Why Are Old Cars Stolen?

According to State Farm,

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB®) has compiled a list of the 10 vehicles most frequently reported stolen in the U.S. in 2005.

  1. 1991 Honda Accord
  2. 1995 Honda Civic
  3. 1989 Toyota Camry
  4. 1994 Dodge Caravan
  5. 1994 Nissan Sentra
  6. 1997 Ford F150 Series
  7. 1990 Acura Integra
  8. 1986 Toyota Pickup
  9. 1993 Saturn SL
  10. 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup

This doesn’t match my expectations at all. With the single exception of the 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup, these are all a decade old or older. Can anyone explain why?

Some possible guesses:

  • More market for parts for older cars. (Newer cars either haven’t broken down yet, or under warranty and are fixed with OEM replacement parts.)
  • Older cars have less effective anti-theft systems.
  • Drivers who want a new car are committing insurance fraud. (The problem with this hypothesis is that insurance companies won’t even write comprehensive policies on cars with such low Blue Book values.)
  • More of these cars on the road so they’re stolen more.
  • Thieves are more familiar with the systems on these cars.
  • Drivers don’t take as much care protecting ten year old cars by locking the doors, putting the Club on, and so forth.
  • The figures are misreported. This is really the cumulative number of thefts over a lifetime, not the number of thefts in the single year of 2005.

Can anyone explain this?

13 Responses to “Why Are Old Cars Stolen?”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    The first explanation was what the cops told me when my decade-old car was stolen some 20 years ago. It turned out to be wrong in my particular case (it had been grabbed for a joy-ride), but when I got it back, it was completely stripped (not only no battery, but no wiring, and with many other parts missing). I have dark suspicions of the city employees at the lot where it sat for six weeks after being found before anyone notified me.

    Fortunately for me, my mechanic managed to get all the storage fees dropped — I only ended up paying a towing charge to get rid of the useless hulk.

  2. robert Says:

    Poor people are stealing each others’ cars?

  3. Gordon Weakliem Says:

    The little bit of research I did on this would seem to indicate that it’s the secondary / reconditioned parts market. If that’s true, it makes you wonder about buying reconditioned or scrap parts. There’s also some belief that the street racing scene is driving much of the market for certain models.

    “Some of the most frequently stolen cars were also the most frequently sold cars a few years earlier, leading one to believe that they are being stolen for parts.” http://www.crimedoctor.com/autotheft1.htm

    “One reason for these vehicles being the most frequently stolen is the high demand for their parts which are either no longer manufactured or are too difficult or expensive to obtain. In some areas of the country, these parts are in high demand by “tuners” and “street racers”. Another reason for these particular makes and models being so frequently stolen is that they are very popular vehicles that have been sold in the U.S. for a long time, therefore, there are simply more of them available to steal.”


  4. Adam Says:

    My guess is “Older cars have less effective anti-theft systems”. I have heard this is also true of the Dodge Ram Pickup.

  5. Brad Says:

    The list contains all the top models sold during the 90’s, so there is a large volume of used vehicles not only in the US, but in Mexico, Central and South America, and other countries, that creates a demand for parts. Plus most car parts don’t change from year to year. So a 1991 Honda Accord is also good source of parts for Honda cars between 1987 and 1996. And what can’t be stripped and easily sold, is usually metal which can be sold as scrap.

    And there is good money in scrap metal. For example, down here in the Oklahoma/Texas area there is a real problem right now with copper thief. The price of copper is high. Thieves are now stealing the freshly installed wiring and plumbing out of new housing developments, or the A/C condenser coils from outside of homes.

    So why older cars? A large number sold creates a large demand for used parts. Certain years provide the best return on investment. Cars are made of metal and metal is always money.

    Plus, anti-theft system may give you a warm feeling and may stop the occasional crack head, but it won’t stop the professionals.

  6. Car Buff Says:

    Not too many alarms, and no one really cares if their 1991 Honda is stolen. It is not like someone is going to go on a manhunt, they would be happy with the insurance check.

  7. Amy! Says:

    Umm. With respect to previous posters … EINSUFFICIENTCONTEXT

    That is: how much difference is there between these top ten? Is the variation statistically significant? Is there a statistically significant gap between these 10 and the next 90? The next 990? That is, if the thousandth most-stolen make/model/year had 948 stolen (together with 200 other make/model/years), and the top 6 had 9500 stolen … then it may be altogether pointless to order them in this fashion.

