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18 Things Car Thieves Won’t Tell You

Is your car about to be stolen? Experts reveal what catches a car thief’s eye when looking for a new target and how you can protect your vehicle.

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These are the cars we steal the most

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) compiles an annual Hot Wheels report, which lists the top ten most stolen cars in the United States. Here are the top targets from the most recent report and the most stolen model year for each:

  1. Honda Accord (1997)
  2. Honda Civic (1998)
  3. Ford Pickup (full size) (2006)
  4. Chevrolet Pickup (full size) (2004)
  5. Toyota Camry (2016)
  6. Nissan Altima (2015)
  7. Dodge Pickup (full size) (2001)
  8. Toyota Corolla (2015)
  9. Chevrolet Impala (2008)
  10. Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee (2000)

Close up of Tire tread old carChirachai Phitayachamrat/Shutterstock

We love older cars

When you think of the car thieves you see in movies or TV shows, they’re usually after high end, luxury sports cars. And while those do get stolen in real life, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you would think. Thieves target older cars because they’re much easier to steal.

“In the 2000s, most vehicles started to come equipped with more advanced ignition systems such as chipped keys that need to be in proximity to the dash for the car to start,” says Marc Hinch, an auto theft investigator and creator of stolen911.com. “Many of the vehicles prior to this time are easy to start if you know how to manipulate the ignition.”

If your car was built more than 20 years ago, Hinch recommends taking extra security precautions, like installing steering wheel locks, aftermarket alarm systems, or ignition immobilizers. There are even GPS tracking systems that can send you alerts if your car starts moving unexpectedly. Trust us, they're worth the money. What you really need to look out for are these 7 ways you're wasting money on your car.

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We have a favorite state

Sorry, California residents, but you’re already at risk. California has consistently been the state with the most car thefts since 1960. And according to Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the NICB, there has never been a close runner-up.

Machine engine components Engine PartsMR.TEERASAK KHEMNGERN/Shutterstock

We want your car for the parts

Car thieves aren’t just looking for a new ride. They’re most likely going to resell parts of your car, especially if it has custom wheels, a custom engine, or high-end seats. If not, they’re doing it to help facilitate another crime, go for a joy ride, or win a dare.

Night crime - the broken window of the car and abduction of things from a box on the forward panelShevelev Vladimir/Shutterstock

And sometimes, we don’t even care about the car

Hinch says that car break-ins are actually more common than actual car thefts, mostly because people often forget that they left valuables like laptops and purses in their vehicles.

Bunch Of Keys on the Car SeatsNichcha/Shutterstock

Don’t assume your neighborhood is safe

Thieves know you’ll think that and act upon it. As part of a plea agreement, a car thief told Hinch that he and his crew would walk through a nice-looking neighborhood at night, checking for unlocked cars. About one out of six unlocked cars had a spare key inside.

An Image of Notebook ComtuperKPG_Payless/Shutterstock

If your car gets stolen, it’s probably your fault

Our experts say that a lot of car thefts could have been prevented if the owner had only made sure he locked the car or not left it running when she ran into Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee. These common security slip-ups are basically invitations for thieves to take your vehicle. Another common mistake is leaving valuables in plain sight. Race car driver and automotive expert Lauren Fix says “valuables” include the obvious items like laptops, purses, and GPS units, but that thieves will even go for money in the center console and closed bags that simply look like something of worth may be inside. Here are 9 more things you should never leave in your car.

Cars in the parking lot in rowalika/Shutterstock

Public parking lots are like a gold mine

Whether they’re at the airport, the mall, the gym, or the stadium, public parking lots and garages are an ideal location for car thefts. There’s a whole assortment of cars to choose from, and many don’t have adequate security. “In short, if the public has access to your vehicle, then it is at risk of theft,” Scafidi says. Avoid leaving your car on the outskirts of a lot, park as close to the building entrance as possible, and make sure your car is in view of a surveillance system.

Underground parking/garage (shallow DOF; color toned image)l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock

The more hidden your car is, the better (for us)

Another reason parking garages are a prime target for car theft is that thieves are less likely to be spotted there, as opposed to somewhere right on the street. Former car thief Steve Fuller told ABC News that he often chose dark, secluded locations for his jobs. "I liked it because it's quiet. I can hear if somebody was coming," Fuller said. "All I really have to deal with was somebody coming down from their apartment to get in their vehicle, and at that time in the middle of the night it's not usually that often."

Street lamp with blue sky background.MemoPlus/Shutterstock

The way you park makes a difference

Luckily, there are precautions you can take against thieves who frequent parking garages. “Park your vehicle with the front end facing an obstacle, such as a wall or guardrail, whenever possible,” Fix tells Reader’s Digest. “This makes it harder for thieves to tow or roll your car away if they can’t get it started.” If you’re on the street, she recommends parking under a light, turning the wheels toward the curb, and locking the steering wheel. That’ll make it harder for someone to tow away your car.

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