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Worst car-theft cities for 2014

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Northern and Central California continue to dominate the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s latest auto-theft Hot Spots report.

The NICB measured vehicle theft rates per capita for 380 metropolitan areas based on reported 2014 vehicle thefts. California cities landed in seven of the 10 worst spots. (See the list.)

Your car was safest, by the way, in State College, Pennsylvania. Here are the 10 hottest spots for car thefts:

No. 10: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California

  • Thefts: 10,531
  • Car theft rate: 539.26 per 100,000 population

Thefts in this metropolis at the south end of San Francisco Bay actually fell a bit, with the city improving from No. 9 last year. The theft rate has dropped from 623.42 in 2012.

The most-stolen car models in California, according to NICB’s annual Hot Wheels report, are the 1996 Honda Accord and 1998 Honda Civic. (See the most-stolen cars by state.)

No. 9: Fresno, California

  • Thefts: 5,260
  • Car theft rate: 544.53

Reported thefts dropped 22 percent in this central California city, and so did its ranking, which improved from No. 2 last year.  The theft rate has fallen from 797.87 in 2012.

No. 8: Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington

  • Thefts: 20,268
  • Car theft rate: 552.04

Thefts in the Puget Sound region rose by 12 percent last year and are up 28 percent since 2012. In the city of Seattle alone, thefts topped 5,400 in 2014, up from about 3,500 in 2012, according to police department records. The city says it’s successfully cutting that number by using automated license-plate readers and targeting neighborhoods with the worst records. The area ranked 13th last year.

No. 7: Vallejo-Fairfield, California

  • Thefts: 2,414
  • Car theft rate: 559.92

The theft rate in this string of cities along I-80 north of San Francisco dropped a little last year, improving its ranking one notch.

A little more than half of stolen vehicles are eventually recovered, according to federal data. (See “What to do if your car is stolen.”).

No. 6: Spokane-Spokane Valley, Washington

  • Thefts: 3,032
  • Car theft rate: 560.49

While thefts fell slightly, Spokane law enforcement officers say it’s a persistent problem driven mostly by repeat offenders. “If there was one common denominator for the front line folks who do the actual stealing, it would be drugs,” a Washington State Patrol spokesman told The Inlander. “Usually meth.” One local car dealer told the news site that he loses 10 cars a year to thieves.

No. 5: Modesto, California

  • Thefts: 3,047
  • Car theft rate: 572.75

While Modesto’s ranking of No. 5 may not let residents feel good about leaving their cars unattended, it’s a vast improvement over 2012, when the city’s theft rate of 816.52 was the worst in the country.

Car owners are not insured against theft unless they have bought comprehensive coverage as part of their auto insurance policy. It is typically among the least expensive coverages for most drivers.

About 60 percent of drivers buy comprehensive, but the ones least likely to buy it are most likely to need it. According to Insurance.com data, by the time most vehicles are 15 years old, only a third of owners buy comprehensive, and that falls to 20 percent by 20 years old. (See what drivers like you buy.)

No. 4: Odessa, Texas

  • Thefts: 886
  • Car theft rate: 575.68

Odessa recorded a 16 percent jump in thefts last year. The city’s policy department told local news station KWES-TV that almost all the stolen vehicles had their keys left inside. In 2012, Odessa ranked 25th.

No. 3: Stockton-Lodi, California

  • Thefts: 4,245
  • Car theft rate: 593.21

Thefts have remained stubbornly high in the small central California city and surrounding communities. Anti-theft task forces have given away free steering wheel locks to residents who own the nine most frequently stolen models in the area, topped by 1990s-vintage Hondas, Toyotas and Acuras.

No. 2: Bakersfield, California

  • Thefts: 5,211
  • Car theft rate: 595.82

You wouldn’t know it from its ranking, but the car theft picture in Bakersfield has gotten a lot  brighter since last year. The central California city improved on its worst-in-the-nation ranking for 2013, with actual thefts falling by 17 percent.

No. 1: San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California

  • Thefts: 29,093
  • Car theft rate: 633.27

It’s not so much that car thefts have gotten worse in the Bay Area. It’s that most other places are doing a lot better. Car thefts nationwide peaked in 1991 at more than 1.6 million; in 2013 that number was less than 700,000.

San Francisco’s theft rate hasn’t budged since 2012.

One possible improvement looms: Currently, car theft victims have only 20 minutes to claim their recovered cars before towing charges of nearly $500 kick in. A new proposal would waive fees for up to 48 hours.

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