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What Car Thieves Look For and What You Can Do

Kathy Simpson

For many of us, a car is an essential part of daily life. We invest thousands of dollars in our cars, and some of us see them as extensions of ourselves and can’t make it through the day without them. We value our cars—but we’re not the only ones who do. Our cars are valued by thieves, too.

In 2016, there were 765,484 thefts on cars nationwide. This increased 7.4% since 2015. That’s a statistic no car owner wants to be a part of.

Modern security systems help deter car theft, but you can further minimize your risk by understanding what thieves look for and how they think, and by taking proactive steps to keep your car safe. It also helps to know what to do should you become an unwitting contributor to the FBI’s statistic.

Preferred Makes and Models for Car Thieves

Car thieves are opportunists. They’ll steal any car that’s an easy target, but certain makes and models rank high on their hit list.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NCIB) 2017 Hot Wheels Report, the Honda Civic was the number-one stolen car in 2017 and the Honda Accord a close second, a distinction both cars have held since 2007. A number of other imports, as well as American-made pickups, are also named on the NICB’s top-10 list of most stolen cars:

  1. 1998 Honda Civic
  2. 1997 Honda Accord
  3. 2006 Ford Pickup
  4. 2004 Chevrolet Pickup
  5. 2017 Toyota Camry
  6. 2016 Nissan Altima
  7. 2016 Toyota Corolla
  8. 2001 Dodge Pickup
  9. 2017 GMC Pickup
  10. 2008 Chevrolet Impala

What makes older cars such a popular target? Hondas, in particular, hold their resale value. Plus, thieves can profit by stripping them down and selling the parts to repair shops and scrap yards. Older cars are also easier to steal because they usually lack the advanced anti-theft protection that newer cars have.

Car Thieves’ Favorite Colors

The color of your car may increase its desirability among thieves. According to a survey by CCC Information Services, the top five colors of stolen vehicles are:

  1. Silver
  2. White
  3. Black
  4. Gold
  5. Dark green

These same colors are also among the most popular in new car sales. They’re not only in demand, they’re also ubiquitous, and therefore preferable to thieves who don’t want to draw attention to their crimes.

Most Susceptible Locations for Car Theft

The National Insurance Crime Bureau found that car thefts in 2017 were most prevalent in the West, particularly California. The top ten cities for car theft included:

  1. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  2. Anchorage, Alaska
  3. Pueblo, Colorado
  4. Redding, California
  5. St. Joseph, Missouri
  6. Bakersfield, California
  7. Modesto, California
  8. Stockton-Lodi, California
  9. Yuba City, California
  10. Springfield, Missouri

No matter what area of the country you live in, the odds of having your car stolen are highest in urban areas. Dark, secluded places are also prime sites favored by thieves because they can work undisturbed.

These include parking garages, shopping centers, large apartment complexes and anywhere large groups of cars are parked together for extended periods of time. Areas like these offer choice and also make it easier for thieves to see and hear when people are coming.

8 Ways to Prevent Car Theft

Now that you know what car thieves look for and where they prefer to do their work, what can you do to protect your car? Common sense tips can help:

  1. Lock your car, even when at home or stopping for quick errands. Double check that the doors are locked before walking away.
  2. Never leave your car running and unattended. It’s an open invitation for thieves.
  3. Never leave valuables in plain sight where they might tempt a passerby. Even bags and blankets on the car seat or floor may tempt thieves because those items could be concealing something of value. It’s best to move them out of view and to keep the interior of your car tidy.
  4. Close all windows and the sunroof when you’re not in the car. A window left open, even just a crack, may provide the entry point a thief needs to break in.
  5. Park in well-lit areas.
  6. Don’t keep a spare key in or around your car. Thieves know exactly where to look for them.
  7. Invest in an anti-theft system if you don’t already have one installed in your car. Options range from steering wheel locks and car alarms to electronic immobilizers and kill switches that prevent the car from being hot-wired.
  8. You can also have an electronic tracking system installed that will be activated if your car is stolen, allowing law enforcement to trace its location for a faster recovery.


