myth: thieves are more likely to steal new cars

It seems like a no-brainer: Some hooligan has a choice between stealing a new Escalade valued at $60,000 and a '94 Accord worth less than $3,000. Surely, the Escalade's a goner, right? Wrong.

why thieves often target older cars

For a variety of reasons, older cars almost inevitably prove more attractive to car thieves. Year after year, older cars and trucks top the list of most-stolen vehicles due to the demand for and versatility of their parts. Read on to find out what cars and trucks thieves love to jack, why they love them, and what you can do to save yourself — and every other driver on the road — a little money.

the top 10 most stolen cars

Year after year, the top 10 cars and trucks on the National Insurance Crime Bureau's (NICB) Hot Wheels list are not the latest and greatest things to roll off the assembly line. Instead, they're the tried-and-true workhorses of the auto industry — popular yet unglamorous models like the Accord, Civic, Camry, and F-150. And we're not talking late-model versions of these popular car and truck lines.

Here's the NICB's list of most-stolen cars and trucks for 2014:

  1. 1996 Honda Accord
  2. 1998 Honda Civic
  3. 2006 Ford Pickup (Full Size)
  4. 1999 Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)
  5. 1991 Toyota Camry
  6. 2004 Dodge Pickup (Full Size)
  7. 2000 Dodge Caravan
  8. 2013 Nissan Altima
  9. 1994 Acura Integra
  10. 1996 Nissan Maxima

This list has proven remarkably stable over the past few years. In fact, many of the same vehicles have topped the most-stolen charts going all the way back to 2007.

As you can see, car thieves show a marked preference for older cars from longstanding model lines — cars that routinely sell very well year after year.

(stolen car) parts are greater than the whole (stolen car)

To understand why thieves prefer older models to newer ones, you have to understand why they steal cars in the first place.

Contrary to popular misconception, car thieves don't jack cars because they want them, or because they want to sell them — at least, the professionals don't. Car thieves usually steal in order to strip the car and sell its parts off piecemeal, generating far more funds than the car itself is worth. Thieves sometimes take newer models to either resell them in America with a counterfeit vehicle identification number (VIN) or ship them overseas, but the vast majority of stolen cars go to chop shops.

car repair and replacement parts

Many of these popular cars require repairs and replacement parts — parts that unscrupulous repair shops are only too happy to buy at significantly discounted prices. And since the cars' manufacturers often use the same parts in a variety of models, parts from a '96 Accord prove highly versatile, suitable for the same model from other manufacturing years and even for other models from the same manufacturer. This makes their parts flexible and therefore easier to unload — ideal characteristics in the car thief's mind.

car theft deterrents

There's also another factor to keep in mind: theft deterrents. Mid-'90s models usually lack the kind of sophisticated anti-theft devices so common in early 21st century cars and trucks. This makes older models significantly easier to steal.

what you can do to prevent car theft

Whether you own one of the most-stolen cars on the Hot Wheels list or lease a late-model Lotus, there are ways to help prevent theft. The NICB suggests a 4-layered approach:

  1. Use your common sense: All too often, drivers make it easy for thieves by leaving their cars unlocked with the keys in the ignition or "hidden" in some favorite spot. Make theft harder by locking your doors, rolling up your windows, and keeping your keys with you.
  2. Get a warning device: Installing an audio warning device such as a car alarm, and even popping a few "This Car Armed with an Anti-theft Device" stickers on your car, can also help.
  3. Install an immobilizing device: Think about adding a steering column collar (prevents hotwiring), steering wheel lock (remember The Club?), or getting a smart key to keep your ride safe.
  4. Spring for a tracking device: Skilled car thieves know their way around many security devices, so having a vehicle recovery system such as LoJack® or OnStar® can help track a stolen car's whereabouts.

Handily, car insurance companies hate car theft as much as you do. That's why you'll often get car insurance discounts for having such safety systems in place. You can also find out more about the NICB's anti-theft suggestions here.

the right car insurance coverage can help

There's one insurance choice you can make to mitigate the effects of theft: Buy comprehensive car insurance coverage. With comprehensive coverage in place, you'll be able to replace your stolen car without decimating your budget.

While many insurance experts suggest dropping comprehensive coverage on older-model cars, keeping it could lead to big savings if you're the proud owner of a '96 Accord. Comprehensive coverage with a $100 deductible costs just a few dollars a month, so replacing that Accord with a claim rather than out of pocket comes pretty cheap.

prevent theft and save on car insurance

No matter what make or model you drive, keep anti-theft options in mind and do your part to continue the downward trend in car theft — and help fellow drivers save on car insurance. Because the simple fact is that the less car insurance companies have to pay out for stolen-car claims, the lower car insurance premiums tend to be.

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