When Amanda Pogany's '96 Honda Accord disappeared from her Brooklyn home in 2006, police told her not to expect it back, according to news reports. More than three years later, an officer called to tell her that the car had been recovered. In fact, it was better than ever. It had a new V-8 engine, oversized wheels and designer hubcaps -- complements of a motor enthusiast who unknowingly purchased the car from thieves.
Unfortunately, a happy ending is not common for most victims of auto theft. "Once it's gone, chances of recovery are slim," said Kim Hazelbaker of the Highway Loss Data Institute. "New cars are taken and shipped overseas or driven across the Mexican border. Older cars are parted out."
Top 10 most stolen vehicles
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1. '94 Honda Accord
2. '95 Honda Civic
3. '91 Toyota Camry
4. '97 Ford F-150 Pickup
5. '04 Dodge Ram Pickup
6. '00 Dodge Caravan
7. '94 Full Size Chevrolet Pickup
8. '94 Acura Integra
9. '02 Ford Explorer
10. '09 Toyota Corolla
Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau, based on 2009 thefts
The most-stolen cars
Each year, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) issues its "Hot Wheels" list. Billed as the only comprehensive report on stolen vehicles that reviews all incidents of theft regardless of insurance status, the newest list ranks the top 10 stolen models nationwide in 2009. In addition, it breaks down the top stolen cars by state.
People who drive a '94 Honda Accord may want to spend some extra time looking over their shoulders. The popular import was the most-stolen car in the United States in 2009. It's followed by the '95 Honda Civic and then the '91 Toyota Camry. However, thieves' tastes in stolen vehicles varies by region. Crooks in southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi are partial to '95 full-size Chevrolet pickups, while '00 Dodge Caravans are the vehicle of choice in Ohio, Missouri and Michigan. According to NICB's report, car thieves presently prefer to steal car models from the 90s. However, the '05 Dodge Ram took the top spot in New Mexico, while the '05 Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee was the rage among crooksin Vermont.
Avoid having your car stolen
According to Terri Miller, executive director of H.E.A.T. (Help Eliminate Auto Theft), a private-public partnership in Michigan, using common sense goes a long way towards preventing auto theft. Parking your car in your garage, for example, is an effective deterrent.
"We keep our junk in the garage and our valuables out on the street," said Miller, referring to people who park their nice cars in the road because their garage is overflowing with junk. In addition to parking your vehicle in the garage, Miller advises auto owners to always lock their vehicles and remove valuables, including GPS devices and their brackets, iPods and laptops.
Anti-theft devices and systems can also slow down thieves. Installing a club on the steering wheel or an alarm system with a flashing light on the dashboard can be just enough to send garden-variety thieves looking for an easier target.
"There is lots of evidence that anti-theft devices in modern cars work," said Hazelbaker. He says that ignition immobilizers which cut off the power supply to the fuel pump are highly effective. For older vehicles, mechanics can install a kill-switch that owners flip when exiting their cars. A switch can often be installed for less than $200 and disconnects the vehicle's starter system.
Of course, professional thieves can be difficult to deter. "If you are driving a shiny, flashy Escalade down the street, a thief knows you have an anti-theft device," Hazelbaker said. Experienced thieves will simply load a high-end vehicle onto a flatbed truck and drive it to a different location. In those cases, it is best to simply avoid high-crime areas. "If you are concerned about your physical safety in an area," Hazelbaker said, "it's probably best not to leave your vehicle there."
What to do if your car is stolen
If you become a victim of auto theft, call the police. Then call your auto insurance company. Remember that only comprehensive car insurance covers auto theft, Of course, you will have to pay your deductible.
Miller offers one final suggestion to victims of auto theft: Go online to hunt down your missing wheels. "Craigslist is a hotbed for selling stolen property," she said. Many auto thieves list vehicles online at "too good to be true" prices in hope of a quick sale. Keep an eye on the used-auto sales ads in your city and adjoining areas, or download a Craigslist application for your smart phone to be notified of new listings matching your vehicle.
If your stolen car is never recovered, you must have comprehensive auto insurance in order to make a claim. Your auto insurance company will pay you the value of your vehicle at the time of the theft, minus your deductible.