Are You About to Buy the New Car Thieves Love Most? Read This First to Find Out

Some new cars get stolen shockingly often despite a growing prevalence of standard high-tech anti-theft features. Don't put yourself at risk by picking out a theft magnet!

Mar 22, 2014 at 1:15PM

One of the worst things that can happen to a new car owner is to find that his or her prized wheels are gone. Thieves have a well-known preference for older Honda (NYSE:HMC) Accords and Civics -- thousands are stolen each year, and nearly all of them are models made in the 1990s, thanks in part to major design flaws that are well known in the thieving underworld.

Automakers have been steadily adding more and better anti-theft technologies to newer models since the turn of the 21st century, but new cars still get stolen, and some are pilfered with surprising frequency. Honda's learned from its mistakes, and its newest Civics and Accords are boosted at much lower rates than earlier model years. But other automakers still struggle to reduce thefts, and you'd be surprised at which new models are most attractive to the criminal underworld.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NICB, well known for its vehicle theft data, updated the methodology its "Most Stolen Vehicles" rankings for 2013 to show thefts by make and model year, in the process including a list of the most-stolen new (2012) models for the first time. However, their rankings focus only on total thefts, not thefts as a ratio of the total model-year production run. Let's look at which cars are most likely to "disappear," starting off with Honda's Civics and Accords for comparison purposes.

Civic

Source: Trenten Kelley via Flickr.

2012 Honda Civic and Accord: 1.24 and 1.09 thefts per 1,000 vehicles
Civics and Accords from the 1990s are so easy to steal that if you stole one, you'd probably wake up to find it gone a week later. Thousands of each model are reported stolen for model years of that decade, but more importantly, the most frequently stolen Civics and Accords (primarily those in the 1996 and 1997 model years) continue to disappear at a rate of roughly 20 cars for every 1,000 that were sold in the United States!

Today the picture looks much different. Civics and Accords both show on the NICB's list of the 25 most-stolen new cars of 2012, but they vanish at a far lower frequency than older models. Ranked by thefts per 1,000 vehicles, the Civic drops to 20th place, and the Accord falls to 21st. Honda's done a pretty good job beefing up the security on its most popular models.

Third most-stolen new car: Dodge Charger, 5.04 thefts per 1,000 vehicles
The Charger topped the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's list of the most-stolen new cars in 2010, and it continues to place high on thieves' lists for new cars, as 416 of the 82,592 Chargers sold for 2012 went missing during the year. This is despite Chrysler's inclusion of a keyless remote-start system for this model year, which the car has to sense before it will turn on. However, once started, the Charger doesn't need the key fob to stay nearby to keep running, so many of these thefts could simply be crimes of opportunity pulled on absent-minded owners that wind up not getting far.

Mazda

Source: NRMA Motoring via Flickr.

Second most-stolen new car: Mazda 6, 6.84 thefts per 1,000 vehicles
The Mazda (NASDAQOTH:MZDAF) also comes equipped with a standard keyless starter paired with an immobilizer antitheft system, but it's surprisingly popular among car thieves, who managed to boost 231 of the 33,756 Mazda 6es sold in the U.S. in 2012. Amateurs have been pushed out of the car-theft game, but seasoned pros know how to use the latest technology to crack even these high-tech protections -- NICB CEO Joe Wehrle points to the rise of sophisticated operations that use fake "key codes" that emulate car owners' key fob signals to get into the car and off scot-free. One industry veteran goes further on the Truth About Cars blog, explaining:

All you need is a smartphone, laptop, or other device that can simulate an RFID [radio frequency identification] chip transponder. Any locksmith can get the codes based on a car's VIN, but a typical computer hacker can make their device spoof (simulate) the signal from a key fob. There were hackers actually using signal repeaters to transmit a signal from a person's key fob from inside a grocery store all the way out to the parking lot to open the car.

Cars with mechanical keys can't be started in this manner, but cars with start/stop buttons and keyless entry can be entered and driven away. If you can store the signal, you can use it over and over.

This frightening advancement in theft technique hasn't proliferated to the point where new cars are swiped with anywhere near the frequency of older Hondas, but the most-stolen car on our list comes close.

Yaris

Source: David Villarreal Fernandez via Flickr.

The most-stolen new car: Toyota Yaris, 11.93 thefts per 1,000 vehicles
Toyota's (NYSE:TM) Yaris is so popular with car thieves that it's pilfered at nearly twice the rate of the second-place Mazda 6, but you might be shocked to learn that Toyota's new car is stolen at twice the rate of older Camrys -- the 365 Yaris thefts in 2012 were over 1% of the model's annual sales of 30,590, but Camrys from 1989 through 1991 (the most commonly stolen model years) only disappeared at the rate of 5.63 cars per 1,000. The Yaris has also topped British car-theft lists, with one out of every 244 Yaris models insured through Confused.com reported stolen between 2004 and 2011.

Unlike the third- and second-place finishers, the Yaris does not come standard with anti-theft features such as keyless remote starters or immobilizer systems that might impede less-savvy thieves. Toyota's overall popularity makes this comparatively low-tech car an easy target for its components, which can be hacked off and sold to dodgy repair shops for use in fixing other Toyota models. Confused.com has an ingenious deterrent in mind: "If a car has flowers painted on it or fluffy toys inside, it's not a car that is likely be stolen because it draws the wrong sort of attention and they tend to be cheaper cars." 

If making your ride look like a teenage girl's isn't particularly appealing, you might want to just buy a different car. Toyota's Sienna minivan is about as unpopular with thieves as it is with everyone under age 35 -- only 0.5 theft claims (which includes thefts of the vehicle's contents and not the vehicle itself) were filed per Sienna bought from the 2010 through 2012 model years. The Toyota Matrix is even better, with only 0.4 claims per 1,000 vehicles, and it doesn't bear the same soccer-mom stigma as the Sienna.

Scroll down to see the full list of America's most-stolen new cars.

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Make and Model

Total Thefts

Total U.S. Sales (2012 Model Year)

Thefts Per 1,000 Vehicles

Toyota Yaris

365

30,590

11.93

Mazda Mazda 6

231

33,756

6.84

Dodge Charger

416

82,592

5.04

Chevrolet Impala

778

169,351

4.59

Chrysler 300/300M

312

70,747

4.41

Dodge Avenger

412

96,890

4.25

Chrysler 200

449

125,476

3.58

Chevrolet Malibu

727

210,951

3.45

Chevrolet Camaro

287

84,391

3.40

Nissan Altima

921

302,934

3.04

Ford (NYSE:F) Econoline E250

355

122,423

2.90

Ford Fusion

655

241,263

2.71

Nissan Sentra

281

106,395

2.64

Nissan Versa

263

113,327

2.32

Ford Focus

523

245,992

2.13

Toyota Camry

665

404,886

1.64

Chevrolet Cruze

373

237,758

1.57

Hyundai Sonata

308

230,605

1.34

Toyota Corolla

380

290,947

1.31

Honda Civic

393

317,909

1.24

Honda Accord

363

331,872

1.09

Dodge Ram

302

293,363

1.03

Ford Escape

247

261,008

0.95

Ford F-150

595

645,316

0.92

Chevrolet Silverado

261

418,312

0.62

Sources: National Insurance Crime Bureau and Good Car Bad Car. 

Alex Planes has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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