Expensive luxury cars with full features can be enticing for those in the market for a new vehicle. They can be symbols of status, rewards for hard work and can make the slog of a morning commute more comfortable. But according to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), those luxury cars are also more prone to being stolen.
Each year, the HLDI releases information on auto thefts in the United States. Among other statistics, the group calculates the most stolen car makes and models in a given year, based on how many of every 1,000 insured cars are reported stolen. The group limits its study to late model cars, in the case of the most recent study, models from 2007 to 2009. The data also includes only cars for which insurance claims are paid. The latest findings? Theft rates for the top 10 most stolen vehicles are three to five times higher than the average theft rates for all vehicles [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. And in 2010, the list was dominated by flashy, fully-loaded SUVs and pickup trucks.
Since most car thieves either re-sell stolen cars illegally, or dismantle them in illegal "chop shops" and sell them for parts, more expensive cars usually draw their attention [source: Statistics Canada]. So which cars made the top 10 stolen cars list in 2010? Well, don't expect to see many sensible compact cars or fuel-efficient minis featured.
The Chevrolet Tahoe is one of the more popular SUVs on the roads. It was the top selling, full-size SUV in the country in 2009 [source: General Motors]. Of course, with more Tahoes sold, there are more available to be stolen. Recent models of this popular SUV have been fully loaded with high-tech features like heated seats, an integrated brake controller, Bluetooth connectible components and a blind spot alert system [source: Edmunds]. Since a large amount of cars stolen in the United States are dismantled for their parts, those cutting edge features can be very profitable for thieves. In 2010, out of every 1,000 Tahoes on the streets, 5.8 were stolen [source: CNN Money].
SUVs like the Yukon have long dominated the annual list of the most stolen vehicles. But in the last few years, other classes of automobiles have begun to take spots on the list alongside sports utility vehicles, including heavy-duty trucks, sedans and coupes [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. While SUVs still represent some of the most stolen cars, fewer SUVs have been stolen annually in recent years than in the past. In 1998, almost five out of every 1,000 SUVs in the country were reported stolen. But by 2008, only about 2.4 of every 1,000 SUVs were stolen [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. Slumping sales of SUVs in recent years could be one explanation [source: Durbin]. The SUV class was still popular enough among thieves to get the Yukon a spot on the list, though. In 2010, six of every 1,000 late model Yukons on the road were reported to insurance companies as stolen [source: CNN Money]. And with standard features like a Bose nine-speaker stereo system, XM radio, multiple air bag systems and a 5.3L V8 engine, it's no wonder [source: GMC.com].
More than six out of every 1,000 late model Hummer H2s on the road were stolen in 2010 [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. In addition to being one of the most stolen SUVs, the large, gas-guzzling H2s were also among the most costly for insurers and the insured when they were stolen, because of the high replacement price for the model. On average, insurance companies had to shell out $10,324 for every stolen H2, according to the HLDI's report. The group ranks models by how much money in average theft claim payments insurance companies have to make on stolen vehicles [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. That figure is tied to the high list price of the H2, and the high replacement cost. A pre-owned 2009 H2 in excellent condition can sell for up to $53,000 [source: Kelley Blue Book]. Of course, older models in less pristine shape sell for less, and won't call for as much in insurance payouts.
Wedged in among the huge luxury SUVs and trucks, this midsize sedan might seem like a modest addition to the most stolen list. But insurance claims for theft were filed for 6.5 out of every 1,000 Maximas in 2010 [source: CNN Money]. The most coveted part of the Maxima is a type of high-intensity discharge headlight that comes standard on the car [source: Motor Trend]. Thieves who end up taking apart cars and selling the pieces can make good money selling those expensive lights, which can be installed on older model Nissans. The headlights are found on other cars, as well, but it seems the Maxima's headlights are most appealing to thieves because of their compatibility with older model Maximas, which makes them easier to sell. Since Nissan started including those headlights on the Maxima in 2002, theft claims have continued to rise for the model [source: Motor Trend].
In general, the number of theft claims for pickup trucks has been increasing every year since 2001 [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. One explanation is that, as car manufacturers have been producing more feature-heavy, fully loaded trucks, they've become more valuable to thieves [source: Onishi]. The GMC Sierra Crew Cab, with its standard satellite radio, chrome fenders, and optional DVD player and Bluetooth system, can be stripped for some valuable parts [source: General Motors]. Also, like other pickups, the Sierra attracts thieves because of the goods that can sometimes be found in the cargo bed. Expensive tools, furniture and construction materials often in the beds of the trucks can be easily sold to add to the illegal profits [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. Those added claims for insurance companies also result in pickup trucks like the Sierra having some of the highest insurance claims for theft. For every 1,000 Sierras being driven in 2010, 6.7 were driven off by thieves [source: CNN Money].
