California metro areas lead the way in car thefts
It’s highly likely that if you live in California, you’ve either been the victim of an auto theft or know someone who has suffered the same fate.
Eight of the top 10 metropolitan areas with the highest vehicle theft rates in 2010 were in California, according to the annual “Hot Spots” study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
“The simplest explanation is there are more vehicles in California than in any other state,” says Frank Scafidi, a former FBI official who is public affairs director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. “There are a lot of cars, a lot of people and, with that, you get an element where there are a lot of knuckleheads.”
The National Insurance Crime Bureau is a nonprofit organization that teams up with insurers and law enforcement agencies to catch and prosecute insurance criminals.
Fresno is top ‘Hot Spot’
Leading the car crime wave was the Fresno, Calif., metro area, with 812 auto thefts for every 100,000 residents in 2010.
Rounding out the top five were Modesto, Calif. (754 auto thefts per 100,000 population); Bakersfield, Calif. (670 theft rate); Spokane, Wash. (586 theft rate); and Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif. (579 theft rate).
Behind those metro areas were Sacramento, Calif. (553 theft rate); Stockton, Calif. (551 theft rate); Visalia-Porterville, Calif. (545 theft rate); San Francisco-Oakland (522 theft rate); and Yakima, Wash. (520 theft rate).
In 2009, Laredo, Texas, was the car theft capital among U.S. metro areas, according to the insurance crime bureau. That year, 742 cars were stolen for every 100,000 residents of the Laredo area. Next on the 2009 list was Modesto, followed by Bakersfield, Stockton, Fresno, Yakima, San Francisco-Oakland; Visalia-Porterville, Las Vegas and Albuquerque, N.M.
Do auto theft rates affect auto insurance?
It’s widely assumed that an auto insurance consumer living in a metro area with a high auto theft rate would pay higher auto insurance premiums. But the insurance crime bureau study did not necessarily reflect this theory. For example, in 2010, none of the top five cities for auto theft were among the most expensive cities for auto insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Of the 15 regions with the highest rates of auto theft in 2010, only the Detroit area was ranked among the top five cities for the highest auto insurance premiums.
Auto theft is covered under the comprehensive section of an auto insurance policy, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Standard auto liability policies — required in all but two states — do not include comprehensive coverage. Adding comprehensive coverage means you’ll pay higher premiums than if you buy the basic liability coverage.
Protecting your car
Although California is in a harsh spotlight, the overall picture for auto thefts is good, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. For the seventh consecutive year, auto thefts nationwide declined, with preliminary 2010 figures showing a 7.2 percent drop from 2009.
Joe Wehrle, president and CEO of the insurance crime bureau, singles out improved anti-theft technology and stepped-up law enforcement efforts as reasons for the decrease in auto thefts, but acknowledged that stopping professional crime rings and gangs is an ongoing challenge.
The bureau recommends following these steps to protect yourself against auto theft:
• Use common sense. Remove the keys from the ignition, lock your doors and close your windows, and park in a well-let area.
• Use a visual or audio warning device to alert thieves that your car is protected.
• Equip your car with an immobilizing device that prevents thieves from bypassing your ignition switch and hot-wiring your vehicle. Some examples of these devices are smart keys, fuse cut-offs and kill switches.
• Install a tracking device that can emit a signal to police or a monitoring station when your car is stolen.