Grand Theft U.S.A. – America's Most Stolen Cars, by State
First, the good news: In the United States, car theft has been declining steadily for the past decade. Still, a motor vehicle is stolen every 46 seconds – a number that isn’t very comforting. So how safe is your car?
To find out, we looked at data from the FBI and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. We mined it to discover which cars are most likely to be stolen and where. What we found might surprise you.
The Riskiest Places to Park Your Car
When it comes to car theft, not all states are created equal. According to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C., is the riskiest place to park. Although the District of Columbia is not technically a state, we’ll treat it as such. Its average of 17.5 thefts per 1,000 registered vehicles is significant enough to include in our ranking.
Significantly lower (but still risky) are Washington, California and Nevada, all averaging between 10 and 11 thefts per 1,000 registered cars.
On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont and New Hampshire are the safest states to park that sedan, with just 1 and 1.5 thefts per 1,000 vehicles, respectively.
Of course, if risk varies state by state, it also makes sense that it varies by city. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the most dangerous communities to leave your car are the California cities of Modesto and Bakersfield, as well as Albuquerque, New Mexico, each with thousands of vehicle thefts reported in 2015.
Live in California? It isn’t just Modesto and Bakersfield you have to watch out for. Turns out, eight of the riskiest cities on our list are in the Golden State.
America’s Most Frequently Stolen Cars
Whether you’re driving through the Vermont countryside or parked in San Francisco, some cars are bigger targets than others.
According to our research, thieves favor 1990s-model cars, perhaps because engine immobilizer systems in new cars make it essentially impossible to start a car without the ignition key. These system started to become widespread in 1998. Modern cars can still be stolen, but now it takes a much higher level of technical sophistication.
The make and model of your vehicle can also make it a target. Nationally, Honda Accords are the most desirable cars to steal, followed by Honda Civics and full-size Ford pickups. But thieves’ preferences vary a bit by state.
In Alaska and a large swath of the Midwest, Chevy pickups are the most stolen vehicle. In D.C., Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland and Ohio? It’s the Dodge Caravan. And in Michigan, Chevrolet Impalas are the most likely to be boosted.
The Most Stolen Car in Each State
Mapping One Year of Car Theft in Four Major Cities
So what does all this theft look like? And where exactly is it happening in your city? We mapped “grand larceny of a motor vehicle” across four major U.S. cities to find out. As you might expect, some parts of town are bigger hot spots for auto crime than others. According to our New York and Chicago maps, however, grand theft auto can really happen anywhere.
The Odds of Justice
If your car is stolen, what is the likelihood that you’ll get it back and the perpetrator will be caught? Although it would seem that cracking the case should be easier in the age of GPS, the reality is that these crimes are still difficult to solve. Nationally, fewer than 15 percent of vehicle thefts end with someone in handcuffs. That is partly because many stolen cars are quickly taken across international borders by organized rings of thieves.
According to the FBI, the odds of an arrest are best in the East South Central part of the country, where more than 22 percent of car thefts result in arrest. And the worst odds? They’re found in the Pacific region, where fewer than 9 percent of car thieves are eventually arrested – a fact that might account for the higher crime levels in California and Washington.
Now, the Good News
Don’t forget, car theft has been declining steadily for 10 years. In 2003, there were more than 433 car thefts per 100,000 people. Today, that number is closer to 215 – a roughly 50 percent drop. So while we still have a way to go to ensure our rides are totally secure, the truth is that they’re safer than they’ve ever been before.
When it comes to car theft, the good news is clear: Our vehicles are about 50 percent safer today than they were 10 years ago. We also know a lot about car theft and can use that knowledge to our advantage.
Thinking about buying a car from the 1990s or early 2000s? Now you know that the 2001 model is a safer bet than the 1997 model. If you’re in a high-risk city, now you know to take extra precautions, like parking your car in a garage, purchasing a steering wheel club (which often causes would-be thieves to move on) and using a car-tracking service.
And of course, the most important thing is to have good affordable insurance – just in case.
If you’re interested in using the images from this project, please feel free to do so. We simply ask that you attribute CheapCarInsurance.net for the content, and provide a link back to this page, so your readers can learn more about our work.
We launched this project by ranking states based on car thefts per 1,000 registered vehicles rather than per capita. That’s because some states, particularly those featuring dense urban areas and good public transit, have lower rates of car ownership than others. New York only has 26.1 registered vehicles per 100 people, whereas Alabama has twice as many with 52.1 registered vehicles per 100 people.
We also wanted to identify the top metro areas for car thefts; however, we had to take a slightly different approach because vehicles are registered by state governments, not cities. To rank metro areas, we had to calculate the number of car thefts per 100,000 residents.
To understand which cars were most likely to be stolen and where, we analyzed and mapped National Insurance Crime Bureau data, which covered more than 650,000 vehicle thefts nationwide. This revealed that older model cars were most likely to be stolen, although there has been a recent uptick in thefts of new vehicles.
We also used public crime data from law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Seattle to visualize every motor vehicle theft in those cities in 2015. The cities were not selected because of their rates of theft but rather because they are among America’s most populous metropolitan areas, and they have excellent public data sets.