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New York Times

Of all the crime declines in New York City over the past two decades, the virtual eradication of car theft has been among the most complete: Thefts are down 94 percent from the 1990s.

But in recent months, auto thefts have unexpectedly risen - a trend driven almost entirely, according to the police, by thieves targeting the oldest and heaviest vehicles they can find.

Never mind that late-model Mercedes or sexy hybrid coupe; today's hot target is something on the order of a Ford Econoline van, weighing in at nearly 21/2 tons.

The reason, police say, is that a quirk in state law allows older, nearly worthless vehicles to be sold as junk with little paperwork.

The state law dates back three decades. At that time, the problem was abandonment of older cars. To make it easier to clear the streets of unwanted cars, the state no longer required someone seeking to junk a vehicle at least eight years old and worth less than $1,250 to have the title to the car.

"Say I have an old Dodge Caravan, I can scrap that without a title just by presenting a form and a valid ID," said Joseph Kenny, the commanding officer of the Police Department's auto crimes division. "It's gotten to the point where it's almost common knowledge. Perps find out the easy ways to make money."

There were 1,494 cars stolen in the city through March 23 of this year, a 12 percent increase over the same period the year before. Over a recent four-week stretch, 481 cars were reported stolen to the police across the city. About 70 percent of those were older than eight years.