When it comes to auto theft, owners of the 1994 Honda Accord just can’t seem to catch a break.
For the third year in a row, the car tops the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s list of the 10 most stolen vehicles in the country. The news, however, isn’t entirely bad. There are several ways to protect your vehicle from thieves -- no matter what kind of car you drive.
Why the ’94 Accord?
According to the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau, nearly 7,000 Accords from 1994 were stolen in the United States. Oftentimes, all of the parts of a ’94 Accord -- such as the hood and the bumpers -- are worth more on the black market than the whole car is on the resale market.
The reasons the ’94 Accord so frequently tops lists like the one generated by the crime bureau are numerous. For starters, the car’s popularity and lack of sophisticated anti-theft mechanisms make it “the low-hanging fruit of the auto theft world," says Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the bureau.
Also, drivers of older vehicles like the ’94 Accord have a tendency to think less about security than those who drive newer models. Consider that among the 10 vehicles listed on the bureau's most recent ranking, only three came out after 2000 and none after 2004.
“With an older car, you are simply less aware of security,” says D.J. Thompson, law enforcement director for LoJack Corp. and a 22-year veteran of the Connecticut State Police. “Since it’s got a lower value to you, all those common-sense things we talk about in law enforcement -- not parking it where you shouldn’t, leaving it unlocked -- go right out the window.”
Not only are they easier to steal, but a rather robust black market for older vehicle parts also makes these cars hot items for chop shops and junkyards. For instance, Thompson says, vehicles like the Honda Accord, Honda Civic and Acura Integra are popular with street racers and car remodeling enthusiasts who know that these cars have easy-to-swap engines. This means someone can place the more powerful Integra powertrain into a lightweight Civic.
Thompson adds that most car thieves want to fly under the radar, and a car as ubiquitous as a ’94 Accord provides just the right amount of anonymity.
“One time I asked a thief why he was driving a bland, gray Honda Civic,” Thompson recalls. “He said, ‘I pull up to an intersection and look to my left and right, and on both sides there are two gray, four-door Hondas. I feel comfortable when I’m driving that car, because I feel like I’m invisible.’”
Don’t become a victim
As director of Michigan’s Help Eliminate Auto Thefts (HEAT) prevention program, Terri Miller has seen too many drivers make too many of the same mistakes -- especially if they own older vehicles like the '94 Honda Accord.
“A big misconception is that people think, ‘Oh, I’ve got an old car. No one’s going to want that,’” Miller says. “But you should always prepare as if you could be a theft target.”
Julia Bardnell, a spokeswoman for the Texas Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority, says drivers should go through the following checklist before leaving a car unattended:
• Hide your valuables. Items in the open make your car a bigger target.
• Take your keys and never leave a second set in your vehicle. Bardnell says 20 percent of stolen vehicles had keys inside them.
• Lock your car, even if you live in an affluent, secluded suburb. Almost half of all vehicles stolen were left unlocked.
• Park in well-lit or heavily trafficked areas. “Thieves don’t like witnesses,” Bardnell says.
• Give parking attendants the ignition key only, and keep your trunk and glovebox locked at all times. If possible, get separate keys for the ignition and the trunk and glovebox.
• Never leave your car running if you're not in it, such as when it's parked at a convenience store while you're popping in to get some snacks.
• Install an anti-theft device or at least provide a visual deterrent, like The Club. This thieves that your vehicle is going to be a little more challenging to steal than one parked right next to it.
The importance of comprehensive insurance
So, what type of auto insurance protects you financially in case your ’94 Honda Accord -- or any other type of car -- is stolen? That's comprehensive coverage, which is optional.
Comprehensive coverage applies to things like theft, fire, lightning, wind and flooding. HEAT's Miller says many drivers wrongly believe that they need full collision coverage to protect against theft. Optional collision coverage kicks in when your car collides with another car or object.
“If you drive an older vehicle on a top 10 list of stolen cars in a city with a high rate of auto theft, I would consider buying comprehensive coverage and leave collision off,” Miller says. “Comprehensive is affordable in comparison to collision.”
Kevin Foley, an independent insurance agent from New Jersey, says adding comprehensive coverage to a basic auto liability policy can be a good option for drivers who don’t want to spend a lot on full coverage.
Keep in mind, however, that rates will depend on the year, make and model of your car; the amount of your deductible; the place where your car is parked regularly; how the car is driven; how far you commute; and what's on your driving record.
Filing a comprehensive claim
If a car is stolen and a comprehensive claim is filed, Foley says, insurance companies will reimburse a driver for the “fair market value” of the vehicle.
“For me,” Foley says, “that would not be a lot because I drive a 10-year-old Ford with over 200,000 miles. So you should take that into consideration before you spend money on comprehensive insurance.”
Moreover, Foley says a comprehensive claim -- no matter the underlying cause -- will ding your auto insurance rates. How much depends on your insurance company and how it calculates your premium. For instance, if your premium includes "loss-free credits" -- percentage discounts offered by insurance companies for blocks of years that go by without a loss -- they'll disappear because you're no longer loss-free.
“File a claim as soon as possible,” HEAT's Miller recommends. “The faster you report it as stolen, the better chance it will be recovered.”