Reversing a downward trend in recent years, auto theft soared in 2020, with numbers on track to surpass any year in the past decade, according to a new analysis. The pandemic’s economic impact may be largely to blame, the report suggests, and the rise could, to some extent, affect car insurance rates as a result.

Key Takeaways

  • A new report shows that 2020 may be the biggest year for car thefts in the last decade.
  • Pandemic-related economic impacts may be a big part of the cause.
  • Auto theft rates play a role in calculating the cost of insurance coverage.


Auto Thefts Rose 9% From 2019

An initial analysis released this week by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that there were 873,080 auto thefts in 2020, a 9.2% increase from 2019. That represents more than 73,000 additional thefts.

“Preliminary reports indicate a sharp increase in automobile thefts for 2020,” says David Glawe, NICB president and CEO. “All indications are 2020 will be the largest theft year in the past decade by a significant margin.”

According to the findings, every single month in 2020 showed increases compared to 2019—with the months of June through December posting double-digit gains.

NICB released the early data in advance of its annual Hot Spots report, due out in mid-2021, because of the unique circumstances of 2020.

Economic, Civil Turmoil Are Likely Causes

Glawe notes that further cause assessment is still ongoing, but “considerations such as the pandemic, economic downturn, loss of juvenile outreach programs, and public safety budgetary and resource limitations are likely contributing factors.”

“Thieves exploit opportunities and may look for vehicles parked in the same location or citizens not taking proper measures to secure their vehicles,” he adds.

Car Theft Is a Costly Crime

Motor vehicle theft accounts for $6.4 billion in losses annually, according to the latest tally from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The average loss per theft is $8,886.

Only about 56% of stolen vehicles are ever recovered, according to other data.

How Car Theft Affects Insurance Rates

Vehicle theft rates play a role in determining the cost of comprehensive coverage, says Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communication at the Insurance Information Institute. Comprehensive is the part of a full-coverage auto policy that insures against theft or damage to an automobile for reasons other than a collision.

Generally, a quarter of the comprehensive auto premium covers auto theft claims, Ruiz says.

Where a policyholder lives and the type of car they own, can both affect insurance premiums. The NICB compiles auto theft data by state and city. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute lists vehicle makes and models with the lowest and highest comprehensive insurance loss rates.

What Drivers Can Do to Prevent Theft

Given the current situation, the NICB says drivers should double-down on prevention tactics to safeguard their vehicles and minimize the risk of theft. Along with common-sense practices like always removing keys or fobs from the car, locking doors, and parking in well-lit areas, the NICB notes that alarms and immobilizing and tracking devices can help thwart thieves and aid police in recovering the vehicle.