The Most Stolen Cars in the U.S.

For car thieves, bigger is better.

Dec. 8, 2008 -- In the past few years, big, bold SUVs have become almost synonymous with the success of entertainment and sports stars. You make it big, you buy an Escalade. Or a Hummer.

Hopefully, there's money left over to hire a full-time driver who can watch over the car, because these two vehicles are among the most likely to be stolen.

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The 2007 Cadillac Escalade ESV, a full-size luxury SUV, has the highest theft-claim frequency of any vehicle by a long shot. It's 15 times more likely to end up in the hands of thieves than the least-stolen car, the luxurious Mercedes E Class sedan, according to the theft-claim frequency report for 2005-07 model year cars, SUVs and light trucks, produced by the Highway Loss Data Institute (an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). The E Class, Buick Rainer and Subaru Forester have the lowest theft-claim frequency reports.

"The Escalade has been the star of the show with car thieves for the better part of the decade," says Russ Rader, an IIHS spokesperson. "It has pop-culture appeal, and thieves are attracted to it."

While the Escalade is the most coveted among thieves, the Hummer H2 and the Hummer H2 SUT (a sport utility truck with a small pickup bed in the rear compartment), are also highly desirable--and among the top 10 vehicles with the highest theft claim frequencies. Given a choice between a Hummer and a small car like the Ford Focus or a wagon like the Volvo V70, a thief is eight times more likely to go for the SUV.

Behind the Numbers

To generate lists of the most- and least-stolen cars, the IIHS annually reviews insurance-claim reports to determine theft-frequency rates based on the number of claims filed for every 1,000 vehicles insured each year. The 2008 report, released in October, only includes 2005, 2006 and 2007 model-year cars, light trucks and SUVs, with the exception of the Cadillac Escalades (only the 2007 model is included because it was redesigned for that model year) and the Dodge Charger (only the 2006 and 2007 models are included since it was not available in the 2005 model year). Based on the claims filed, the IIHS also calculates the average loss payment--the amount paid to the consumer by the insurance company--made for each claim filed.

Although there are plenty of sedans and smaller models that are attractive to thieves, most of the vehicles comprising the list of the top 10 most-stolen cars are big trucks and SUVs.

There are many reasons why thieves choose popular, large vehicles over everyday family cars, but one is accessibility, says Rader. "If you've got a typical family sedan ... it is most likely spending the night in a suburban garage."

Desirability, however, is a big factor. The Escalade (11.3 claims per 1,000) and its slightly larger sibling, the Escalade ESV, are likely popular among thieves, says Rader, for the cars' expensive parts and accessories. Escalade owners are known to add premium audio equipment, flashy rims, extra chrome and interior accessories as well. That might explain why the average claim loss paid for a stolen Escalade is $14,657 and $13,060 for the ESV. The average loss payment, across all vehicles, is only $9,396.

Thieves are also attracted to a vehicle's cargo. The Ford F-250 and F-350 SuperCrew pickups have open beds that may include expensive equipment or tools that are just as appealing to thieves as the truck itself. The average loss payment claim for these vehicles are among the highest ($19,250 and $20,138, respectively), which may also include claims for whatever equipment or cargo these trucks may have been holding at the time they were stolen.

Adding Deterrents

Cadillac recognizes that the appeal to thieves "is an unfortunate side effect of the desirability" of the Escalade, but says it is doing its part to make the vehicle harder to steal, according to a Cadillac spokesperson. For the 2009 model year, Cadillac added a theft-deterrent feature through General Motors' OnStar communication system. When an Escalade or Hummer is reported stolen, OnStar will remotely shut off the vehicle's power, making it virtually impossible for anyone to drive it.

But reporting a vehicle stolen needs to happen quickly, since a thief wants to offload it quickly--either whole or as parts. The Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit organization, estimates a car is stolen every 24 minutes.

The best deterrent of all, however, is buying the kind of car that thieves tend not to steal, especially something like the Volvo V70 (the claim frequency is only 0.8 out of 1,000 per insured vehicle year). Nevertheless, if the V70 or any other car suddenly were to become attractive to thieves, auto experts say there is relatively little that a car owner can do to stop them. If professional thieves want a certain kind of car badly enough, they'll go to just about any lengths to get it.

"If a thief wants your car, they will load it on a flatbed," says Rader. They will either strip it for parts or head for coastal borders "where it will end up on a boat and be exported overseas."