Dude, There's My Car!

Whoever says car theft is simply a property crime clearly has $3,842.79 to spare and 97 hours to fritter away. The rest of us who have actually had our cars stolen are allowed to be "victims" so long as we can generate a) sympathy, b) a decent story to entertain a small and slightly tipsy crowd at a party, and/or c) work product.

Woe is me. Yes, still.

My story began on the night of Oct. 12 when my 1994 four-door automatic Honda Accord was stolen from in front of a friend's house. I went through the requisite 13 stages of coping before seeking answers to questions every car theft victim is left with. The World Series, Osama bin Laden, the election, and Halloween nudged my saga from page one for a number of weeks. But now that those divertissements have passed, we can get back to me: Car Theft Victim.

Many victims find comfort by sharing their suffering in a safe environment with people who listen with an open and empathetic heart. I'd like to publicly acknowledge those who patiently entertained my elaborate revenge scenarios involving kill switches, poison needles, and swift Ninja-like moves that make grown men crumble to the asphalt and weep like little girls. Thanks for the shoulder to lean on (and that cool idea about the remote-control Taser).

Now that the healing process has begun and the poison-needles idea has been nixed, I'm moving on. The best way to do this is to use your experience to help others cope with their loss. Therefore, I am documenting what to do when your car is stolen. Yes, "when your car is stolen," because one out of every 196 of you will become a grand theft auto victim, too!

Bad car-ma
Based on FBI statistics and women's intuition, here's how it will go down. On a Friday or Saturday during the latter part of the year, 35% of you will walk out of your home to a space formerly occupied by your 1990s-vintage vehicle. Twenty-two percent will wander around a parking lot or garage swearing that you parked by that pole in the purple zone, while about 18% will curse someone who just had to order a Big Gulp and then couldn't hold it until you got to the party and insisted that the car would be fine just for a sec on that highway/road/alley by the Kwik 'n' Friendly Mart. (FYI: Adding insult to grand larceny, you will never recoup that 75 cents she borrowed for the pack of gum.)

A few weeks later you'll start to hear stories about friends of friends whose cars were recovered a few weeks after the heist. You'll become hopeful. Don't bother. According to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, 57.08% of the stolen motor vehicles are recovered in the first day after the theft, and 79.43% are recovered during the first six days. (Feel free to cling to a whisker-thin thread of hope based on the fact that most recovered stolen vehicles are found in the same month in which they were taken.)

Helpful tip: Go ahead and upgrade to premium cable. It's not like you're going anywhere anytime soon.

By the way, no one but your co-workers and bored strangers at the dog park cares about your $7,000-ish loss. You are just one of 1 million consumers, keys in hand, wandering wide-eyed around the parking garage scratching your head. If you haven't watched The Daily Show With Jon Stewart in a while, you might not realize that our nation's law enforcement is currently preoccupied with more pressing crime issues. Like tracking Osama bin Laden. You can blame Osama bin Laden for the fact that only about 65% of stolen cars are ever recovered and just 14% to 17% of cases end in an arrest. Osama ruined your commute.

Some desk jockey in Washington tracking national car-theft costs will input your puny loss into an Excel spreadsheet and update the yearly tab to $8.4 billion and $7,846.22. Exit program.

Switching gears
You know how the mortgage comes due the day you run out of checks and how there are always plenty of clean spoons when all you need is a knife? Alanis Morissette calls it irony. I call it a silverware issue.

Actually, she's onto something. When you are ready to be reunited with your stolen car, buy a 1991 Toyota Camry with 63,000 miles on it. Cost: $2,000 plus $55 for mechanic once over, $219.90 for two axle shafts, $5 for right tail bulbs, $25.90 for wiper blades, $2.50 for a quart of oil, and $266.75 for labor.

Wait 36 hours, and your old car will turn up.

If your car is found at a reasonable hour -- say, 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday -- the police will call you, letting the phone ring and ring and ring, to make a good-faith effort to make contact so that you can throw on your fuzzy slippers and sweats to catch a cab to Jefferson Street NW in District 4 of Washington, D.C., and claim your vehicle. They'll tell you the car is drivable -- that's because the screwdriver has been left in the ignition of the running car which was blocking someone's driveway when it was called in for a traffic violation. No one will be caught at the scene, and the officer will speculate that the perps wore gloves (the entire 11 mild-weather days they were "sharing" your car with you) and that fingerprinting any evidence (such as the three empty beer bottles and Bacardi bottle in the front seat) is moot. How do they know that those aren't your beer and Bacardi bottles?

Helpful tip: While carless, get plenty of sleep because stolen cars usually don't turn up in daylight hours.

You'll be tired (see why you should bank some sleep hours while you can?) and just thankful that your car has been recovered.

If you're a wuss and choose to cower under the duvet instead of reclaiming your vehicle that night, your car will be towed and impounded (at a facility in a neighborhood that makes the crime scene look bucolic in comparison) until you and a male friend who clearly works out pick it up during daylight hours. Since you can afford a car worth stealing (but, according to your insurance agent one that's not worth wasting comprehensive coverage on), the city reasons that you can afford to have your stolen car impounded. Over the phone you will learn that the limited Saturday hours end in five minutes and that the lot is closed on Sundays. Your bill will be $167.20 -- $100 in towing and $20 a day for storage, including the day you picked it up. No personal checks, please.

On Monday when you are finally reunited with your trusty old Honda, you won't believe your luck. You'll slap your knee and say, "It looks cleaner than when I had it!"

That is not your car. Your car is around the corner next to the other mangled heaps of metal, plastic, upholstery and grime. Try to resist the temptation to swap plates with the better-looking Honda Accord. The bolts are a lot tighter than you think.

Helpful tip: When the officer describes to you "some damage on the right-hand side," he is also looking at the wrong 1994 teal four-door Honda Accord.

This car wreck of a story will continue tomorrow on Fool.com. Stay tuned to the "Today's Headlines" page for "Dude, There's My Car Part Deux: The Fiery, Action-Packed, Gun-Slingin', Testosterone-Tappin' Conclusion."

Dayana Yochim owns all of the cars mentioned in this story, as well as a few leftover parts and some empty alcohol bottles with perp all over them. If you are a CSI interested in practicing your fingerprinting skills, please contact her.


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