Think a tough economy automatically means more street crime? Think again.
"We've been trying to pull that theory back a little bit," says Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. "There is no empirical data to make that kind of broad statement."
If preliminary stats from the FBI crime division hold true, last year will have seen the fewest vehicle thefts since 1967. The most recent FBI crime statistics predict a 7.2-percent reduction in theft since 2009—the lowest rate in more than 40 years.
Of course a lower theft rate doesn't exactly mean all is well, especially if you drive a Honda Accord. Along with the 1995 Honda Civic and 1991 Toyota Camry, the 1994 Accord topped our list of the most stolen cars in the country.
Behind the Numbers
We compiled our list of the year's most stolen cars using data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau Hot Wheels Report, which annually identifies the most stolen vehicles in the United States based on vehicle theft data submitted by law enforcement to the National Crime Information Center. The most recent findings list the vehicle make, model and model year most reported stolen in 2010.
1994 Honda Accord
For the first time since 2002 thieves preferred domestic makes over foreign brands. Ford took three spots, including the F-150 pickup and Explorer SUV, while both the Dodge Ram and Caravan made the list. But Honda and Toyota still hold the top three positions, which they've done since 2000.
Other popular contenders on the most-stolen list were Chevrolet's Silverado and GMC's Sierra pickups. In fact, trucks and SUVs have the most theft in proportion to their worth: According to the Highway Data Loss Institute, the value of the loss of a luxury SUV is more than six times as high as the average for all passenger vehicles. And work trucks are particularly attractive because of the extra trim lines and tools they carry.
"Thieves are after chrome, horsepower and Hemis," says Kim Hazelbaker, vice president of the Arlington, Va.-based Highway Data Loss Institute.
All told, auto theft costs consumers and insurance companies more than $8 billion every year, according to FBI data. And of the more than 1 million vehicles stolen annually, fewer than 60% of them are recovered.
Technology Thwarts Thieves
1999 Chevrolet Silverado
Back to the good news: The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety reports that the frequency of theft claims for cars and SUVs has declined since 1998 even while average insurance payments per claim have increased. Frequencies have dropped the most for SUVs, from 4.9 claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years in 1998, to 2.4 in 2008,
Improved technology has helped relegate the threat. Of the nearly 52,000 Honda Accords stolen last year, more than 44,000 of them were made in the 1990s. Just 5,700 were made more recently than 2000.
"Cars themselves are just getting harder to steal," says Terri Miller, director of the Michigan-based Help Eliminate Auto Theft program.
Common-sense tactics like removing the keys from the ignition and locking doors are always good ideas to help thwart theft, Miller says. But GPS tracking systems and immobilizers make a significant difference, too. They'll also help authorities recover the car should it happen to be jacked.
It's almost enough to justify buying that new ride.
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