FILE - Car theft

Driving is one of the most common forms of transportation in the U.S. In fact, research from the Federal Highway Administration shows there are more than 268 million motor vehicles registered nationwide. While drivers are often concerned about their safety behind the wheel, there is another danger that drivers should be wary of – car theft.

According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, nearly 750,000 cars were stolen in the United States in 2018. Interestingly, the number of car thefts per capita has fallen steadily since the new millennium, dropping by almost half between 1999 and 2014. This parallels a similar trend in which overall violent crimes per capita decreased during the same time frame. However, motor vehicle theft has been slowly on the rise over the past few years. In 2018, the number of car thefts per capita was about 6 percent higher than in 2014.

Not surprisingly, car theft comes with a hefty financial cost for victims. The FBI reports that the average value of a stolen car in 2018 was $8,407, indicating that new and expensive cars are not the only vehicles at risk of theft. When a car is stolen, victims are usually able to recoup the loss through their insurance; however, individuals and families without comprehensive car insurance must cover the cost on their own.

While car theft may seem like a problem usually faced by populous cities with many drivers, there is almost no relationship between city size and the likelihood of having a car stolen. For example, cities such as Los Angeles and Miami have some of the highest total numbers of stolen vehicles, but their large populations cause car thefts per capita to be relatively low.

Instead, car thefts per capita tend to be highest in cities with high overall crime rates, especially high rates of violent crime such as murder and manslaughter. Nationwide, car theft is the fourth most common crime (after burglary and aggravated assault), representing 8.9 percent of all crimes. For comparison, the most common crime is larceny-theft, which makes up about 62 percent of all crimes, and the least common crimes are murder and manslaughter, at 0.2 percent.

Interestingly, cities can experience a significant rise or fall in car thefts over a short period of time, even as short as three years. By contrast, changes in violent crime rates happen on a much smaller scale within the same time frame. This suggests that car theft is more easily impacted by factors such as policy change (e.g. stricter punishments) or changes in the economic environment, while violent crime including robbery and assault are more difficult to uproot.

Not surprisingly, car theft per capita remains high in cities with a large proportion of residents living below the poverty line. Cities that experienced a rise in unemployment in the last three years tended to see a simultaneous increase in car thefts. At the same time, cities that managed to reduce unemployment also enjoyed a fall in car thefts per capita. Consequently, an effective method to protect Americans’ cars might be to support access to education and training programs, which increase access to jobs and reduce poverty.

Given the recent uptick in the national car theft rate, analysts at BuyAutoInsurance.com wanted to find which cities have the most vehicle thefts and what factors might be relevant when tackling this issue. The researchers used data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report as well as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for the analysis. Cities were ordered by their respective car theft rates per 100k residents. Here are the car theft capitals of the U.S.

15 Cities With the Highest Car Theft Rates

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Cleveland, OH

  • Car theft rate: 772 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 2,970
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: Not available
  • Violent crime rate: 1,450 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 33.1%
  • Unemployment rate: 12.5%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -6.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Des Moines, IA

  • Car theft rate: 772 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 243
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: 33.5%
  • Violent crime rate: 353 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 14.6%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -2.5%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Salinas, CA

  • Car theft rate: 774 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 1,227
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: -36.5%
  • Violent crime rate: 619 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 13.6%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.6%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -2.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Chattanooga, TN

  • Car theft rate: 789 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 1,424
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: 62.2%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,048 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 16.7%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.0%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -3.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Tulsa, OK

  • Car theft rate: 808 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 3,259
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: 22.9%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,065 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 19.5%
  • Unemployment rate: 6.8%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: 1.2%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Hayward, CA

  • Car theft rate: 845 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 1,376
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: -0.9%
  • Violent crime rate: 411 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 6.0%
  • Unemployment rate: 3.3%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -3.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Tacoma, WA

  • Car theft rate: 870 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 1,877
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: -7.1%
  • Violent crime rate: 867 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 14.9%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.9%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -2.8%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Springfield, MO

  • Car theft rate: 872 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 1,470
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: 17.4%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,316 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 22.3%
  • Unemployment rate: 5.0%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -1.1%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. St. Louis, MO

  • Car theft rate: 896 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 2,750
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: -12.6%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,800 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 20.3%
  • Unemployment rate: 7.0%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -5.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Detroit, MI

  • Car theft rate: 961 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 6,454
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: 23.7%
  • Violent crime rate: 2,008 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 34.5%
  • Unemployment rate: 15.8%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -5.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Anchorage, AK

  • Car theft rate: 967 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 2,823
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: 144.6%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,310 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 9.9%
  • Unemployment rate: 5.7%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: 0.1%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. San Bernardino, CA

  • Car theft rate: 1,006 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 2,194
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: -27.3%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,333 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 22.7%
  • Unemployment rate: 11.5%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -4.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Portland, OR

  • Car theft rate: 1,055 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 6,932
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: Not available
  • Violent crime rate: 520 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 14.7%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.5%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -2.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Oakland, CA

  • Car theft rate: 1,179 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 5,071
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: -20.6%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,274 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 15.3%
  • Unemployment rate: 6.8%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -0.8%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Albuquerque, NM

  • Car theft rate: 1,181 per 100k
  • Total number of car thefts: 6,616
  • 3-year change in car theft rate: 27.7%
  • Violent crime rate: 1,365 per 100k
  • Poverty rate: 15.2%
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8%
  • 3-year change in unemployment rate: -3.4%

Methodology & Full Results

Crime statistics are from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2018 Uniform Crime Report. The per capita rate for each crime is reported per 100,000 people. Statistics on unemployment and poverty are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Only the largest 200 cities in the U.S. by population were included in the analysis. Cities without data available from the FBI were excluded.