Used Cars: Avoid These Most-Stolen Models

Last Updated Oct 22, 2010 10:47 AM EDT

Quick, who has more to fear from car thieves: the proud owner of a sparkling new Mercedes sedan or his jealous neighbor, who drives a 19-year-old Camry? The recently released list of most-stolen cars from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) suggests that the Camry owner had better be careful where he parks. Honda and Toyota sedans and various pickups from the 1990s dominate the list. The reason: Chop shop thieves eager for parts.

So whether you own an older version of a popular car or you are shopping for a 90s vintage auto -- say a sedan for a station car or a pickup for occasional hauling -- take a look at the list, below. You may find that you need to spend a little money on theft protection.

Thieves aren't totally ignoring expensive cars. A separate list of vehicles with the biggest insurance losses from theft compiled by the Highway Loss Data Institute is topped by the Cadillac Escalade luxury SUV. But that is because the insurance payout when those monsters are stolen often tops $40,000.


In less rarefied garages, people are keeping their cars longer than they used to. And that has resulted in increased demand for replacement parts. The NICB, a non-profit organization supported by insurance companies, demonstrated the economics of car theft: A car like the 1994 Honda Accord (pictured here), which tops the most stolen list based on 2009 FBI data, is worth about $2,000 if bought from a private seller according to Kelley Blue Book. But parts harvested from that car could be worth about $5,000, says Frank Scafidi, public affairs director of the NICB.

Conveniently for crooks, cars from the 1990s had fewer factory-installed anti-theft devices and thus are easier to steal, adds Scafidi. Although post-2000 models do appear on the list, your chances of getting factory-built anti-theft devices is much better with cars from that decade.

Unlike a new or nearly new car, paying for insurance against theft on an older car probably isn't worth it. Your premiums over a few years plus the deductible required in that coverage could well exceed the value of the car. But for a small investment, you can install a device that will make your old car harder to steal while sitting in a parking lot at the train station or the shopping center.

Here are the NICB's suggestions for protecting cars whose radios remember when Nirvana and Sir Mix-A-Lot topped the charts:

Discourage the thieves. Many car boosters -- professional and amateur -- are looking for the easiest target. So they pass by vehicles that seem to defeat a quick grab. For around $50, you can buy The Club or other steering wheel lock. These locks add to the difficulty and time it takes to steal your car or truck. For about $80, you can get a "tire claw" lock that will keep one wheel from moving.

Sound the alarm. For $200 to $300 at an auto electronics shop you can have an alarm installed that will go off if the door is opened without a key. Be sure to get a decal that announces the alarm. The ear-assaulting alarm noise won't stop all car thieves. But, like The Club, it might make them seek another target.

Kill the engine. Cars, trucks and SUVs from recent years have a built-in system that prevents the vehicle from starting unless the engine computer gets a signal from the precisely-matching key. To approximate this in an older car, you can get professional installation of a so-called kill switch. This disrupts the circuitry of the engine unless the switch is turned on. The installer will hide the switch somewhere reachable from the driver's seat but where thieves cannot quickly find it.

No device is foolproof. "Anti-theft devices won't help you with a thief who just backs up a flatbed tow truck and takes the car," notes the NICB's Scafidi. "But fortunately, that is not most thieves." Your precautionary measures can deter the less-dedicated with larcenous intent.

Here is the NICB list of the most-stolen cars, pickups, minivans and SUVs.

1. 1994 Honda Accord
2. 1995 Honda Civic
3. 1991 Toyota Camry
4. 1997 Ford F-150 Pickup
5. 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup
6. 2000 Dodge Caravan
7. 1994 Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)
8. 1994 Acura Integra
9. 2002 Ford Explorer
10. 2009 Toyota Corolla

Photo courtesy of Flickr user VMPastore
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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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