Dodge van most popular stolen vehicle in Ohio

For the fourth consecutive year, the 2000 Dodge Caravan has topped the list of the most popular vehicles stolen by auto thieves in Ohio, according to insurance industry data.

Criminals frequently target the Caravan because it lacks some of the more sophisticated anti-theft protections, and the vehicle’s parts can fetch hefty sums in the automotive aftermarket, insurance experts said.

Other popular vehicles swiped by auto thieves in the state include the 1994 Chevrolet pickup truck, the 1996 Honda Accord, the 1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass and the 1999 Ford pickup truck, according to a report released today by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Sometimes, thieves target vehicles that lack security features that make them easy to break into and start. Other thieves know how to disable and circumvent modern theft-protection systems, such as alarms and key codes.

But experts said many automobiles are stolen because the owners were simply careless and left the keys in their vehicles or failed to lock their doors.

“Sometimes we are in such a hurry that we neglect to use our common sense,” said Mary Bonelli, spokeswoman with the Ohio Insurance Institute.

The 2000 Caravan has been the most stolen vehicle in the state since 2008, and last year, it was also the most stolen vehicle in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Maryland, the crime bureau said. In 2011, thieves stole about 20,421 automobiles, down from 21,118 in 2010, according to preliminary data compiled by the Ohio Insurance Institute. Auto thefts in the Dayton metropolitan region fell to 633 in 2011, 40 fewer than in 2010, the data states.

Bonelli said the Caravan is a popular target because there are so many of them since it has been one of the best-selling minivans in the country. She said also that the Caravan contains many valuable parts that when removed and resold are worth more than the van itself.

“It might be a relatively easy car to steal … and it’s the parts that have become valuable,” she said. “The Blue Book value of a 2000 Caravan is probably not worth much, but when you take it apart, the parts alone are probably worth two to four times the total value of the car.”

The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s list of most stolen vehicles in Ohio also includes the 1994 full-size Chevrolet pickup; the 1996 Honda Accord; the 1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass; the 1999 full-size Ford pickup; and the 1994 Buick Century.

The list, however, does not contain vehicle models for multiple years. This means, for example, that it is unclear whether Dodge Caravans from other years were also among the top 10 most stolen vehicles.

New technology thwart some thefts

Experts said these vehicles from the 1990s are frequently stolen because they are easier for criminals to steal than more recent cars and trucks that have more advanced security systems. The bureau said car alarms, immobilizing devices, steering wheel locks and tracking devices, such as GPS, can deter and prevent auto thefts.

But the bureau said also that many thefts occur because owners are negligent and fail to take basic precautionary measures against theft.

The Dayton Daily News reviewed more than 100 police reports of auto theft in Dayton and discovered that many vehicles were stolen after their owners left their keys in the ignition or somewhere else inside. Many owners failed to lock the doors of their cars and trucks overnight or when they left town. Some people left their vehicles running as they shopped or visited friends. In the winter months, some owners left their vehicles running but unattended to in their driveways, hoping to warm them up.

But common sense and high-tech security systems come with no guarantees.

James Schweitzer, the chief operations officer of the crime bureau, said that car thieves are finding ways to steal newer cars, despite key-code technology that makes sure a chip in the key matches the car’s computer.

“The thieves have figured out how to work the system and get their hands on these transponder keys,” Schweitzer said. “What we’ve seen at NICB is that the thieves will actually go out and shop for a vehicle, they’ll find the vehicle they’re interested in, get the (vehicle identification number) and then either create phony paperwork, which they take to the locksmith or the dealer, or they have an insider at the locksmith or the dealership who will provide them the key they need in order to steal the car. Once they have the key, it’s as simple as going back to the car the next day, putting the key in the lock and driving the car away.”

For proof, crime bureau officials offered that they studied 531,031 key code transactions from the first quarter of 2012 and found that 277 cars were stolen within a week of new keys being made. The bureau could not provide any other corroborating data, but chief communications officer Roger Morris said that is only a portion of key code transactions, so the number of cars stolen by that method could be much higher.

“If they can’t defeat the technology, they’re able to circumvent the system and get these key codes somehow and steal the cars,” Morris said.

Some newer vehicles made some states’ top 10 lists for stolen vehicles. They included the 2012 Ford Explorer and 2010 and 2011 models including Ford pickups, Toyota’s Camry and Corolla and Chevrolet’s Impala and Malibu. Morris said the 2010 Toyota Corolla is the 13th most stolen vehicle in the United States.

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