Watch CBS News

Chicago car thefts continue to surge, as recoveries drop and most thefts remain unsolved

Chicago car thefts continue to surge, as recoveries drop and most thefts remain unsolved
Chicago car thefts continue to surge, as recoveries drop and most thefts remain unsolved 07:13

CHICAGO (CBS) – The number of motor vehicles stolen in Chicago this year surged past 2022's tally during the month of September. While thefts increase, the number of vehicles recovered has decreased sharply and more cases remain unsolved than in recent years.

Motor vehicle thefts continue surge

According to Chicago Police data analyzed by the CBS 2 Investigators, as of October 7, 22,577 motor vehicle thefts have been reported. That is the highest number of thefts in 19 years, with nearly three months left to go in 2023.

A group of people stole Helen Chambers' 2020 Hyundai Tucson from the handicapped parking spot she uses at her Near West side apartment building earlier this year. She doesn't drive the SUV much, so she didn't even realize it was missing until police called to tell her they had found it.

"What do you mean you recovered my car? My car is out there," she said. "They say, 'No ma'am. 35th and King Drive.'"

Helen Chambers shows damage done to vehicle stolen three times in 2023 Scott Wilson/CBS News Chicago

Chambers is 73 years old and on a fixed income. When she got her Hyundai back, it had been heavily damaged. And heard this from investigators: "Police said they thought they were using it as a smash and grab."

In August, Chambers got another disturbing call – this time from a neighbor. "She said, 'Helen, where's your truck?' I went to the window, and it was gone."

In two days, her Tucson was taken twice and recovered both times by Chicago police. Not only was there more damage done to her vehicle, but everything she had inside it was stolen.

Kia and Hyundai vehicles

Chambers' car is one of 6,171 Hyundai vehicles stolen in 2023 through September 10, according to detailed data received through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Add in another 5,341 Kias stolen and the combined total climbs to 11,512. That figure represents more than 50% of all vehicles stolen in 2023 and continues a crime trend that began in 2022 when car thieves began exploiting technical vulnerabilities with vehicles made by those automakers.

Lt. Adam Broshous is Director of the Illinois Statewide Auto Theft Task Force (ISATT), which includes Chicago Police Department (CPD) among its team members.

"There are some defects in manufacturing from a couple of manufactures out there that are attributing to a lot of that and social media and word of mouth has gotten out there where you can overcome these defects with some, with very little practice and very quickly," he said.

Surveillance camera video from August when Chambers' vehicle got stolen twice over two days shows it took thieves only 18 seconds for the offenders to steal her car.

Theft recoveries

Chambers got lucky that her car was found each time it got taken. But, that's the exception for most vehicle owners, especially in recent years.

The recovery percentage for vehicles stolen topped 50% from 2015 to 2017. That percentage dropped to 43% in 2020. In 2023, so far, recoveries by Chicago Police are down to 21%.

CBS 2's data analysis shows that upwards of 90% of vehicles are recovered the same year they are taken. Some take longer to find. "We still see many cars recovered that are beyond that up to several years. In fact, the longest I've seen is 18 years," said Broshous.

ISATT has discovered a new trend in the cars his team finds quickly. "The trend right now is they [thieves] are taking VINs from vehicles that exist in Canada or they will take a VIN number from a car that is in a junkyard," he said.

That new VIN is a red flag to trained investigators. "To the average eye, this looks like a normal, good VIN. The font is wrong on it, and the placement in the windshield is a little off," he said.

Catching those re-vinned vehicles appears to be leading ISATT down the road to more success than CPD is having lately.

Broshous touted the doubling of recoveries in recent years. From 773 vehicles in fiscal year 2022 to 1,424 in fiscal year 2023. The state's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 each year. "We are very efficient at what we do."

ISATT, as well as CPD, received grant money to fight auto theft. $3.4 million in March 2023 from Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias' office. "We have, since our inception, provided a 10 to 1 return on investment. For every dollar that we received in grant funds we recovered at least 10 dollars of assets that were stolen."

