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Car thieves target expensive models loaded with chrome, power and marketable parts

If you own a Mini Cooper, Toyota Prius or Nissan Murano, breathe easy. A new car-theft insurance survey has found owners of these vehicles are among the least likely to lose a bundle if they're targeted by car thieves. • But if you own a Cadillac Escalade, be afraid.

The Arlington, Va.-based Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, recently released its list of vehicles that suffer the highest, and the lowest, insurance loss claims due to theft. This isn't necessarily the most-stolen list; it's based on how much insurance companies have to pay out because of theft, of either the whole vehicle or expensive components such as the sound system or air bags.

The Escalade tops the list not just because a lot of the vehicles are stolen, but because they cost a lot, too. The average claim payment is $11,934, but one out of four is for more than $40,000, which essentially represents the vehicles that are stolen and never recovered. Suffering the highest per-claim theft payment is the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, with an average paid claim of $41,229.

But aren't the Escalade and Z06 equipped with OnStar and all sorts of theft prevention equipment? "Yes," said Russ Rader, HLDI spokesman. "But these are likely (to be targeted by) professional thieves. GM has put a sophisticated ignition immobilizer on the Escalade, but that doesn't stop a thief from putting the vehicle on a flat-bed truck and hauling it away."

Always popular with thieves are vehicles that have a lot of parts that are interchangeable with other vehicles, such as General Motors trucks and SUVs. The Escalade, the Chevrolet Avalanche, the GMC Yukon and the Chevrolet Silverado crew cab pickup are all on the HLDI's top 10 list for vehicles with the highest loss rates. Not only are the parts especially marketable, but if a thief learns to steal and dismantle one type of GM truck, that knowledge probably applies to others.

So what can you do to lessen your chances of becoming a victim?

Drive something boring. "Sedate family cars and fuel sippers aren't on the hot list," said Kim Hazelbaker, HLDI senior vice president. Near the bottom of the list — and the bottom is a good place — are the Volvo S80, Toyota Sienna all-wheel-drive minivan and Subaru Impreza wagon. "Thieves are after chrome, horsepower and Hemis," said Hazelbaker. The Hemi engine, apparently, is why the Dodge Charger has made the 10-worst list for theft losses.

Also, living in rural areas helps, as the HLDI study found that in metro areas, the insurance claim rate was 3.1 per 1,000 surveyed vehicles, and in "nonmetropolitan" areas, 1.6 claims per 1,000 vehicles.

Otherwise, common sense applies: Park in a well-lit, exposed area, leave nothing of value visible in the vehicle, and always lock your car and take your keys.

Car thieves target expensive models loaded with chrome, power and marketable parts 09/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 4:30am]
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