AAA warns about rise in vehicle thefts

Most Americans work hard to afford their vehicles, which is all the more reason to protect them from ending up in the hands of thieves. July is National Vehicle Theft Prevention Month. AAA and its safety partners are taking the opportunity to warn about the rise in vehicle theft, noting that the surge in auto thefts is costly for all vehicle owners.

Vehicle thefts nationwide surpassed the 1 million mark in 2022 for the first time in nearly 15 years, according to data from the National Crime Information Center. Last year, vehicle theft rose 7% over the year before, to 1,001,967, the highest since 2008 when 1.05 million vehicle thefts were reported.

It’s estimated that approximately one motor vehicle is stolen every 32 seconds, with passenger vehicles making up about 74% of all stolen vehicles.

A costly crime for all

Vehicle theft is among the nation’s most costly property crimes and affects more than just the theft victims.

“Vehicle theft has become a multi-billion-dollar industry in the U.S., costing vehicle owners more than $8 billion in 2022 alone,” says Morgan Dean, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson for Virginia. “Regardless of whether or not it’s your vehicle that’s stolen, we all pay.”

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that about one-fourth of a typical comprehensive auto insurance premium goes to pay for auto theft claims. Since insurance is all about spreading the risk, the increase in vehicle theft nationwide is impacting premiums for everyone.

According to the NICB, there were 12,320 vehicles stolen in Virginia in 2021. That’s up 4% from 2020. In 2021, the commonwealth was ranked 43rd among states with the highest auto theft rate. 

Most Frequently Stolen Vehicles In The U.S. In 2021

(most common model year stolen)

  1. Chevrolet Full Size Pick-up(2004)
  2. Ford Full Size Pick-up(2006)
  3. Honda Civic(2000)
  4. Honda Accord(1997)
  5. Toyota Camry(2007)

Protecting vehicles from theft

Auto liability insurance is required in all 50 states, but AAA says coverage against theft―comprehensive coverage―is optional regardless of where you live.

“If you’re unsure whether you have comprehensive coverage, don’t wait until theft occurs to determine if you’re covered,” warns Dan Scroggins, CIC, Vice President, Personal Lines, AAA Club Alliance. He advises to speak with your insurance agent now. “A thorough policy review with your local agent will ensure that you’re properly covered,” he adds.

AAA has the following tips to prevent theft

  • Never leave your vehicle running with the key in it.
  • Never leave your keys in your parked vehicle. The convenient keyless feature is not only convenient for the car owner, it is convenient for the thief who can steal your car with the touch of a button.
  • Lock your car every time and everywhere you park it. Even without the keys inside, thieves are more likely to steal a car left unlocked.
  • Park your vehicle in a garage or a well-lit area. When not at home, always try to park in an area where suspicious activity would be noticeable.
  • Keep valuables stowed out of sight. Packages, shopping bags, electronics, weapons, money and other valuables visible from the outside invite thieves to break into your vehicle and even steal the vehicle itself.
  • Park with your front wheels turned sharply to the left or right. Apply your emergency brake. This can make it more difficult for thieves to tow your car.
  • To reduce the risk of carjacking, keep your car doors locked and windows rolled up when in your vehicle, beginning immediately upon entry. Never roll down your window for a suspicious or unknown person. Check your surroundings when walking to your vehicle. If a suspicious person is near your parked car, don’t approach it. Keep walking and contact security or the police.

To combat thieves, vehicle owners may want to take a four-layered approach to auto theft prevention. In addition to the common sense tips above that form the first layer of defense, the other three layers include a warning device, immobilizing device and tracking device.

There are numerous antitheft systems and devices designed to either make your vehicle less desirable to thieves or easier to trace and recover in case of theft. Here are how the additional three layers of theft protection work to protect your vehicle from thieves:

  • Warning devices. Audible devices, such as a horn alarm, deter theft by bringing attention when there is an unauthorized attempt to enter or steal a vehicle. Visible devices create a visual threat/warning/deterrence, such as the use of steering-wheel locks, as well as theft-deterrent decals, flashing lights, and VIN window etching.
  • Immobilizing devices. These devices keep thieves from bypassing a vehicle’s ignition system and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some incorporate computer chips in ignition keys or disable the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine.
  • Tracking and recovery systems. These devices use electronic transmission technology to help reveal the location of a stolen vehicle to law enforcement. In some cases, these devices can even help police catch the thief in the act.

While most vehicles today have factory-installed security systems, your car could still be vulnerable to theft. Despite the cost, having more than one theft deterrent is often well worth the upfront investment. Taking a multi-layered approach to deterring thieves could prevent your vehicle from becoming the next target.

What to do if you are a victim

If you are a victim of vehicle theft, AAA suggests taking the following steps:

  1. Contact police immediately to file a stolen-vehicle report. You will need to provide a copy of the police report and/or a case number to your insurance company. You will likely be asked to provide the following additional information:
    • License plate number;
    • Make, model, and color of your vehicle; and
    • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and any identifying characteristics.
  2. Contact your insurance company to file a claim within 24 hours of your vehicle being stolen. In addition to the police report, your insurance agent may ask for additional information. Keep in mind that valuables left in your stolen car are not covered under comprehensive auto insurance. However, they may be covered under your homeowner’s or renter’s policy.
  3. If you find your vehicle before authorities do, contact the police and your insurance company immediately.