Big Pickups Are Still The Rides Of Choice Among Car Thieves

Apparently some things never change, even during a pandemic. The Ford F-150 pickup truck remained the most popular ride in the U.S. during 2020, both among new vehicle buyers and car thieves. That’s according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s annual “Hot List” of the most frequently stolen vehicles as submitted by law enforcement to the National Crime Information Center. 

And that’s on top of an unprecedented surge in vehicle thefts reported during 2020, when a large number of cars and trucks were left vulnerable while parked on the streets and in driveways for extended periods due to lockdowns and work-at-home policies. The NICB says U.S. crooks got their hands on 880,595 cars, trucks, and SUVs during 2020, which represents a sizable 10.9 percent increase over 2019’s stats.

“Auto thefts saw a dramatic increase in 2020 versus 2019 in part due to the pandemic, an economic downturn, law enforcement realignment, depleted social and schooling programs, and, in still too many cases, owner complacency,” says David Glawe, president and CEO of the NICB. 

As in past years, the vehicles that are most targeted by thieves are not flashy sports cars or costly luxury models, but are rather well worn older models that tend to blend into a crowded parking lot. Of the 10 hottest rides on the road during 2020, all four domestic-brand pickup trucks are not only represented, but saw double-digit increases in reported thefts. The rest are mainly mainstream sedans (and one SUV) from Japanese automakers. 

Generally, older high-volume vehicles are taken more often than newer luxury vehicles and sports cars because they’re worth more than the sum of their parts, so to speak. They’re typically driven off, or even towed away to a “chop shop” where they’re dismantled into components that can be passed off to unscrupulous vendors and sold to repair shops and consumers, often via the Internet. 

Catalytic converters are particularly popular among thieves these days for the precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium that are used to convert an engine’s environmentally hazardous emissions into less harmful gasses. A “recycled” converter is reportedly worth between $50 and $250 on the illegal market. Adept crooks can cut a converter from a vehicle’s engine compartment in a flash, right where it’s parked and in full daylight.

According to NICB’s Operations, Intelligence, and Analytics study of reported thefts, there were 108 catalytic reported converter thefts per month on average in 2018, 282 average monthly thefts reported in 2019, and 1,203 average thefts reported per month in 2020. 

The NICB recommends heeding common sense to help thwart car thieves. That means parking in a well-lit area, locking the vehicle when unattended, and never leaving the keys or a remote key fob in a storage cubby or cup holder. That latter notion may sound like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of motorists come back to their parking spots at gas stations, convenience stores, and the like each year to find their ride has been driven off.

It’s always prudent to install an anti-theft device to add a layer of vehicular security, especially one that protects the catalytic converter. At the least, the NICB recommends having a simple hidden “kill switch” installed that disables the ignition system while parked. A better solution is to use a tracking device such as Lojack or an automaker’s telematics system that leverages GPS for remote monitoring of a vehicle via a smartphone or personal computer.

Here are the 10 most stolen vehicles in the U.S. during 2020, according to the NICB, with the most “popular” model year noted along with the total number of units from all model years taken:

  1. Ford F-150 (2006): 44,014
  2. Chevrolet Silverado (2004): 40,968
  3. Honda Civic (2000): 34,144
  4. Honda Accord (1997): 30,814
  5. Toyota Camry (2019): 16,915
  6. Nissan Altima (2020): 14,668
  7. GMC Sierra (2005): 13,016
  8. Toyota Corolla (2020): 12,515
  9. Honda CR-V (2000): 12,309
  10. Dodge/Ram Pickup (2001) 11,991


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