In March 2004, I penned a short column on the subject of Nissan's (NASDAQ:NSANY) legal tangle with the state of New Jersey over a rash of missing headlights. Back then, Nissan's high-end Maxima Sedan had become a prime target for our nation's car thieves.

Replacing the cars' luxury xenon headlights cost a pretty penny, with Nissan dealers charging as much as $1,800 a pop for the service. The high price tag quickly spawned a market for headlights that "fell off the front of a truck," as street entrepreneurs went to work satisfying that demand. Long story short -- New Jersey sued Nissan on several counts, one of which was that the company should have warned its customers that their headlights were going to be targeted by thieves.

And 2006 just might be another busy year for the New Jersey attorney general's office. This time around, though, it's not Nissan that's the target of car-part thieves, but Toyota (NYSE:TM). According to a report published in the New York Daily News, the back doors of Toyota Camrys and Highlanders will be the new year's "it" car part. Already around the Big Apple this December, Toyota owners are waking up to discover unwanted air conditioning in their back seats. The reason: Thieves have discovered that the car doors are incredibly easy to remove -- and lucrative to boot. While it's unlikely the thieves are getting paid more than a fraction of the $5,000 to replace a "lost" door, it's apparently still enough to make the theft worthwhile.

"Fascinating," you say, "but what does any of this have to do with investing?" Good question. The answer is that news like this qualifies as "scuttlebutt" -- anecdotal evidence that you, the individual investor, can pick up from unconventional sources that the professionals on Wall Street might not think to consult. As former Fool guest columnist Whitney Tilson once observed, "the best investors often have an information edge. They simply do more work [and] are more creative in collecting information."

This creative research culled from the Gotham Crime Pages tells you that Toyotas are really popular cars. One might go so far as to call them dangerously popular at this point. It tells you also that they're of high quality, because one factor involved in creating the demand for "liberated" car parts is that not enough Toyotas are dying a natural death to provide replacement parts for the ones still on the road.

All of this suggests that the recent crime wave isn't just bad news for owners of Toyota cars, but for owners of Ford (NYSE:F) and GM (NYSE:GM) stock as well.

Read more about the usefulness of scuttlebutt in "Applied Scuttlebutt" and "The Scuttlebutt Advantage."

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in either company mentioned in this article.