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1994 Honda Accord: Thieves' favorite target

Des Toups

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CarInsurance.com

1994 Honda Accord: Thieves' favorite target

Nearly two decades after its manufacture, a 1994 Honda Accord in "Good" condition is still worth about $3,000 on a dealer's lot, according to Kelley Blue Book, and vehicle-data tracker Polk says 256,524 of them are still on the road.

Unfortunately, that combination of durability and retained value has helped to make the 1994 Accord the most-stolen car in America for a third consecutive year.

This backhanded endorsement comes via the National Insurance Crime Bureau's latest annual "Hot Wheels" report, detailing the most-stolen models of 2010. One in every 13 vehicles stolen last year was a Honda Accord.

Rank Make and model Year Rank Make and model Year
1 Honda Accord 1994 6 Dodge Ram 2004
2 Honda Civic 1995 7 Dodge Caravan 2000
3 Toyota Camry 1991 8 Acura Integra 1994
4 Chevrolet C/K 1500 pickup 1999 9 Ford Explorer 2002
5 Ford F-Series pickup 1997 10 Ford Taurus 1999

The prevalence of best-selling Japanese models is unsurprising to Frank Scafidi, spokesperson for the NICB. "Face it, they last a long time," he says. "People who own them tend to take care of them."

And therein lies the problem.

It's not really cost-effective to insure a 17-year-old car for anything other than liability, because the cost of even minor repairs can exceed the car's value. Owners are usually writing their own checks, and they shop around.

Shady repair shop owners competing on price can pad their profits with these stolen-car parts, Scafidi says. A shop owner can buy a legitimate part from a parts house, show that receipt to an insurance adjuster or owner, use a stolen part for the repair, and then return the new part.

Anti-theft technology makes a difference

According to preliminary FBI data, about 700,000 cars were stolen in the U.S. in 2010. Of those, more than 52,000 were Honda Accords. More than 44,000 were Accords built in the 1990s. And 6,979 of them were 1994 models.

The 1994 Honda Accord alone is the most-stolen vehicle in six states and in the top 10 in 11 more states. The similar 1995, 1996 and 1997 models populated the lists of 20 states, and five other states preferred earlier Accords.

In other words, a 1990s Accord is shark bait.

Honda introduced a sixth-generation Accord in 1998, and it sold even better. But it also included an anti-theft key with a transponder. "Thefts fell precipitously," Scafidi says.

In fact, fewer than 5,700 Accords built in the last decade were stolen last year.

While cars have become harder to steal, technology is improving the odds on the enforcement end, too. "Bait cars" (often ones from the list above) are left in conspicuous places in car-theft hot spots, then lock themselves tight once the thieves are inside. And license-plate readers mounted on patrol cars scan traffic and parking lots, comparing a list of known stolen plate numbers to what the camera sees.

Car thefts have declined for seven consecutive years, the FBI reports. Last year saw the lowest number of reported thefts since 1967.

Most stolen and least insured

How much does a car's theft rate drive up insurance premiums?

In the case of the top 10 most-stolen models, not much -- but that's largely because they're worth so little to begin with. We compared insurance quotes and found that owners would pay about 46 percent more for comprehensive coverage, which covers non-accident claims such as theft. When a car is worth only a few thousand dollars, the risk for insurance companies is comparatively small.

Of course, most of the cars on the top 10 list aren't insured for theft at all, just liability.

Newer cars are a different story.

Many are loaded into shipping containers and sent overseas, or driven across the Mexican border, Scafidi says. Some are "cloned:" A vehicle identification number (VIN) is copied, then applied to an identical stolen car. And others are what industry insiders call "owner give-ups" -- cars in which the owner is upside-down and can no longer afford that somehow wind up as burned-out hulks in the desert.

Still, the comprehensive portion of your insurance is likely to be just a fraction of your overall bill, usually less than 15 percent, says CarInsurance.com consumer analyst Penny Gusner.

Don't make it easy

The NICB's "layers of protection" strategy starts with the basics to head off the opportunists and joy riders:

  • Lock your car: Lock your car and take your keys.
  • Warn away trouble. Have and use a visible or audible warning device, such as a steering-wheel lock or a really annoying alarm.
  • Immobilize the vehicle: If your vehicle can't be started, it can't be stolen. "Kill" switches, fuel cut-offs and smart keys make attempts to steal far more difficult.

Yet nothing short of encasing your vehicle in concrete will stop a determined thief.

"If that vehicle is wanted and high on the list of a really competent thief," Scafidi warns, "start looking for a backup."

You can also consider a tracking device that emits a signal to the police or to a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. Some employ GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of a vehicle, alerting the owner and tracking the vehicle.

About 55 percent of vehicles reported stolen in 2008 were eventually recovered, according to FBI statistics.

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