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Vehicle Thefts Down In 2009, But Fewer Vehicles Recovered

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'Theft proof' car graphic

'Theft proof' car graphic

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Annual crime figures were released this week by the U.S. FBI, and on the vehicle front there's some good news: For one, vehicle theft is way down. It's apparent that all the anti-theft measures—like alarms, immobilizers, and more sophisticated ignition locks—introduced by automakers over the past several year are altogether working and deterring all but the most determined thieves.

Overall, motor-vehicle thefts dropped by 17.1 percent nationwide, down to an estimated 794,616 thefts. Compared to 2000 figures, vehicle thefts were down 31.5 percent, while they were down an even more impressive 35.7 percent from 2005.

While that's the good news, the other way to look at it is that law enforcement clearly isn't recovering as many stolen vehicles as they used to. LoJack Corporation, which sells devices aimed at more effective stolen-vehicle recovery, noted that the overall recovery rate is at its lowest in 25 years, with about 343,000 stolen vehicles never returned back to the owner.

Motor-vehicle theft was down markedly in suburban and metropolitan areas (around 12 and 13 percent, respectively), but thefts in rural areas fell by just six percent. Thefts were down a noteworthy 22.4 percent within cities with a population of one million or more. Theft rates overall remain highest in cities with population between 250,000 and 1,000,000.

Still, $5.2 billion was lost in 2009 to motor-vehicle theft, according to the FBI figures, and the average amount lost per vehicle was $6.505.

Theft from a motor vehicle isn't showing the same positive trends; it was up 1.2 percent from last year, with a whopping 1,488,948 reports. Thefts of motor-vehicle accessories—things that are attached to the vehicle, like sound systems, wheels, or trim—were down ten percent but were still very significant, at 494,000 incidents.

Motor-vehicle theft remains highest overall in the South and West, with theft rates of trucks and buses also making up a higher portion of the total vehicles stolen in those regions.

Overall, the value of the property stolen in 2009 was about $4.55 billion, with $2.56 billion (57 percent) of that recovered. Last year, $5.64 billion was stolen, with about $3.22 billion (roughly the same percent) recovered.

So don't let your guard down. Take some basic precautions, follow these tips, and don't leave yourself an easy target to thieves.


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