Car thieves didn’t take a break last year; they were out stealing cars and reversing three years of motor vehicle theft declines.

Car thefts were up again in 2021, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s Hot Spots Report, which was released in September 2022. The data show that 932,329 vehicles were reported stolen to law enforcement in 2021, which is a 6% increase from 2020, and a 17% increase over 2019.

Continuing supply chain issues and delays in new car shipments have significantly pushed up used car prices, making them lucrative targets for thieves. 

“Since the start of the pandemic, used car prices have increased 35 to 40%. Criminals are exploiting these high prices as vehicle and catalytic converter thefts are crimes of opportunity.  And crime is a business, and business is good,” David Glawe, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NICB, says in a news release. 

Motor vehicle thefts were declining pre-pandemic

Car theft is big business. According to FBI reports, $7.4 billion was lost to motor vehicle theft in 2020, an increase of $1 billion. The average dollar loss per theft was $9,166, a $280 increase from 2019. 

The total number of car thefts in 2021 went up for the second year in a row. A total of 932,329 vehicles were reported stolen to law enforcement in 2021, a 6% increase over 2020. Overall, motor vehicle thefts have dropped dramatically in the last 26 years. They peaked in 1991 when 1.7 million vehicles were stolen. 

The NICB credits not only law enforcement for vehicle theft declines but also anti-theft technology that has made it more difficult to steal vehicles and insurance company support for organizations.

Biggest days for motor vehicle thefts

While most of us are celebrating the holidays, car thieves may be headed to work. New Year’s Day is the biggest day for motor vehicle theft, but Labor Day runs a close second.

Here are the top 10 holidays for car theft:

  1. New Year’s Day: 2,320
  2. Labor Day: 2,222
  3. Presidents Day: 2,204
  4. New Year’s Eve: 2,201
  5. Halloween: 2,191
  6. Valentine’s Day: 2,174
  7. Memorial Day: 2,162
  8. Christmas Eve: 2,011
  9. Independence Day: 1,995
  10. Thanksgiving: 1,683

Which states have the most vehicle thefts?

Not every state is equal regarding car theft. Most of the states in the top 10 for motor vehicle thefts have large cities and motor vehicle theft is less common in rural states.

Top 10 states by theft rate

This year, Colorado grabbed the No. 1 spot for car thefts with 661.21 thefts per 100,000 people, which is a 32% increase from 2020. Washington, D.C., finished second this year with a theft rate of 651.00 thefts per 100,000 people and California rounded out the top three with a theft rate of 511.05 – an increase from 475.24 in 2020.

Top 10 states by theft rate
Rank State 2021 Theft Rate 2020 Theft Rate
1Colorado661.21502.12
2Washington, D.C.651562.98
3California511.05475.24
4New Mexico475.5426.19
5Oregon471.16385.08
6Washington461.91368.46
7Missouri428.13453.63
8Nevada426.75365.84
9Oklahoma359.33371.28
10Texas320.04318.52

*Theft rate is total thefts per 100,000 residents.

Learn more about which are the most stolen cars in every state

California is still the motor vehicle theft capital of the U.S.

While Colorado has the highest theft rate in the nation, California is still No. 1 when it comes to Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) thefts. The NICB report looked at which MSAs are big for car theft. Keep in mind that MSAs are not specific cities – many MSAs are made up of more than one city (commonly called a metro area).

The data showed that the Bakersfield, California, metro area is the worst for car thefts for the third year in a row with an auto theft rate of 1,023 (the total number of thefts per 100,000 residents). Three of the top 10 metro areas for car thefts are in the Golden State.

The Denver-Aurora-Lakewood area in Colorado is now the second-worst metro for car thefts with a theft rate of 964.92. Colorado also grabbed the third-place spot with Pueblo moving from the seventh spot all the way up to number three. Pueblo had a theft rate of 891.39.

The NCIB report highlighted a couple of MSAs that made it onto the top 10 for the first time. Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, moved into the top 10 this year in the fifth and ninth places, respectively.

Top 10 metro areas by theft rate

See the table below for the MSAs with the highest number of car thefts in 2021 and 2020.

Top 10 Core-Based Statistical Areas by Theft Rate
Rank CBSA/MSA 2021 Theft Rate 2020 Theft Rate
1Bakersfield, CA1023.68905.41
2Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO964.92705.8
3Pueblo, CO891.39602.39
4Albuquerque, NM710.58631.75
5Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA680.2489.95
6San Francisco – Oakland – Berkeley, CA675.86655.2
7Billings, MT611.11564.75
8Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI597.83345.19
9Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA582.47465.11
10Yuba City, CA578.68724.46

*Theft rate is total thefts per 100,000 residents.

States with the fewest auto thefts in 2021

Maine grabbed the top spot for states where car theft is rare. The Pine Tree state only saw 833 car thefts, which breaks down to a 60.7, which means that Maine saw 91% fewer car thefts than Colorado.

New Hampshire was the number two state, seeing only 858 thefts and Puerto Rico rounded out the top three with only 2,468 thefts which is a 75.62 theft rate.

See the table below for the states that had the fewest motor vehicle thefts in 2021.

States with the fewest motor vehicle thefts in 2021
State 2021 Rank 2021 Thefts 2021 Theft Rate
Maine5283360.7
New Hampshire5185861.77
Puerto Rico502,46875.62
Vermont4962196.19
Idaho481,83996.74
Massachusetts476,989100.06
New York4622,913115.51
West Virginia452,297128.83
Pennsylvania4418,044139.18
Virginia4312,320142.56

*Theft rate is total thefts per 100,000 residents

Comprehensive car insurance covers theft

If your vehicle is stolen, you need comprehensive car insurance to file a claim to replace it. 

Comprehensive insurance also covers damage due to flooding, fire, hail, wind, vandalism and animal strikes, in addition to theft. If your car is stolen and you file an auto insurance claim, you’ll get your car’s actual cash value, minus your deductible.

But you can reduce your chances of theft and get a discount on your car insurance by using anti-theft devices. Car insurance doesn’t cover personal items in your car. Instead, you would file a claim through your homeowners or renters policy if personal items are stolen.

Read more in detail about Does car insurance cover theft if your car is stolen

Resources & Methodology

Sources:

National Insurance Crime Bureau. “NICB Report Finds Vehicle Thefts Continue to Skyrocket in Many Areas of U.S.” Accessed October 2022.

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Contributing Researcher

Mark is a freelance journalist and analyst with over 15 years of experience covering the insurance industry. He has extensive experience creating and editing content on a variety of subjects with deep expertise in insurance and automotive writing. He has written for autos.com, carsdirect.com, DARCARS and Madtown Designs to name just a few. He is also a professional blogger and a skilled web content creator who consistently turns out engaging, error-free writing while juggling multiple projects.