This sporty Infiniti was one of the few luxury coupes to make the 2010 most stolen list. With luxury car manufacturers touting the advanced anti-theft systems of their cars, it seems that cars like the Infiniti, which has a state-of-the-art vehicle immobilizer system, wouldn't be as vulnerable. The Infiniti's anti-theft system involves a transponder chip inside the electronic key that won't allow the engine to start if the right key isn't in the ignition [source: Infiniti]. But seasoned thieves have ways of getting around even the most advanced anti-theft systems. They often go as far as casing a house or a dealership, and breaking in and stealing the keys from the owners [source: Statistics Canada]. For every 1,000 insured Infiniti G37s, 7.1 were stolen in 2010 [source: Highway Loss Data Institute].
Another full-size pickup on the list, the Chevrolet Avalanche was stolen at a rate of 7.4 for every 1,000 insured vehicles in 2010 [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. Parts from General Motors SUVs and trucks are easily interchangeable because they are built on the same platform. So, parts from the Chevrolet Avalanche can be used in other popular rides like the Cadillac Escalade [source: Edmunds]. Since a large number of stolen cars in the United States end up in chop shops, vehicles whose parts can be used in multiple models are particularly useful to thieves [source: U.S. Senate]. Those parts become easier to turn around for a quick and easy profit.
One of the few sedans to make the list, the Dodge Charger was stolen at a rate of 7.4 for every 1,000 cars in 2010 [source: Los Angeles Times]. Usually, family sedans rate pretty low on theft loss lists, but the Charger, when equipped with a high performance HEMI V8 engine, is a magnet for thieves [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. Those engines, popular among racing enthusiasts, don't come standard. Late model Chargers can be equipped with less powerful V6 engines instead. But the HEMI models are most valuable, especially for thieves stealing a Charger for its parts. Selling stolen HEMIs can be a lucrative enterprise. A refurbished Dodge HEMI engine can cost as much as $3,000 through legitimate channels [source: Power Train Products]. That's much cheaper than a new HEMI engine that can run up to $15,000 [source: Bouchillon Performance Engineering].
Stealing cars and selling them used, or stripping them to sell their parts, may be an illegal business, but it is a business. And as a business, it operates on the same laws of supply and demand as any other operation. The most popular cars on the road are usually the ones that end up being stolen the most [source: U.S. Senate]. So it's not just a coincidence that the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, which was the second best-selling automobile of 2010, is also the second most stolen [source: Chicago Tribune]. Out of every 1,000 Silverados on the road, eight were reported stolen [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. That means with more than 370,000 of the pickups sold in 2010, almost 3,000 of them would have been reported stolen [source: Chicago Tribune].
The Cadillac Escalade has topped the Highway Data Loss Institute's most stolen vehicles list for five years running. More than 1 percent of all late model Escalades were reported stolen in 2010; that's 10.8 of every 1,000, to be exact [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. Because of the high list prices of both new and pre-owned Escalades, the luxury SUV also makes the HDLI's list of the vehicles with the most expensive insurance claims for theft. A pre-owned 2009 Escalade with base features is worth more than $46,000, and a quarter of the insurance claims for the stolen vehicles top $40,000 [source: Kelley Blue Book and Highway Loss Data Institute].
Those claims are tied to the replacement price of the insured vehicle. Because of the SUV's many luxury features, including a navigation system, satellite radio player and a high performance V8 engine, Cadillac equips its Escalade with the most up-to-date anti-theft technology, including ignition immobilizers [source: Edmunds]. But thieves seem to have ways around that technology, too. For instance, some will simply load them onto flatbed trucks and haul them away because keys aren't necessary if the car is going to be cut up and sold off in pieces [source: Highway Loss Data Institute]. Thieves can also bypass the anti-theft devices through carjackings or by stealing keys from dealers and residences [source: Statistics Canada].
Most late-model cars are super-advanced and require only regular maintenance. That's not the same as a tuneup. HowStuffWorks explains the difference.
More Great Links
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- U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee of Governmental Affairs. "Professional Motor Vehicle Theft and Chop Shops Hearings." U.S. Government Printing Office. April 25, 1980.