cam
Try to give the police as much identifying information about your vehicle as you can, since that will help them with tracking it down.
Next, contact your auto insurance company to report your stolen vehicle. You should do this no matter what type of car insurance you have, because a report can protect you if property is damaged or if someone is hurt after your vehicle is stolen.
Typically, most insurers require you to have comprehensive coverage to protect against vehicle theft, as well as break-in damages. Liability insurance does not typically cover theft. It protects against vehicle damage from accidents and bodily injury from accidents. Again, no matter what type of car insurance you have, you should report the stolen vehicle with your insurer.
You’ll need to provide the following information to your insurance company:
- A description of your vehicle
- Where your vehicle was parked and when it was last seen
- A list of items that were in your car when it was stolen
- The location of all vehicle keys
- Title for vehicle
- Contact information for your financing or leasing company, if you have one
Be aware that comprehensive coverage will only typically cover car components and pre-installed, permanent features of the car. Items that were in your car that are stolen, like a laptop computer or phone, won’t be covered in a car insurance policy. Your renters or homeowners insurance policy may cover these items, however. If you had items stolen within your car, contact your homeowners or renters insurance company to file a claim.
If you do have a financing or leasing company, you’ll want to call them next to report your stolen vehicle. It will typically take around 30 days before a car insurance company will deem a vehicle lost. If you’re provided with a lower value than you believe the car is worth, you can negotiate with the insurer for a higher offer.
Final Consideration: Identity Theft with Car Theft
If you’ve left personal, identifying documents in your car, a car thief might not just steal your vehicle — they might also try to assume your identity.
Never leave the following in your vehicle:
- Social security card
- Birth certificate
- Financial/account statements
- Driver’s license / Passport
If your car has been stolen and it contained one of these items, note that in your police report. Then, call the appropriate party to report the document stolen and request a replacement document.
You might want to invest in an identity theft service to protect you in case you’re an identity theft victim. Keep an eye on your credit report to see if you notice any changes that may be due to identity theft. If you think you are a victim, you’ll want to file a police report. Then, notify the three major credit bureaus:
- Experian: Contact Experian’s identity theft victim assistance support.
- TransUnion: Report identity theft to TransUnion by calling 800-680-7289.
- Equifax: You can place a fraud alert with Equifax here.
You’ll also want to report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which will provide you with a recovery plan. Do so on IdentityTheft.gov.
Protect Your Car Now, Always
Quarantining during the coronavirus outbreak raises many concerns. Don’t let the possibility of car theft stress you or your family out. Protect what is most valuable to you during this time.
Get comprehensive car insurance so you’re covered if your car is stolen. Realize the risks your car poses for car theft, whether it’s new or an older model. Only park your car where it is as protected as possible, and use car protection tools to deter thieves. If your car is stolen, work quickly to notify police and your insurance company so you have a better chance of recovering it.