Auto Theft Rates Declining Everywhere Except…


Auto theft is down. Way, way down. In 2010, it dropped more than 7 percent and the preliminary numbers for 2011 seem to indicate another drop of 3.3%. Car owners and their auto insurance companies should be thrilled. But it’s not down everywhere. The West is still seeing the most car theft…especially the state of California.

Why Is It Down?
Car theft is down across the country for any number of reasons. Police have been taking it more seriously, working to trap individual car thieves and break up chop shops and other thievery rings. Meanwhile, auto makers have been working on new anti-theft devices that substantially drive up the costs and difficulty of stealing a car.

For example, many late-model cars now come with a device in the lock that gets transmitted a specific code from inside your key. No code, no way in: even if you’ve somehow correctly picked the lock.

Sometimes, auto makers have simply changed their approach: instead of using a mechanical lock, which can be levered via inserting a thin hooked piece of steel between the window and the door panel, they use an electric lock. Or, they simply make it impossible to hook the lock by installing a block for it.

And all of this is before any after-market devices. Thieves now have to worry about GPS trackers being installed on cars, or something as simple as a cell phone left in a glove compartment giving them away.

Where Are the Rates Not Going Down?
Nonetheless, there are some communities where car theft is going up and is a real problem. The bottom 10 cities are:

1. Fresno, CA

2. Modesto, CA

3. Bakersfield-Delano, CA

4. Spokane, WA

5. Yakima, WA

6. San Francisco, CA

7. Stockton, CA

8. Anderson, SC

9. Vallejo-Fairfield, CA

10. Visalia-Porterville, CA

So what’s going on? Why is car theft so stubbornly high, especially in California?

  • Desperation: California has an 11% unemployment rate, up from 6% in 2008. Most of the nation, on a state by state basis, isn’t doing quite as badly as California in this respect, and that’s a strong contributing factor. It’s also worth noting that these are some of the hardest-hit areas of a hard-hit state in this respect. It may be less that car theft is a way of life in these areas, and much more that some people are just out of options.
  • Easy Access To Ports: Another point is that California has several ports that it’s easy to ship stolen cars, or stolen car parts, out of. This puts it in a different position than most of the country, especially in regards to price. True, car parts can sell for a pretty penny. But a fully-assembled car can also sell for a lot of money, especially overseas.
  • Car Culture: Finally, there’s the simple fact that there’s an abundance of cars in California. The state has always had a strong car culture; whether people are talking about driving a convertible along the California coast or making jokes about the freeways in Los Angeles. The simple fact of the matter is that everybody needs a car in most of California, and there are many, many cars to choose from as a result.

This isn’t to say the news is all bad. As high as the rate of car thefts is in California relative to the rest of the country, the overall number of thefts in the area is actually down compared to the previous years. As car safety improves, and the economy starts making jobs, even the worst places to own a car will become better.

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