Certain anti-theft systems can be easy to acquire. For instance, you can get a steering wheel lock at your local Walmart or auto parts store. These can fit old and new cars. For other anti-theft systems such as kill switches, you may want to hire an auto professional. Installing them yourself is an option, but can be tricky. Auto mechanics or other professionals can answer any questions you have regarding anti-theft devices for your specific vehicle.

What to Do If Your Car Is Stolen

If your car goes missing there are steps you should take immediately. They include:

  • Verifying that your car has actually been stolen and not towed.
  • Checking with area businesses or the parking lot attendant for more information, if your car was parked on private property.
  • Checking websites that allow you to quickly locate towed vehicles by entering a license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN). One website to consider for towed cars includes

If your car wasn’t towed or was on public property, contact the police immediately. They’ll ask you to complete a stolen vehicle report with details such as:

  • The car’s VIN
  • Make
  • Model
  • Year
  • Color
  • License plate number
  • Any distinguishing characteristics

If your car has Onstar installed, you may be able to GPS track it’s location. In addition to this, your Onstar services can actually remote block your ignition from starting or reduce the speed of your engine. This can help police catch up to thieves that have stolen your car. It can also prevent thieves from driving it too far. If your car is stolen, be sure to mention your Onstar services to police. It may help you locate your car faster.

Once you’ve filed the police report, contact your insurance company. To expedite the claim, be ready with all essential information, including:

  • The vehicle’s title
  • The location of all keys
  • The names of everyone who had access to the car
  • A list of personal property that was in the car at the time it was stolen

If you are leasing or financing the car, you’ll also need to report your loss to the lender.

Insurance Coverage for Car Theft

Most auto insurance policies cover car theft under comprehensive coverage and will reimburse you for the appraised value of your car, assuming it is not returned, or for damage that was done to the car as a result of the theft. Any parts that were stolen, such as your car stereo, may also be covered—provided they were permanently installed or attached to the vehicle. However, if you owe more on your car than it’s worth, you may want to consider gap insurance. This can help cover the difference between what your vehicle was worth when it was damaged and what you still owe on it. Essentially, it fills in the payment gap for you.

Other items that are stolen from the car, such as a cell phone or purse, would likely be covered under your homeowners insurance or rental insurance policy.

Statistically, vehicle thefts have been trending downward since their peak in 1991, which NICB credits to technology, law enforcement efforts and the creation of anti-theft organizations whose mission is to combat auto theft

But thieves are always finding new ways to adapt and hone their craft. Your preventive efforts can deter them and help ensure that your car remains safely in your possession.

Looking for more amazing car tips, tricks and trips? Find them in our monthly newsletter.

Learn about:

  • The causes of distracted driving and how to prevent them
  • The best national park road trips
  • The pros and cons of using your own car for a road trip

All this and more to help you enjoy the view from your trusted vehicle. Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

38 Responses to "What Car Thieves Look For and What You Can Do"

  • Sarah Packer | July 17, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    My son just got a new car, so I wanted tips on ensuring he's safe at all times. I didn't know the Honda Civic was the number one car stolen, as well as the Honda Accord, in 2017. My husband and son drive a Honda Accord, so I'll make sure they take precautions with their cars like having extra keys if you lock themselves out of the car and other car issues!

  • Extra Mile Staff | April 12, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks for reading, Don!

  • Don Rizzo | April 12, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    Thank you for the tips.

  • Extra Mile Staff | March 26, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    Sorry to hear about your car, Daniel.

  • daniel ferrari | March 26, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    My 2009 Audi A4 was stolen from my driveway, I had both remotes with me, I’m automotive technician and I was convinced that it was impossible to steal this car without the key...I guess I was wrong. They must use some kind of electronic device...this happened 3/22/2019 I’m still looking.

  • Eva Smith | January 28, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    I have OnStar and remote start. Can someone steal my car?

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks for your feedback, Carol!

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Chris.

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you!

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks for your feedback, Barbara!

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Great insight, thank you for sharing!

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you, Raul!

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Fay, if you are a AARP member check out our Driver Safety course here:

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    Great feedback, thank you for providing these ideas.

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Great addition Sue, thank you!

  • Carol G. | January 20, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Great information . I will take some of the tips to make my car more difficult to steal

  • Linda | January 20, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    I have LoJac. What do you think of that protection?

