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Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Decline of Car Theft

     Auto theft isn't much of a problem anymore in New York City. In 1990, the city had 147,000 reported car thefts, one for every 50 residents; last year, there were just 7,000. That's a 96 percent drop in the rate of car theft.

     So why did this happen? All crime has fallen, nationally and especially in New York. But there has also been a big shift in the economics of auto theft: Stealing cars is harder than it used to be, less lucrative and more likely to land you in jail. As such, criminals have found other things to do.

     The most important factor is a technological advance: engine immobilizer systems, adopted by manufacturers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These make it essentially impossible to start a car without the ignition key, which contains a microchip uniquely programmed by the dealer to match the car.

     Criminals generally have not been able to circumvent the technology or make counterfeit keys…They are stuck with stealing older cars. You can see this in the pattern of thefts of America's most stolen car, the Honda Accord. About 54,000 Accords were stolen in 2013, 84 percent of them from model years 1997 or earlier…Not coincidentally, Accords started to be sold with immobilizers in the 1998 model year…

     Old cars are easier to steal, and there are plenty of them still on the road. But there's an obvious problem with stealing them: They're not worth very much. Cars are typically stolen for parts, and as a car gets older, its parts become less valuable….[Today, if a criminal is desperate for a new car, he highjacks it which is a more violent crime.]

Josh Barro, "Here's Why Stealing Cars Went Out of Fashion," The New York Times, August 11, 2014. 

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