Grand theft auto? Not so much anymore
The U.S. News Best Places Data Drill Down, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that sheds light on multiple data points to help readers make the most informed decision when choosing where to live in the United States. Visit our 2016 Best Places to Live ranking to see which of the 100 most populous metro areas made it to the top of the list based on good value, desirability, a strong job market and a high quality of life.
Your ability to use a car to commute is imperative if you live in an area where public transportation is limited. When it comes time to find your next home, the safety of your car should play a major role in your sense of security.
As apartment and condominium communities offer an increasing number of amenities to appeal to potential renters and buyers, resident parking -- and secured parking -- is often considered a major plus, if not a must, for many.
U.S. News compiled data on car thefts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2014 -- the most recent year for complete data from the bureau -- to determine which of the 100 largest metro areas in the country had the highest rate of car theft.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, takes the top spot for highest rate of car theft, with a total of 6,131 thefts in 2014 and 676.9 thefts per 100,000 people. The City of Albuquerque acknowledges its high rate of auto theft on its website, noting New Mexico's shared border with Mexico gives car thieves added incentive because they can take the stolen vehicles across the border and sell them.
In San Francisco, which takes the No. 3 spot on the list with 631.7 car thefts per 100,000 people, secured garage parking remains a fairly low priority for renters, says Charley Goss, head of government affairs at the San Francisco Apartment Association. Instead, he says many residents take public transportation or use a bicycle to get around the city rather than pay additional rent to park a car off the street.
"The city will try to minimize the amount of parking that's provided [in a new apartment building], because it would like to incentivize public transit or certain green ways of transportation," Goss says.
Auto insurance companies not only recommend diligence about locking your car and keeping valuables out of sight to avoid tempting any passersby, but may also offer reduced premiums for drivers who park in a secured garage.
If you know that you live in an area with high rates of car theft, you can take advantage of long-term parking garages run by the city or a private third party, or one provided by your landlord if you live in an apartment building.
Here are the 10 metro areas with the highest rates of car theft in the U.S.
Seattle takes the No. 10 spot for highest rates of car theft out of the 100 largest metros in the U.S., with 469.1 thefts per 100,000 people. Despite racking up 17,560 vehicle thefts in 2014 and a higher-than-average property crime rate, Seattle maintains a lower-than-average crime rate, boosting it to the No. 7 spot in the Best Places to Live 2016 rankings.
The capital of Silicon Valley is known for its high cost of living and the high income of its residents -- many of whom are big in the tech industry. The known wealth in the area may be a contributing factor to the number of car thefts reported: 471.4 per 100,000 people. Similar to Seattle, San Jose's property crime remains below average compared with the rest of the country.
This eastern Washington metro area had the fewest total car thefts in the top 10 with just 2,578 in 2014, but Spokane's population of just over half a million people means the auto theft rate is 472.3 per 100,000 residents. While violent crime has managed to remain below the national average, property crime in the Spokane area has been consistently higher than the national average for decades.
With 491.5 car thefts per 100,000 people, Fresno has the seventh-highest rate out of the 100 largest metro areas in the country. Fresno's high rates of both property crime and violent crime, along with a high rate of unemployment and low average annual salary, contribute to the metro area's low overall ranking (No. 97 out of 100) for Best Places to Live 2016.
The only metro area not in the western half of the U.S. on the list, Milwaukee's rate of car thefts is 539.4 per 100,000 people. With just over 1.5 million residents in its metro area, Milwaukee experienced 8,496 car thefts in 2014, and additionally it has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country.
Stockton isn't the only Central Valley metro area on the list, with 559 auto thefts per 100,000 people. In addition to above-average property and violent crime rates, Stockton's high unemployment rate and high cost of living contribute to its taking the No. 98 spot on the Best Places to Live 2016 list.
A bit further south in California's Central Valley, Bakersfield also makes the list with 5,328 car thefts in 2014, a rate of 603.9 incidents of theft per 100,000 people. Property crime rates have been declining in the Bakersfield area since 2012, but they remain above the national average. Another metro area with a struggling job market in addition to high crime rates and low incentive to move to the area, Bakersfield ranks No. 95 in the overall Best Places to Live 2016 ranking.
As the largest metro area on the list, San Francisco is third with 631.7 car thefts per 100,000 people, equal to a total of 29,400 incidents in 2014. But the Golden City's high rates of violent and property crime don't outweigh the metro area's ever-flourishing job market and high desirability among U.S. residents. San Francisco owns the No. 9 spot in the Best Places to Live 2016 rankings.
The sixth and final California metro area on the list, Modesto has the second-highest rate of auto theft out of the 100 largest metro areas in the country, with 649.7 thefts per 100,000 people. With a population of roughly three-quarters of a million people, the Modesto area has one of the highest violent and property crime rates in the country. It ranks No. 99 in the Best Places to Live 2016 ranking, beating out only San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The second-most eastern city of the 10 places with the highest rates of car theft, Albuquerque saw 676.9 auto thefts per 100,000 people in 2014. The City of Albuquerque notes New Mexico's close proximity to the U.S. border with Mexico lends to a higher chance of vehicle theft, as criminals may not only be seeking joy rides or compensation from chop shops, but also the potential to take the car over the border to sell in Mexico.