  • Chris | January 20, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    I drive a Honda and went and had a security system put in it that immobilized the vehicle if someone tries to steal it. I told my mechanic about it and he told me that a good thief could cut a few wires and take it even with a good alarm system. He advised me to continue to put a club on the steering wheel.

  • EMW | January 20, 2019 at 3:47 am

    Very informative information. Thank you so much. I will try to be careful, my car is silver.

  • Barbara B. Othon | January 20, 2019 at 2:18 am

    These are very helpful tips. Thank you very much. I do try to be very careful.

  • Flan & Pepsi | January 19, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    A friend of mine went for gas and left his car running at the gas pump and went in the station to pay for his gas when he came out of the station to pump the gas his car was stolen.The next time he saw the car and the last time he ever saw the car was on the gas station video tape. The moral of my comment is never leave your car running unattended at a gas pump or for that matter anywhere. Food For Thought

  • Raul | January 19, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks. Great advices.

  • Fay | January 19, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Took out car ins. and was told in 2yrs we would see a decrease in total amt for our 3 cars. Never happened , keep getting different people when we call in. Told all other different kinds of stuff of why it keeps going up and our cars are older. That is why I am not going to cover our house with you just keeps going up up up and no discount for safe driving like we use to get

  • Robert Goehring | January 19, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    All great suggestions! However, until and unless the criminal justice system gets serious about establishing real consequences for car thieves, we will continue to green light this behavior. Law Enforcement is not the problem - its the courts and the jails that seem to have a “catch and release” attitude and car more about the rights of the criminals than the victims that are the problem. “Criminal Justice” is really a conflict in terms because more and more there is less justice for the victims of crime. The police put their lives on the line every day and do a great job, but the courts and jails can’t seem to do their part.

  • J. Hicks | January 19, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Speaking from 30+ years as an auto damage appraiser - Cars aren't always stolen for their resale value. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they are stolen just so the parts can be stripped off, but a substantial number of car thieves are simply looking for a ride somewhere - be it across town, or across the country. - Hondas and pickups in general are popular targets because they have been (traditionally) easier and quicker to break into, and drive off with. They also blend well with the other cars on the road, so the thieves can remain anonymous longer.

  • Sue | January 19, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    Also heard about thieves will open door and steal while a driver is distracted while fueling the lock doors when fueling etc

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 18, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Great additional piece of information. Thank you, Carolyn.

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 18, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you, Robert!

  • Lorraines | January 18, 2019 at 3:17 am

    Marina, Where do you live? I think it'd be cheaper for you to buy/rent a garage!

  • Carolyn | January 17, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    Also, when exiting your car, lock it with the inside button on your door and not your fob button on your keyring after you exit. Thieves are sitting outside and have equipment to gather your info from your fob and can unlock your car, steal things and steal the car.

  • robert j barrilleaux | January 17, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    you might include in your next newsletter to lock your doors when exiting the vehicle with the switch located on the inside if the door. Using the remote signal can be picked up with special equipment by a would-be thief and can record this signal with which to open your vehicles door.

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 17, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    Great suggestion, Roger!

  • roger brenneman | January 17, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    don't leave your keys in the ignition when you are pumping gas.

  • Marina | January 7, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    It is said that, 2 am and 5 am are the likeliest times a thief will visit. And they have been at my place at those times. I pushed rubber spatula heads down inside the gap at the bottom of the windows after a thief used a wedge and tried to detail the windows so that they could get in and steal my truck. I blocked the hood latch with metal plates, too so that the hood cannot be popped either. I found a welder which is going to set up covers for my windows and wheels that, unless the doors are unlocked, there will be no entering my vehicle any other way nor stealing the tires with original rims which are in good condition.

  • Bobby | November 21, 2017 at 12:36 am

    Any advice for hybrid owners? I don't think anyone can steal it without the fob but I'm probably wrong.

  • Aurora | November 18, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you for the heads up. I didn't realize that my truck is a desirable theft object. Ill take steps to make it safe.,

  • Lisa Gross | November 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    What safety tips do you have for carjacking?

  • Arthur Taylor | November 17, 2017 at 1:24 am

    Do you have a list of accepted security systems for both home and car. I don't want to purchase a system and have be unaccepted. Thank you,

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