By assets, Lt. Broshous is referring to not only whole vehicles recovered but pieces of cars discovered in chop shops. "We will see vehicles that are at a junkyard to be scrapped for essentially just their recycled weight metal. And then we will see them being prepped and ready to be shipped overseas for the complete [vehicle] or in parts."

He said if a car isn't found in two or three days, it's likely already in pieces or will be found with a lot of damage.

Theft Arrests

Helen Chambers got her car back multiple times, each time with more damage done than the last time. She is still waiting and hoping for someone to be arrested for taking her Tucson. And, she's not alone.

According to Chicago police data, in 2023, arrests have been made in 5% of thefts. That's down from a high point of 14% in 2014. The majority of cases are considered "suspended."

Attacking the problem

Chambers has resorted to removing the battery from her Hyundai Tucson when she's not using it to keep it safe.

Chicago police, which received nearly $1.5 million from the Secretary of State for its Major Auto Theft Investigations team this year, said in the following statement what it's doing to attack the problem:

"The Chicago Police Department is actively working to address the increase in motor vehicle thefts. Many of these vehicles are stolen and used in violent crimes that include shootings and armed robberies. To strengthen these investigations we are leveraging technology to help identify and apprehend the individuals and crews committing the thefts. Grant funding from the Illinois Secretary of State has also helped CPD invest in additional technology, data analysis and equipment. Steering wheel locks were also purchased for distribution to community members using this grant funding.

Additionally we have enhanced internal coordination between the Bureau of Patrol and Bureau of Detectives, who meet weekly to collaborate on strategies aimed at combating motor vehicle thefts and robberies.

As these motor vehicle thefts increased, the Department expanded community outreach to provide vehicle theft prevention tips and awareness. The Office of Community Policing also launched Vehicle Safety Days to distribute steering wheel locks and catalytic converter etchings that can help prevent vehicle thefts."

Hyundai sent the following statement regarding vulnerabilities in their vehicles and the increased number of models stolen this year in Chicago:

"Hyundai is committed to the comprehensive actions we are undertaking to assist customers and communities affected by the persistent theft of certain vehicles not equipped with push-button ignitions and engine immobilizers.  Our dealers across the country are maximizing the number of anti-theft software installations that can be performed on a daily basis, contributing to steadily increasing completion rates, which we report to NHTSA weekly.  Hyundai recently piloted mobile service centers in Washington, D.C. (Link), St. Louis County, MO (Link) and plans to replicate in additional markets through year-end to further scale and speed installation of the software upgrade.  We remain committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products, all of which are fully compliant with federal anti-theft requirements.  Engine immobilizers are now standard on all Hyundai vehicles produced as of November 2021. For additional information, viewers can visit"

Kia sent the following statement regarding the high number of their vehicles stolen in Chicago this year:

"Kia continues to take action to help our customers by making it more difficult for criminals to use methods of theft recently popularized on social media to steal certain vehicle models.

In addition to recently announcing an agreement that will allow customers who have been impacted by vehicle thefts to receive additional benefits, Kia has  notified all eligible owners and lessees of these vehicle models – over 3 million total – that they are able to receive the free security software upgrade that we have developed. To date, more than 820,000 vehicles nationwide have received the upgrade, which is designed to restrict the operation of the vehicle's ignition system should a potential criminal attempt to steal a locked vehicle without the key.

Kia continues to spread awareness about its availability through a dedicated website with detailed information at, hosting off-site events in multiple cities to make it easier for eligible customers to have the upgrade installed, including the Chicago area in the near future, and partnering with Carfax to inform owners that their vehicle is eligible for the upgrade.

We also continue to provide steering wheel locks to owners of impacted vehicles that are not eligible for the software upgrade at no cost to them. Customers can obtain free, Kia-provided locks through their local law enforcement, or they can request a steering wheel lock from Kia directly through the dedicated website noted above. To date, we have distributed more than 280,000 locks and we will continue to provide them as they are needed.  

Lawsuits filed by municipalities against Kia are without merit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has publicly stated that it has not determined that this issue constitutes either a safety defect or non-compliance requiring a recall under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Kia has been and continues to be willing to work cooperatively with law enforcement agencies across Chicago and Illinois to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it, and we remain committed to supporting our customers and to vehicle security."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.