By Steven Cole Smith, Tribune Newspapers
7:19 PM EDT, September 7, 2010
If you own a Mini Cooper, Toyota Prius or Nissan Murano, breathe easy. A new car-theft insurance survey has found owners of these vehicles are among the least likely to lose a bundle if they're targeted by car thieves.
But if you own a Cadillac Escalade, be afraid.
The Arlington, Va.-based Highway Data Loss Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, recently released its list of vehicles that suffer the highest, and the lowest, insurance loss claims due to theft. This isn't necessarily the most-stolen list; it's based on how much insurance companies have to pay out because of theft, of either the whole vehicle or expensive components such as the sound system or airbags.
The Escalade tops the list not just because a lot of the vehicles are stolen, but because they cost a lot, too. The average claim payment is $11,934, but one out of four is for more than $40,000, which essentially represents the vehicles that are stolen and never recovered. Suffering the highest per-claim theft payment is the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, with an average paid claim of $41,229.
But aren't the Escalade and Z06 equipped with OnStar and all sorts of theft prevention equipment? "Yes," said Russ Rader, HLDI spokesman. "But these are likely (to be targeted by) professional thieves. GM has put a sophisticated ignition immobilizer on the Escalade, but that doesn't stop a thief from putting the vehicle on a flat-bed truck and hauling it away."
Always popular with thieves are vehicles that have a lot of parts that are interchangeable with other vehicles, such as General Motors trucks and SUVs. The Escalade, the Chevrolet Avalanche, the GMC Yukon and the Chevrolet Silverado crew cab pickup are all on the HLDI's top-10 list for vehicles with the highest loss rates. Not only are the parts especially marketable, but if a thief learns to steal and dismantle one type of GM truck, that knowledge probably applies to others — steal an Escalade, for instance, and you likely can steal and dismantle a Chevrolet Tahoe or Suburban.
The HLDI also says where you live is as important as where you drive when it comes to being victimized by car thieves.
Six of the 10 metropolitan areas in the U.S. with the worst theft losses are along the border with Mexico, and one is near the border. Topping the list is Laredo, Texas, with 6.7 claims per 1,000 insured vehicles within the model years surveyed, with an average claim of $15,490.The other three are port cities.
So what can you do to lessen your chances of becoming a victim?
For one thing: Drive something boring. "Sedate family cars and fuel sippers aren't on the hot list," said Kim Hazelbaker, HLDI senior vice president. Near the bottom of the list — and the bottom is a good place — are the Volvo S80, Toyota Sienna all-wheel-drive minivan and Subaru Impreza wagon. "Thieves are after chrome, horsepower and Hemis," said Hazelbaker. The Hemi engine, apparently, is why the Dodge Charger has made the 10-worst list for theft losses.
Also, living in rural areas helps, as the HLDI study found that in metro areas, the insurance claim rate was 3.1 per 1,000 surveyed vehicles, and in "nonmetropolitan" areas, 1.6 claims per 1,000 vehicles.
Otherwise, common sense applies: Park in a well-lit, exposed area; leave nothing of value visible in the vehicle, and always lock your car and take your keys.
Experts stress that professional car thieves will likely get your car if they really want it, but to protect your car from the amateur looking for a joyride or a stereo, you just have to make your car harder to break into or steal than the one next to it. A window partly rolled down may make your car easier to access than the one parked three feet away with all the windows rolled up.
Or if nothing else works, buy a 2008 or 2009 Saturn Vue, which the HDLI says has the lowest theft loss rate of any recent model.