While many of us probably imagine motor vehicle theft as the glamorized getaways we see in movies, in reality, most car thieves aren’t hauling off high-end luxury cars, and most aren’t even riding in sedans. Not according to the data.
Between 2016 and 2018, more than half of vehicles stolen had keys or fobs left in them, and the most popular vehicle of choice for 2019 was the pickup.
So, forgoing our notion of movie-made getaways, we took a closer look at motor vehicle theft data from the FBI to see which metropolitan areas were hot spots in 2019 and which weren’t so hot. We also dug a little deeper to find out which vehicles were in high demand and some of the reasons why. Here’s a look at the top 25 metro areas with the highest vehicle theft rates in 2019.
Top 25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas with High Motor Vehicle Theft Rates
We analyzed FBI data for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and found that the Albuquerque, N.M. area had the highest theft rate for 2019: 674 thefts per 100,000 people. Trailing Albuquerque was Bakersfield, Calif., Fairbanks, Ark., St. Joseph, Mo., and Anchorage, Alaska.
Albuquerque topped the list for 2019 with an estimated 6,188 car thefts that year (FBI). The City of Albuquerque says that given this city is close to an international border, vehicles are probably stolen for several reasons: “They are used to joy ride, sell for parts, or [are] driven across the border for resale.”
Albuquerque Business First also notes that car theft increases in the city when cooler weather sets in and residents warm their cars up. And residents aren’t the only targets—car rental lots are too. A general manager for Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Liz Russo, told Albuquerque Business First, “We’re able to recover them, but I would say three or four [of our vehicles] are stolen a month….That’s just at my branch, and we have about 10 branches in town.”
As for the most popular vehicles stolen in 2019, we found that pickup trucks were most likely to be stolen in the states where these metro areas made our top 25 list. This data is provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
Popular Vehicles Stolen Based on States in Our Top 25 List
Pickup trucks were more popular in western and southern states. Sedans were the least popular for states in our top 25, being more common in California, Washington, and Oregon.
According to Insurify, pickup trucks are more popular because their parts can sell for higher prices on the black market. Additionally, vehicles that are more commonly owned, like the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, are lucrative for thieves since their parts are more likely to be in high demand (Insurify).
Additionally, we found that most metro areas that made our top 25 fell within the western half of the United States—states like California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. Ontario was also mentioned as part of a metro area.
Only one metro area in the Southeast—Columbia, S.C.—made the list at No. 25 with a rate of 409.8 thefts per 100,000. Here’s a look at each metro area and their theft rates for 2019.
Thirteen western metro areas had the highest vehicle theft rates, making up 52% of the list. Southwestern states of New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas trailed behind, making up 20% of the list with Midwestern states Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Michigan making up 16%. Interestingly, Alaska had two metro areas that made the list, Fairbanks (#3) and Anchorage (#5).
But why is there so much car theft in Alaska?
One likely reason could be due to Alaska’s high unemployment rate. The Alaska Car Transport shares that given Alaska has usually had the highest unemployment rate in our nation, some residents are probably looking for ways to easily make money. Another reason suggested was the low number of police officers compared to the population with Anchorage given as an example.
However, not all metropolitan areas have an issue with motor vehicle theft.
What About Suburbs With the Fewest Stolen Vehicles?
When analyzing motor vehicle theft data to find the metro areas with the lowest auto theft rates, we discovered that Puerto Rico had several areas in 2019 with the lowest. San German, Aguadilla-Isabela, Yauco, Guayama, and Mayaguez made our top 10 list of metro areas with the lowest rates, making up 50% of the list.
Following behind, four mainland northeastern metro areas made the list: State College, Pa., Glens Falls, N.Y., Ithaca, N.Y., and Lebanon, Pa. One midwestern metro area, Midland, Mich., had one of the lowest theft rates as well.
Mayaguez, although one of the largest cities in Puerto Rico, was listed as one of the 10 safest cities by Living in Puerto Rico. Midland, Mich. was accredited as a “Safe Community” by the National Safety Council’s Safe Communities America program. Interestingly, while a number of these metro areas have more than 100,000 residents, they were still found to have the lowest motor vehicle theft rates, even compared to relatively populated cities like St. Joseph, Mo.-Kan. and Odessa, Texas.
Here’s a complete listing with their theft rates.
Top 10 Metropolitan Statistical Areas with the Lowest Vehicle Theft Rates
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Motor Vehicle Theft
The NICB provides four key points that we recommend as well to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of motor vehicle theft:
- Use common sense – Always take your keys with you when you leave your vehicle and remember to wind up any windows.
- Have a warning device – If possible, consider a warning device to let thieves know your vehicle is protected, like an audible and visible alarm.
- Consider an immobilizing device – Immobilizing devices can help prevent thieves from getting away with your vehicle. These include kill switches, smart keys, and more.
- Consider a tracking device – Look into purchasing a vehicle tracking device with GPS so that you can be aware of your vehicle’s location. Also, consider one that will alert you if your vehicle is moved.
We share a number of recommendations on tools and devices that can help you protect your vehicle.
Photo by Lars Krafft / EyeEm / GettyImages