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It’s true, one car is stolen on average every three minutes around the clock all year long. By the time you finish reading this story, at least one car will be stolen in California. And yet, vehicle theft is not as bad as it used to be. In California, vehicle thefts have fallen 35% in the past seven years. Nationally the drop is even more striking – down 40% between 2005 and 2012.

The Perception

When asked “Do you think the number of car thefts in California have increased or decreased over the last 10 years” 29% answered that they believed the number of vehicle thefts had remained the same, 16.5% that it had slightly increased and 29% that it had substantially increased. Only 10.9% believed it to have slightly decreased and 14% to have substantially decreased.

This means a
bout three in four Californians think vehicle theft has gone up or stayed the same in recent years. The survey of nearly 1,000 also revealed older respondents were more likely to say car thefts had increased. Also, far more women said vehicle crimes were on the rise than men.

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Both age and gender were found to influence respondent’s perceptions of vehicle theft. Women were more likely to answer that vehicle thefts had increased than their male counterparts.

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Older respondents were also more likely to believe car theft rates had increased. 

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The Reality

Despite falling crime rates in California, most people still think thefts have been on the rise for the past ten years. According to numbers from the Department of Justice, Car thefts in California have fallen 35% since 2003. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in California states 168,608 vehicles were stolen in 2012, down from 257,543 in 2005. Nationally the numbers dropped to 721,053 from 1.2 million in 2005.

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Here you can see the actual change in thefts since 2003 vs the average perceived change in vehicle thefts by county. 

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Some of the counties with the greatest discrepancy between perceived and actual car thefts include:

  • Tuolumne – 69% Actual Reduction Vs 66% Perceived increase
  • Yuba – 54% Actual Reduction Vs 66% Perceived Increase
  • Butte – 53% Actual Reduction Vs 48% Perceived Increase
  • Mono – 85% Actual Reduction Vs 33% Perceived Increase
  • Marin – 40% Actual Reduction Vs 58% Perceived Increase

Despite the fall in vehicle thefts, California remains national leader. Eight of the 10 worst vehicle theft hot spots are in the state. The rankings are based on thefts per 100,000 population in the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 350-plus largest metropolitan areas.

Vehicle Theft Hot Spots
  1. Modesto, California
  2. Fresno, California
  3. Bakersfield, California
  4. Stockton-Lodi, California
  5. Yakima, Washington
  6. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California
  7. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
  8. Vallejo-Fairfield, California
  9. Spokane-Spokane Valley, Washington
  10. Redding, California

Of course, where your car is parked in California has a major impact on the likelihood of it being stolen. Just three vehicles were stolen in Sierra, Mono and Modoc counties combined. 30,402 vehicles were stolen in highway heavy Los Angeles County.

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How This Affects Insurance Rates in California


Despite California’s poor record of vehicle thefts, it is the only state where insurance premiums went down during the previous two decades - 0.3%. Only New Hampshire, New Jersey and Hawaii had increases lower than 20%.

Insure.com statistics revealed the average increase for insurance premiums was more than 43% around the country at the same time vehicle thefts were dropping. In Nebraska, for instance, rates more than doubled between 1989 and 2010.

This advantage for Californians was mainly due to Prop. 103, which passed in 1988, changing the formula that insurance carriers base their rates.

Prop. 103 stated in part that insurance companies could base their rates primarily on somebody’s driving record, type of vehicle, number of miles driven annually and years of driving experience. Not just on their ZIP code.

Cheapest Vehicles to Insure
  1. Ford Edge SE
  2. Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo
  3. Subaru Outback 2.5i
  4. Kia Sportage
  5. Jeep Patriot Sport
Priciest Vehicles to Insure
  1. Mercedes-Benz CL600
  2. Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG
  3. Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG
  4. Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
  5. Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG

While this law benefits most drivers, it can have also have negative effect on others. In Sierra County – 3,240 residents and just two stolen cars in 2012 –, drivers pay about the same rate as several counties where the vehicle theft rate is as much as six times higher. Residents of San Mateo County pay premiums that are on a par with much larger counties that have much higher rates of theft.

According to the latest national insurance statistics, the average auto premium in California sits at about $1,819. The highest average premiums reside in Louisiana at $2,699 and the lowest in Maine at $934. The map below shows how this average varies between counties in California.

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With all the parameters that come into calculating an insurance premium, there is no simple answer for working out whether you are getting a good deal or not. However, there is one thing that is certain, Californians are getting a good deal considering the state has the highest rates of car theft in the country.

With this in mind, paying for auto insurance should definitely be one thing to combat vehicle theft. There are other activities we should be doing as well. A 2007 survey by the National Insurance Crime Bureau and anti-theft company LoJack, offered the following results about drivers in the U.S.:

  • One-third admit they have left their car while it was running.
  • 47% don’t always park in a well-lit area.
  • 40% don’t hide their valuables 

It’s hard to pin point why people might believe car thefts have increased since 2003, though it likely comes down to the fact that despite these improvements, California still tops the list of places in America where you’re most likely to get your car stolen. 

Want to learn more?

Download the survey data used in this study
Stolen Vehicle Information [Infograph]

Want to use these charts or maps on your own site for free? Find them all, and the data used here: http://www.shiftins.com/content/theft-iframes.aspx

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