Car Thieves Love Hondas From the 90's

  • ‘Garden-variety knucklehead’ thieves baffled by new technology
  • About 100,000 Accords, Civics stolen in 2016, NICB says

A Honda Accord in 1994.

Photographer: Pitchal Frederic/Sygma via Getty Images

Car thieves are settling for older models, finding it’s easier to get away with a two-decade old Honda than break into better-protected vehicles made in recent years.

About 100,000 Accords and Civic compact cars were stolen last year, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said in a report Wednesday. Less than 500 of the Accords were 2016 models, compared with about 7,500 from 1997.

“These cars remain popular among thieves because they were some of the last models built without the anti-theft technology that was introduced in the late 1990s,” the NICB said in its report.

Automakers have boosted anti-theft measures since the 1990s when Japanese companies were caught off guard by the persistence of criminals in the U.S. Since the introduction of technology such as the “smart key,” which allows access only to the person with the fob, Honda Motor Co. cars have been harder to steal, according to the report.

Jessica Pawl, a spokeswoman for the carmaker, said the data reflect the durability of the vehicles. She also stressed the company’s efforts to make new models harder to steal.

Still, thieves have been working to defeat the latest technologies by all automakers. Sophisticated criminals and networks are able to target more valuable vehicles and ship them overseas.

And careless drivers can negate the value of anti-theft devices by leaving the keys in the ignition when exiting their car for quick errands or a cup of coffee. Leaving a car running or with the keys or fob inside contributed to more than 57,000 thefts in 2015, according to the NICB.

“If you have a smart key and dumb driver, guess who wins?” Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the NICB, said by phone. “You can’t leave a key in the car.”

Among 2016 model vehicles, Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry sedan was the most stolen, with 1,113 thefts. It was followed by Nissan Motor Co.’s Altima and the Toyota Corolla. All are among the top-selling passenger cars in the U.S.

While more cars were stolen last year than in 2015, theft is still down by more than half since 1991, Scafidi said, noting that an ever larger share of vehicles on the road boast anti-theft technology.

“The low-hanging fruit will disappear, and the garden-variety knucklehead car thief who can’t figure out how to ride a bus but can steal a car -- because some of those older models are pretty easy -- is going to have to find another line of work,” he said. “Because they’re very difficult to steal today.”

The NICB is a not-for-profit organization that partners with insurers and law enforcement to help prevent crime.

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