Auto Insurance

Florida car thieves' biggest targets: Is yours at risk?

Orlando Sentinel
Steven Cole Smith AUTOMOTIVE
October 14, 2011

Attention, 2000 Honda Civic owners: Your car is the most popular model in Florida with a select group of automotive enthusiasts: Car thieves.

This may come as a surprise to fans of films like "Gone in 60 Seconds," where professional crooks exclusively target high-end vehicles like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. But Frank Sciafidi, public affairs director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which monitors auto theft trends and data, says this isn't unusual: Most stolen cars are older models, which are, as you would expect, easier to steal than newer vehicles with increased theft-prevention technology.

In fact, the second most-stolen car in Florida is even older than that 2000 Civic – a 1996 Honda Accord.

hat said, it doesn't mean that if you have a newer, high-end vehicle, you should be complacent, especially in Florida, where easy access to coastal shipping points creates opportunities for more sophisticated thieves to steal vehicles for export.

"And if you have the wherewithal to ship stolen cars, you aren't going to screw around with a 1992 Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. The market for that kind of theft is going to be high-end, high-dollar cars," Scafidi says. "When we do find these containers sitting on the dock waiting for export, and something in the paperwork triggers a closer look, we open it up, and guess what? You might find 15 stolen vehicles inside, everything from Cadillac Escalades to Mercedes to BMWs – usually late-model, because that's where the cash is."
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But this still represents a small portion of the grand total of stolen cars in the U.S., he says. "High-end vehicles are not in any way, nationwide, stolen in the sort of numbers people might expect." Seriously, who would expect a 2000 Dodge Caravan minivan to be on Florida's top 10 list? But there it is, in sixth place, one spot above its position on the national most-stolen roster.

So why are older cars so popular? Two reasons: One, they are easier to steal, usually lacking computer-coded keys, sophisticated perimeter alarms or trackable GPS devices like OnStar. And two, they are valued not for the car itself, but for the parts. For the past eight years, older Honda Accords and Civics have topped the NCIB's national most-stolen list. In 2010, the most-stolen car in the U.S. was the 1994 Accord, followed by the 1995 Civic. Parts from those cars can be used on a lot of Honda models, plus Hondas are especially popular with young racers who may need spares for the race track.

Last year, 44,243 Honda Accords built from 1990-2000 were stolen in the U.S. Just 5,692 Accord built from 2001-2010 were stolen.

Which doesn't mean that if you have a newer car, you have no worries. The third most-stolen car in Florida is the 2010 Toyota Camry, which is also the perennial best-selling car in the U.S. With a newer car, "We do tend to get complacent, because technology breeds a feeling of security," Scafidi says. "There are those people out there just waiting for the next great development in security so they can crack it."

So what to do? The NICB favors a "layered" approach: The first layer is common sense – take your keys, lock your doors, park in a well-lit area – you know the rest. Layer two is using a "warning device," like an alarm, or even the old-fashioned "Club" that locks onto your steering wheel – the idea is to make your car less attractive to a thief than the one next to it. Layer three is an "immobilizing device," like a "smart key" that won't crank the engine unless the computer chip in the key matches the vehicle. And fourth is a "tracking device," like OnStar, or add-on devices like Lojak.

And still there are no guarantees. "The number one fear, no matter what kind of car you own, is that your vehicle might land in the sights of some accomplished auto thief who has yet to meet a system he can't defeat," Scafidi says. "And there are those people out there."

The top 10 most-stolen cars in Florida:

1. 2000 Honda Civic

2. 1996 Honda Accord

3. 2010 Toyota Camry

4. 1997 Nissan Altima

5. 2006 Ford F-150

6. 2000 Dodge Caravan

7. 2005 Dodge Ram

8. 1996 Nissan Maxima

9. 2010 Toyota Corolla

10. 2006 Ford F-350

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty reported to Governor Scott and the Cabinet on August 16 about continued problems with PIP and auto insurance in Florida. His PowerPoint presentation is available from this link: OIR Presentation.

McCarty's key points included:

  • The frequency of crashes in Florida has declined since 2005;
  • Total paid PIP benefits paid have increased significantly since 2008;
  • Number of PIP-related lawsuits has increased significantly since 2008;
  • Auto insurance rates have increased up to 26 percent for the major insurers since January 1, 2009;
  • Tampa leads the state in staged accidents and questionable auto insurance claims;
  • Almost 50 percent of referrals to DFS' Division of Insurance Fraud are PIP-related;
  • Average provider charges and procedures per PIP claim have continued to increase;
  • Summaries of major auto insurance bills from the 2011 legislative session.