HPD: How To Prevent Your Car From Being Stolen

The top ten vehicles stolen in the U.S. in 2012 were all trucks and SUVs, according to one insurance group. But the Houston Police Department's Auto Theft division says it doesn't matter what kind of vehicle you drive, if you don't secure it properly, you might as well hand over the keys.

According to the Highway Loss Data Institute — an insurance industry backed research group — the four-wheel-drive Ford F-250 crew cab pickup is the vehicle most vulnerable to theft.

The Cadillac Escalade, which had previously topped the list, dropped to sixth.

But determining what vehicle is truly the most popular among thieves is not as cut-and-dry as some may think.

Frank Scafidi is with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to insurance fraud and vehicle theft. He says the older foreign makes are in hot demand for auto thieves.

"The reason for that mostly is because they're so many more of them sold; so many more of them remain in service. You know, in a way, it's a back handed compliment because they are durable, and the people that own these vehicles tend to keep them in good shape."

He says another reason for their popularity are their parts.

"If they want to get a fender replaced, they take it to a local body shop and have it done. Well, very often we find that the parts in many body shops that they're used for repairs such as this, wind up being supplied by stolen vehicles."

According to the Houston Police Department, auto theft has gone down consistently since the early 90s, but the market for parts has not. Officer Jim Woods has been a member of the HPD Auto Theft division for more than 20 years. He calls auto theft the 'gateway' crime.

"They're never gonna use their own vehicle, whether it be to conduct another robbery, to break into a convenience store to steal an ATM, or use it to burglarize somebody's residence, or commit an aggravated robbery at a bank. They don't ever want to drive their own cars, so you know what, it's always better to take somebody else's, and hopefully it can't be tracked back to you."

And while the newer makes and models are equipped with more anti-theft devices, the human element does not make them completely fool-proof.

"Don't leave the keys in the car. That just creates a theft that is easily preventable, but there are a lot of cases where the car is taken by other means and that's not something you could have prevented. Because they know how to defeat the ignition, they know how to be able to break into the car and be able to get the car off and drive it on down the road."

Thanks to new technology, hot-wiring — the crook's tried-and-true method of stealing a vehicle — has become more challenging. Still, auto theft continues to be a big money headache for drivers and insurance companies.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...