U.S. Markets closed

The Most and Least Stolen Cars in America

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist
The Exchange
Ford F-250 crew 4WD (Photo: Yahoo Autos)

It’s one of the more dubious automotive honors. And this year there’s a new champ.

The most stolen vehicle is now the Ford (F) F-250 pickup, a heavy-duty version of the top-selling F-150 that’s popular with contractors. The F-250 displaces the Cadillac Escalade, which was the most stolen vehicle for six years in a row before this year. The Escalade fell to sixth, which must be a relief to Cadillac executives who don’t count car thieves among their target market.

On average, 1.2 of every 1,000 insured vehicles are reported stolen in the U.S. in a given year. The “claim frequency” for the F-250 is seven vehicles per 1,000, or nearly 6 times the average. Here are the 10 most stolen vehicles, according to the Highway Data Loss Institute, a research outfit backed by the insurance industry:

  • Ford F-250 Crew model with four-wheel drive (starting price, $36,270), seven out of every 1,000 insured vehicles stolen.
  • GMC Sierra 1500 Crew model ($35,885), 6.1 vehicles stolen.
  • Ford F-350 Crew model with four-wheel drive ($37,370), 5.6 vehicles stolen.

It’s not a coincidence that the models most popular with thieves are all pickups and large SUVs. Those models tend to be expensive to start with, so they’re worth the most to seasoned burglars aiming to chop them up for parts and sell them on the black market. Thefts may also include expensive tools and other gear stolen from the vehicles and truckbeds, if an insurance claim is filed; the data don't differentiate between stolen vehicles and stolen stuff.

Thieves also tend to target vehicles that don’t have anti-theft features such as an engine immobilizer, which prevents thieves from hot-wiring a car. The Escalade has long had an engine immobilizer, but thieves would get around that by towing the Escalade away or loading it onto a flatbed truck and carting it off. To defeat that, Cadillac installed new anti-theft devices such as a sophisticated steering lock and an “inclination sensor” that sets off an alarm when the vehicle is tilted upward, as when it’s being loaded onto a truck. That, along with the Escalade’s declining popularity, probably accounts for the drop in thefts.

The F-250 also comes with a standard engine immobilizer, so Ford may end up looking into new anti-theft devices as well. Immobilizers were standard on 89% of cars sold during the 2012 model year.

The least-stolen vehicles tend to be familymobiles and luxury models with sophisticated anti-theft systems. Here are the 10 vehicles with the lowest theft rates:

  • Toyota Sienna (starting price, $26,585), 0.5 vehicles stolen for every 1,000 insured vehicles each year.
  • Dodge Journey all-wheel drive model ($26,495), 0.4 vehicles stolen.
  • Audi A4 $(32,500), 0.4 vehicles stolen.

For car buyers, it might be tempting to consider a vehicle that’s least likely to be stolen, but it’s worth keeping in mind that thieves probably ignore some cars because they’re not worth much. The Matrix, for instance, is the neglected stepchild in Toyota’s lineup, lacking the refined touches that typify most other Toyotas. So there may simply be little demand for its parts. Lexus stopped selling the HS 250 because of poor sales. And the Dodge Journey and Jeep Compass are weak sellers that will soon be discontinued as well.

The best way to defeat car thieves may be simply to buy a vehicle nobody else wants.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.