Car Thieves Are Making Bank as OEM Parts Get More Expensive [Op/Ed]

Car Thieves are Making Bank: Toyota Camry
The Toyota Camry was the most stolen vehicle in 2016, the last year for which NICB data is available. [Photo: Toyota]

OEM prices for replacement parts are increasing. That makes your car a tempting target for car thieves.

As I approach my car every day, I see a little blue and white sticker on my window. Its message: “WARNING – Parts identifiable and traceable by Police.” That makes you think – how much are the parts on my car worth that the manufacturer needs to put a warning sticker on every single vehicle to try and deter thieves?

Then, a couple months ago, someone steals my friend’s car. If the thief didn’t take it for a joyride, odds are it went straight to a chop shop. After that, my friend was sans transportation, and some jerk probably made a whole bunch of money off the parts. But how great can the profit potential be to make all that risk worthwhile?

The National Insurance Crime Bureau went to the trouble of finding out the most common replacement parts of vehicles that appear on its “Hot Wheels” most stolen list. What are are the most stolen cars on the list? The latest Hot Wheels report is from 2016, the last year for which data is available.

Most stolen vehicles in 2016 (Data: NICB)

 Rank Make/Model Model Year Most Stolen
(# of Thefts)
Total Model Thefts
1 Honda Accord 1997 (7,527) 50,427
2 Honda Civic 1998 (7,578) 49,547
3 Ford F-Series 2006 (2,986) 32,721
4 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 2004 (2,107) 31,238
5 Toyota Camry 2016 (1,113) 16,732
6 Nissan Altima 2015 (1,673) 12,221
7 Ram Pickups 2001 (1,288) 12,128
8 Toyota Corolla 2015 (1,070) 11,989
9 Chevrolet Impala 2008 (1,013) 9,749
10 Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee 2000 (898) 9,245

At the top, it’s 1990s Honda Accords and Civics. Down the list, you have Ford and Chevy pickups, then the 2016 Toyota Camry and 2016 Nissan Altima. Those two, as well as the Corolla, are the newest most-stolen cars in the 2016 list. The NICB examined the costs of the most commonly replaced parts by combing through a database of 24 million damage appraisals generated from insurance claims in 2016.

The Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and GMC Sierra are three examples where common parts nearly cost more than the intact vehicle. [Photo: NICB]

The most commonly replaced parts almost cost more than the entire car

Their findings turned up an interesting theme: just factoring the costs of the most commonly replaced components nearly adds up to more than the car is worth on the used market.

Take the Camry for example. It was the most stolen 2016 model vehicle, and the cost to replace the parts adds up to $10,695. If you went to sell that car yourself, you’d get approximately $15,500 on the used market.

The Nissan Altima is even more expensive, as the parts for that cost $14,236. Just the headlights alone cost over $2,000 at dealer prices.

Finally, the NICB pointed out the 2016 GMC Sierra as the largest potential profit for car thieves. Why is that? Because just buying the most commonly replaced parts adds up to $21,332. Over $20,000 just for the parts. The market value of that truck is around $28,000. The headlights alone cost $2,300.

The NICB did not include engines, transmissions, or other expensive mechanical components.

Car Thieves are Making Bank: Nissan Altima
[Photo: TFLcar]

Stealing cars (and parts) isn’t new, but it may be more profitable than ever

At the heart of this problem are two major issues. One has to do with supply – as evidenced from the list, car thieves steal the most common cars on the roads. The Camry, the Altima and Corolla, the Sierra and Ford F-Series…what do they all have in common? They’re everywhere. These cars and trucks are ubiquitous, which means there are plenty to choose from, and stealing these cars creates a steady supply of black market parts. It makes sense, on that basis, that Chevrolet pickups are one of the nation’s most stolen vehicles, given the value of their components.

The other, to my mind, is demand. Now, if you go through your insurance company to repair your car, they’ll use OEM parts fitted by an approved service center or local mechanic. However, buying OEM parts on the black market is much cheaper, which in turn leads to cheaper repairs.

Some of the components, like the wheels and bumpers, can be fairly easy to steal and internet marketplace sites make it simple to unload stolen parts onto unwitting buyers.

Preventative steps

Fortunately, car thefts are way down from record levels in the 1990s, but it does still happen. When it does, it can be devastating to owners, especially when they don’t have insurance. So what can you do?

The NICB offers some tips to owners to prevent theft. First, make sure you don’t leave your keys or key fob in the car, and lock it when you leave. Car alarms also create an audible warning that will deter thieves looking for an easy pick.

Most vehicles these days are fitted with immobilizing devices that prevent it from starting at all without the key nearby. You can also install aftermarket immobilizers, but take note that cheaper, low-quality units present little challenge to car thieves. Some take less than 2-3 minutes to remove.

Finally, although it can be install a tracking device. That will allow you, and law enforcement, to track the vehicle if its ever stolen.

When you’re buying a used car, make sure to do a check on the vehicle’s history to see if it’s ever been reported stolen. That way, you won’t wind up with major headaches down the road.