Auto Thieves Love California and Aren’t Picky about the Cities They Hit Hardest

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What do you get when you combine an international border, with a dense population, big ports and a love of motoring?

The answer is an enduring No.1 ranking among states for auto theft.

California cities captured nine of the top 10 “hot spots” in the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) 2013 report of per-capita car thefts in the country. Spokane, Washington, was the only non-California city on the list at No. 7. California also snatched the No. 11, 14, 15, 16 and 18 spots.

California often dominates crime reports because it has more people than any other state. But this report measured the number of thefts per 100,000 residents. While conventional wisdom might point toward wealthy cities with expensive automobiles or port cities for quick shipment overseas, the top 3 cities were all in the state’s farm belt.

Bakersfield was No. 1 with 725 thefts per 100,000 people, followed by Fresno (706) and Modesto (678). Bakersfield and Modesto swapped places from a year ago. The city designations can be a bit misleading, because they are based on metropolitan statistical areas used by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Bakersfield, for instance, actually includes all of Kern County.

Needless to say, California also dominated the list of total cars stolen by state, with 176,745 in 2013. The next closest was Texas (69,664), Florida (38,195), Washington (28,123) and Illinois (26,301).

The 1996 Honda Accord was the most stolen vehicle (pdf) in 2013, according to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), followed by ’94 and ’97 Accords. They are prized for their resale value and interchangeable spare parts. Toyotas are the most stolen pickup trucks—and have been since 1984—while 2007 Suzukis and Yamahas have been the most sought after motorcycles since 2008.

The high rate of vehicle theft in California is attributed to the mild weather, which is easy on cars and makes them more valuable for their spare parts. Smugglers like the state’s close proximity to Mexico and its ports for shipment of high-end vehicles to Asia.

Car thefts nationally were down in 2013, continuing a string of annual declines over the past decade that was only broken by a slight uptick in 2012. 

The Top 17 California regional areas on the Hot Spot list are:

Rank Metropolitan Area Thefts Rate per 100,000
1. Bakersfield   6,267 725.24
2. Fresno   6,750 706.61
3. Modesto   3,565 678.41
4. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward   29,326 649.34
5. Stockton-Lodi   4,463 633.61
6. Redding   1,120 625.77
8. Vallejo-Fairfield   2,540 597.95
9. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara   10,925 569.12
10. Yuba City   930 551.31
11. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario   22,943 523.71
14. Merced   1,301 494.25
15. Visalia-Porterville   2,235 492.14
16. Salinas   2,109 491.81
18. Chico   1,045 470.53
24. Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade 9,146 412.77
26. San Diego-Carlsbad 12,868 400.72
29. Los Angeles 50,758 386.54

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Becomes More Golden for Auto Thieves (by Matt Schmitz and Chris Woodyard, and USA Today)

State’s Most Stolen Cars? Hondas and More Hondas (by Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle)

2013 California Vehicle Theft Facts (California Highway Patrol) (pdf)

California Is Hotter Than Ever with Nine of 10 Top Spots (National Insurance Crime Bureau)

California Has Most Hot Spots for Car Theft (by Kelly Gilblom, Bloomberg)

California Cities Lead Nation In Per Capita Car Theft (by Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times)

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