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These Cities Have the Highest Car Theft Rates

Doug Whiteman
These Cities Have the Highest Car Theft Rates

Car thefts peaked in the U.S. in 1991, when nearly 1.7 million vehicles were stolen. Today, the number is lower by more than half -- but when you own a car you should never let your guard down, especially in certain cities.

That means not doing anything ridiculously stupid like leaving your keys in the car with the engine running when you make a quick dash into a store. (No excuses, even if everything is 75% off.)

The National Insurance Crime Bureau is out with the 2019 edition of its "Hot Spots" report showing the U.S. metro areas with the nation's highest vehicle theft rates. Don't let your keys out of your sight and follow our countdown, to the city where car theft is worst.

12. Billings, Montana

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Nearly 900 cars were stolen in Billings last year.

In the Billings metro area, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 521 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 894 car thefts were reported locally in Montana's largest city.

To help curb car theft nationwide, vehicle owners need to be smarter. From 2013 through 2015, nearly 150,000 cars were reported stolen because the keys had been left inside, says the National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NICB.

11. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California

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The greater Riverside metro area reported more than 24,000 vehicle thefts in 2018.

In the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 522 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 24,113 car thefts were reported in this populous suburban area east of Los Angeles.

The NICB recommends four layers of protection to stop car thieves. The insurance industry group says the first and most cost-effective approach is to just use common sense: take the keys out of the ignition; lock doors and close windows; and park in well-lit areas.

10. St. Joseph, Missouri

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Almost 700 cars were stolen in this small city last year.

In the St. Joseph metro area, which straddles Kansas and Missouri north of Kansas City, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 532 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 674 car thefts were reported locally. But in the previous list, St. Joseph made a worse showing: It ranked fifth.

The area has a relatively small number of thefts but also a small population, so the result is a high theft rate. The same math puts Los Angeles down at No. 38, even though nearly 54,000 vehicles were reported stolen in LA during 2018.

9. Vallejo-Fairfield, California

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This suburban area northeast of San Francisco reported more than 2,400 stolen vehicles in 2018.

In the Vallejo-Fairfield metro area northeast of San Francisco, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 538 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 2,404 car thefts were reported locally. The area has jumped to ninth on the list from the No. 26 spot last time.

Give your vehicle a second layer of protection, the NICB says, by using a device that shows or tells a thief to leave your car alone. These might include a lock on the brake pedal, a collar secured around the steering column, or a very loud alarm.

8. Wichita, Kansas

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The largest city in Kansas had more than 3,500 car thefts last year.

In Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 550 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 3,547 car thefts were reported locally. Wichita has zoomed up from its No. 27 ranking in last year's report.

You'll triple up on your protection with a gadget that can immobilize your car and make it impossible for a thief to hot-wire it. Examples include a "smart" ignition key with a computer chip inside, or a fuel disabler.

7. Stockton-Lodi, California

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The greater Stockton area had nearly 4,300 car thefts in 2018.

In the Stockton-Lodi metro area, due east of San Francisco, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 569 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 4,287 car thefts were reported locally. Stockton-Lodi has climbed one position on this list, from No. 8 last year.

The NICB says give your car a fourth and final coat of protection by installing a tracking device, which will send a signal to police or a monitoring station to help authorities recover your vehicle faster.

6. Redding, California

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Redding reported more than 1,000 vehicle thefts in 2018.

In the Redding metro area of northern California, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 575 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 1,037 car thefts were reported locally. Redding ranked fourth last time but has fallen a couple of spots.

Half of the top 12 cities for auto theft are in California, but the state Highway Patrol says things are continuing to improve. The number of vehicles stolen in the state last year was down 6% from the 2017 total.

5. Modesto, California

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Modesto residents reported more than 3,400 stolen cars last year.

In the Modesto metro area, located in California's Central Valley, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 623 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 3,428 car thefts were reported locally. Modesta has moved up the list from No. 7 last year.

The California Highway Patrol says one vehicle was stolen every three minutes in the Golden State last year. Authorities have recovered 90.4% of the vehicles that California car thieves took in 2018.

4. Pueblo, Colorado

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Pueblo had nearly 1,200 car thefts in 2018.

In the Pueblo metro area, about 115 miles south of Denver, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 701 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 1,175 car thefts were reported locally. Pueblo has slipped one position from its third-place ranking in the previous study.

Time to buy a new car — with built-in alarm system? Find out what you can afford by calculating your monthly car loan payment. Want more MoneyWise? Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.

3. Bakersfield, California

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Bakersfield reported about 6,750 vehicle thefts in 2018.

Around Bakersfield, another metro area in California's Central Valley, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 752 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 6,748 car thefts were reported locally. Bakersfield has moved up to third from No. 6 last year.

The California Highway Patrol says the cars stolen most often in the nation's most populous state are the 2000 Honda Civic, the 1998 Civic and the 1997 Honda Accord. Thieves often target older car models for their parts.

2. Anchorage, Alaska

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Anchorage residents filed reports of more than 3,000 car thefts last year.

In the Anchorage metro area, cars are stolen at an annual rate of 773 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 3,087 car thefts were reported locally.

Alaska's largest city has quickly moved near the top of this list. In 2016, it ranked 47th for car theft. Now, it's No. 2 — for the second straight year. Police say a recent uptick in thefts was fueled by drug abuse problems.

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Albuquerque continues to have the nation's highest rate of car theft.

In the Albuquerque metro area, cars are stolen at the highest per capita rate in the U.S.: 780 thefts for every 100,000 residents.

In 2018, 7,146 car thefts were reported locally.

The city that was portrayed as a drug capital on Breaking Bad is a real-life hot spot for stolen cars. Albuquerque is at No. 1 for the third year in a row, though thefts last year were down 28% from the number in 2016, the National Insurance Crime Bureau says.

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