Car Thefts: Once Waning, Now on the Rise Again

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. motor vehicle theft has fallen remarkably over the last 25 years — 46% between 1991 and 2016 — primarily because anti-theft technology made it difficult for thieves to steal cars without getting caught. However, thefts have been picking up since 2014.1

In fact, 773,139 motor vehicles were reported stolen in 2017, an increase of 12.5% from 686,803 in 2014. Older models are statistically more likely to be stolen, a fact that helps explain why the average value of a stolen automobile was $7,708.2 Opportunistic criminals who can’t drive away with the car may choose to steal its marketable parts instead, or simply smash a window and grab any visible contents they find appealing.

Coverage for auto theft (up to the policy limits) is included in the comprehensive section of an auto insurance policy. Here are a few more facts to consider as you decide whether to purchase a comprehensive policy to help protect your auto and its valuable components.


Poaching Parts

Comprehensive policies typically cover broken windows, damage to the body of the automobile, and replacement of stolen parts. In fact, some components may be more valuable (and thus more attractive to thieves) and more expensive to replace than might be expected.

For example, catalytic converter theft has become widespread in recent years. An important component of vehicle exhaust systems, the device contains small amounts of valuable precious metals — platinum, rhodium, and palladium — and could fetch a pretty penny at local scrap yards. Palladium has surged in value by 67% between August 2018 and March 2019, and is now worth more than gold for the first time since 2001.3

This easy-to-access part can usually be removed from underneath a vehicle in just a few minutes with a portable saw. Unfortunately, it can cost up to $1,500 to replace a stolen catalytic converter.4 Business owners may want to consider that single vehicles or fleets left unprotected overnight may be vulnerable.

It is also common practice for thieves to steal airbags, car tires, rims, xenon headlights, and global positioning systems (GPS), which are targeted because of their high street values. Keep in mind that comprehensive coverage typically applies only to GPS systems and other components that are permanently attached; unattached units would be considered personal property.

Tempting Targets

Some valuable items that are frequently stolen from inside vehicles include laptops and tablet computers, iPods, cellphones, portable GPS units, purses, wallets, cameras, tools, and sunglasses. In the event of a break-in, coverage for stolen personal property may be limited to $250 or less under a typical auto policy. However, victims who lose one or more valuable items due to theft may be covered up to a higher limit (after paying a deductible) under their standard renters or homeowners policies.

Protecting Your Car and Its Contents

Taking the following protective steps on a consistent basis may help reduce your vehicle’s exposure to theft.

  • Park in well-lit areas whenever possible, always lock vehicle doors, and never leave spare keys in the vehicle.
  • Don’t entice thieves by leaving valuables in plain sight, and keep in mind that credit cards or mail (such as bank statements) left behind in a purse, wallet, or storage compartment could compromise your identity and credit history.
  • If you intend to hide valuables in the trunk, transfer items before you enter a crowded parking lot. Criminals may be watching you or your car from the time you pull into the area.
  • Keep in mind that walking away from a car while it is still running, even for a few minutes, can make it an irresistible mark.

Broader Coverage

In addition to theft, comprehensive coverage reimburses you for damage to your own automobile (up to the policy limits) resulting from vandalism, falling or flying objects, animal collisions, fire, explosions, earthquakes, and weather-related risks such as wind and flood.

Premiums depend on both the current value of the automobile and the level of risk to which it may be exposed, which means you will pay more if you happen to live in an area where claims are prevalent. Insurers will look closely at the perceived level of risk in your specific ZIP code.

Comprehensive coverage is optional, but lenders typically require it. Some people who own older vehicles free and clear may sacrifice the extra coverage for the sake of lower insurance costs, but you might find that it offers a sense of security that may be worth the extra cost.