Car thefts spike in 2020 due to pandemic, economy

The number of stolen cars jumped 9.2% over 2019, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Insurance Crime Bureau on Tuesday.

There were 878,080 auto thefts in 2020, which is the highest number in more than a decade, and by a significant margin, NICB President David Glawe said in a statement. 

“Preliminary reports indicate a sharp increase in automobile thefts for 2020,” Glawe said, adding that the data still needs to be vetted before the final report is distributed in the middle of the year, like every other year. That report usually breaks down the most stolen models and model years. Last year, older models with swappable parts such as the Honda Civic, Honda Accord, and Ford F-150 topped the list. Older cars don't have the same security systems and tracking devices as newer cars. 

The final numbers shouldn't change much, however, and the spike in thefts prompted the NICB to issue an early warning as the effects of the pandemic course through society. 

Preliminary stolen car rates for 2020

Preliminary stolen car rates for 2020

“Considerations such as the pandemic, economic downturn, loss of juvenile outreach programs and public safety budgetary and resource limitations are likely contributing factors," Glawe added. "Thieves exploit opportunities and may look for vehicles parked in the same location or citizens not taking proper measures to secure their vehicles.”

The preliminary data shows thefts increased every month in 2020 over 2019, but only by a small margin at the onset of the pandemic through May. Starting in June, the increase changed from about 3% year-over-year to double-digit increases for the rest of the year, reaching a high of 18% in November. 

To prevent car thefts, the NICB urged owners to practice common sense by locking their vehicles and parking in well-lit areas, considering an aftermarket alarm system such as a steering wheel lock, installing an immobilizing device such as a kill switch or starter disabler, or installing a tracking device. 

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