Motor vehicle theft is one of the most prevalent forms of property crime in the United States. It’s a concern almost anywhere in the country, but more so in some places than others.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, motor vehicle theft is defined as “theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle.” Motor vehicles include SUVs, cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, motor scooters, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. Not included are farm equipment, bulldozers, airplanes, construction equipment and watercraft such as motorboats, sailboats, houseboats or jet skis.
In 2018, there were nearly 749,000 motor vehicle thefts nationally, 22.9 per 10,000 residents, and 75% of those thefts were of automobiles. Overall car thefts have slowly declined over the years, dropping 5.9% overall since 2009.
It’s still a major issue in some areas, though. Below, we’ll go over the 15 cities with the highest rates of motor vehicle theft, ranked by total thefts per 10,000 residents.
Cities With the Most Vehicle Thefts
1. Detroit, Michigan
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 103.8
Detroit has more car thefts per capita than any other city, with over 103 for every 10,000 residents in 2018 — nearly five times the national rate. The good news is, police in Detroit have implemented a number of inventive ways to get at the source of car theft in the city.
Portland comes up third in our list of cities with high rates of car theft. 97 cars were stolen for every 10,000 Portland residents in 2018, far more than the national rate. This isn’t a surprising statistic for Portland, as crime in this city is high in general. Portland is rated safer than only 2% of U.S. cities by Neighborhood Scout.
4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 96.5
Albuquerque also had almost a hundred car thefts for every 10,000 people in 2018 — 96.5 to be exact — well over the national per-capita rate. This city has consistently had one of the highest per-capita crime rates in the country, and Albuquerque has led the nation in car thefts until very recently.
5. St. Joseph, Missouri
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 84.2
St. Joseph is the second-smallest city on our list. Despite its small population, however, car theft is still a big problem in the city, with 84.2 vehicles stolen for every 10,000 residents in 2018. In general, crime in St. Joseph has been on the rise since 2015, and this includes car thefts.
6. Topeka, Kansas
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 76.6
Topeka had 962 motor vehicle theft incidents in 2018. That’s almost 77 for every 10,000 residents, putting Topeka at No.6 on our list. The national rate of car thefts per 10,000 people is only 22.8, so Topeka beats the national rate of motor vehicle theft by quite a bit.
7. Tulsa, Oklahoma
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 75.5
Tulsa had 75.5 motor vehicle thefts for every 10,000 people in 2018. Seventh on our list, Tulsa also has far more car thefts than the national rate of just under 23 per 10,000 people. In general, Tulsa has one of the highest crime rates in the nation, so it’s no surprise that car thefts are high as well.
8. Bakersfield, California
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 75
The good news for Bakersfield is from 2017 to 2018, the city dropped five spots in the list of cities with the most car thefts. Formerly ranked third, Bakersfield is now eighth. While car thefts in Bakersfield still far outweigh the national average, the city’s drop in ranking on this list indicates a significant decrease in the rate of car theft in Bakersfield.
9. New Orleans, Louisiana
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 74.8
New Orleans comes in at No.9 with car theft incidents topping 2,950 in 2018 – almost 75 thefts for every 10,000 residents. Car thefts in New Orleans parallel its overall crime rate, which is higher than most cities in the United States.
10. Vallejo, California
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 73.8
Rounding out the top 10 on the list of cities with the highest car theft rates, Vallejo had almost 74 car thefts for every 10,000 residents in 2018. While only 10th in the country in this undesirable category, Vallejo’s rate of motor vehicle theft is still much higher than the country overall.
11. Cleveland, Ohio
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 72.8
Cleveland comes in at No.11 with more than 2,700 car thefts in 2018. With a rate of 72.8 per 10,000 residents, it remains one of the most at-risk cities in the nation when it comes to car theft. This parallels a rise in crimes such as homicide in Cleveland over the years.
12. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 72.3
At No.12 is Chattanooga, with just over 72 motor vehicle thefts for every 10,000 people living in the city. 2018 saw 1,300 cases of car theft in a city of only 181,000, and motor vehicle incidents have spiked in more recent months.
13. Salinas, California
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 68.9
Salinas, California, has the 13th-most car thefts in the country, with a rate of 68.9 motor vehicle incidents in 2018. In general, Salinas is only safer than 11% of United States cities, so it’s no surprise that there are a high number of auto thefts each year.
14. Joplin, Missouri
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 67.3
Joplin, Missouri, is the smallest city in the top 15 with only 50,000 residents. The city had 341 car thefts in 2018. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s actually a rate of 67.3 per 10,000 people, tying the rate of much larger Minneapolis.
15. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Motor Vehicle Thefts per 10,000 habitants: 67.3
Minneapolis ranks number 15 on our list of cities with the highest rates of car theft. This large northern city actually ties with Joplin, Missouri, for per-capita car theft at 67.3 per 10,000 residents. With a population of 431,000, that translates to 2,900 motor vehicle thefts in 2018.
The Most Stolen Vehicles
Below are the makes, models and model years of the vehicles that car thieves gravitate toward most often. Topping the list are two Honda models — the Civic and the Accord, which were both stolen over 36,000 times in 2018, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Other attractive picks include Ford and Chevy pickup trucks and the Toyota Camry.
Motor vehicle theft is a real risk in any city, and it pays to keep a close eye on your vehicle. Having a car, truck or other vehicle stolen is costly and time-consuming, and it can impact you and your family’s peace of mind and safety. Knowing where the risk is greatest and what types of vehicles are most often stolen can help you take precautions and make sure you don’t become a victim of a motor vehicle theft yourself. Here we’ve listed the 15 cities with the highest rates of car theft and the 10 vehicle models most likely to be stolen. We hope this information helps you to avoid the risk of ever having a vehicle stolen.