Auto Theft Is a Growing Epidemic, And You Really Need to Watch Out In These States

A recent report looks at FBI-published theft data over the past decade

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(Image: TFL Studios)

Over the past decade, auto thefts in some states have increased by triple-digit percentages.

In the U.S., hundreds of thousands of people fall victim to auto theft every single year. Anecdotally, the problem definitely feels like it’s gotten worse in recent times — take this week’s case of a Kentucky dealer being relieved of six Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcats in under a minute — but analysts at QuoteWizard (an off-shoot of online lending marketplace LendingTree) dug through FBI crime data to see just how the numbers have shifted over the past decade.

Specifically, the data obtained from the FBI Crime Data Explorer tool covers thefts through 2021, so that is the last year for which data is available. Several states have seen a sharp rise in auto theft incidents over the preceding ten years, with the worst states seeing at least 306 thefts for every 100,000 people in 2020.

And that’s not all. While 2021 does actually show a noteworthy dip in overall auto thefts, the FBI said more than 220,000 cars were stolen in the first nine months of 2022. That amounts to 40,000 more thefts than the same period in 2021.

States with the greatest increase in auto thefts, per crime data

While you may expect populous states like California, Texas or New York to show sharp increases in auto thefts, they are not among the largest increases in the nation over the past ten years. Instead, the majority of states with the greatest spikes are in the Midwest or Mountain West regions, including Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and — the runaway “winner” — Colorado.

  • 1) Colorado: +144%
  • 2) South Dakota: +125%
  • 3) North Dakota: +88%
  • 4) Wyoming: +80%
  • 5) Montana: +71%
  • 6) Kentucky: +67%
  • 7) Oregon: +66%
  • 8) New Mexico: +65%
  • 9) Minnesota: +64%
  • 10) Missouri: +54%
  • 11) Iowa: +51%

In 2020, Colorado saw an auto theft rate of 524 vehicles per 100,000 people, far more than any other state. New Mexico and California came second and third in that year, with 428 vehicles per 100,000 people stolen. While the overall number of auto theft incidents are lower in less populous states, the per capita rate has soared over the past decade.

On the other side of the token, Vermont and Maine are among the states with the lowest theft rates. FBI data shows 264 auto theft offenses in Vermont, compared to 30,070 in Colorado and 168,063 in California.

Colorado state legislators, for their part, have introduced SB23-097, a bill aimed at cracking down on auto thefts. If signed into law, it would make any auto theft a felony, rather than the current legislation that makes that determination based on the value of the stolen vehicle.

What can you do if someone steals your car?

As an insurance quote platform, QuoteWizard provides a detailed write-up on the process should you actually fall victim to auto theft. Beyond taking reasonable steps to avoid being an easy target, the FBI Crime Data tool does offer some insight into more vulnerable states where cars are most frequently stolen.