    Secondly, shouldn’t the additional context of number-sold be supplied? If 1000 1991 Honda Accords were stolen, of 1,000,000 sold, and 1 2000 GUAC Xyzzys* of only 100 sold, then although the less-distributed vehicle would disappear into the noise in a simple “top ten” style list, it has a theft risk of 1/100 versus the Honda’s 1/1000. For extra credit, add in the reliability of the vehicles in question (which ones are still on the road?).

    Still, the question seems to be, more broadly, not “which cars are most at risk?” but “why do ten-year-old cars appear on the list, while brand-new cars don’t?” Again, context matters: one current-year vehicle (treating 2004 as current year for 2005 statistics; it would be the last year to have sold out completely) appears in the list; what’s in the next 90, and how much difference is there between #100 and #1? Is the difference statistically significant; does it remain statistically significant when the number of vehicles sold is factored in? Sheer availability will drive these statistics, although one might expect there to be about as many Honda Accords sold this year as in 1991 (but it might depend upon the accounting used as well: if more recent years are divided into Accord Hybrid versus Accord YX versus Accord ZX versus Accord LemmaX, and earlier accounting lumped all the Accords together, again it would skew the statistics).

    So, where’s this list from (not Letterman, one hopes)? Is more context available?

    * Great Underground Automotive Corporation, model Xyzzy. Mostly notable because when you turn the key, unless you’re in exactly the right place, nothing happens.**

    ** Plugh!

  8. Amy! Says:


    s/9500/950/ Or s/948/9480/ Just make them the same magnitude.

  9. Amy! Says:

    Following up some more (dunno why, just caught my interest or something):

    https://www.nicb.org/cps/rde/xchg/SID-4031FE9B-4B9E12A5/nicb/hs.xsl/72.htm is the report linked from State Farm. It’s statistically useless, on the whole. Useful bits:

    In 2005, 1,235,226 motor vehicles were reported stolen

    This report reflects only stolen vehicle data reported to NCIC in 2005. No further filtering of information is conducted, i.e., determining the total number of a particular make and model currently registered in the U.S. for comparison purposes.

    [end of quotes] Consequently: insufficient context. If each of the top ten had 10 stolen (and there were 250,000 make/model/years stolen, in total), it approaches random noise; if each of the top ten had 1000 stolen, then they would make up an appreciable fraction of the million-and-a-quarter.

    Note that NICB seems to reserve its most outraged adjectives for fraud (whether of owners or of chop shops charging OEM prices) rather than theft. This is probably not a consumer-oriented organization.

    NICB doesn’t provide further information, not even other aggregates except for the ones that support the particular points that they’re making (percentage of theft by region may be amusing, but failure to define the region’s boundaries makes it worthless). The raw data, in a time series, would be more interesting. For instance, is it possible that when cars fall out of the mainstream dealerships and junkyards (the decade mark), they become more interesting to thieves? Is sheer newness a theft deterrent (I can imagine a fence responding scatalogically when presented with a 2007 Rolls Royce: “I can’t move this piece of $%^&*! Get it out of here, you %^&* meathead!”). Is there a blue book value threshold *under* which a car is more interesting to thieves?

    Insomniac minds want to know.


  10. Xan Gregg Says:

    Good points, Amy!. It’s frustrating that news releases and even scientific papers only given us the summary data and not the raw data needed to really understand the context of the summary data.

    I found another set of summary data on theft loss at the Highway Loss Data Institute, http://www.iihs.org/brochures/ictl/ictl.html. They show relative theft loss of each model, taking into account popularity and age. They don’t provide a ranking, but you can see that the Accord has a very low score and sporty cars are at the high end of theft risk. There’s a different report every few years and each report only covers recent models, so it still doesn’t help answer Elliotte’s question about age being a factor.

  11. Stwong Says:

    Xan Gregg: It should be noted that the link to the online IIHS brochure has hotlink protection enabled for some reason. One has to copy and paste the link to get it to work, otherwise the server returns a 404 error (instead of a 403, making it doubly stupid).

  12. mike m Says:

    just 4 days ago my 1994 olds cutlass ciera was stolen from outside my job it was rust free gerogia car but had some problems like broken front markeriight and cracked windshield it had a toggle switch to turn on the radiator fan and some interior pieces were missing it had 163,000 on it my question is why a 94 cutlass ciera and they still havent found it well thats chicago for you..

  13. The Daily Times Says:

    An interesting view of the automotive industry. Where do you see the future of the industry, will it ever recover or will there be major casulties?

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