Special Report

American Cities Where Car Theft Spiked During the Pandemic

Motor vehicle thefts spiked in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued to rise even after lockdown restrictions were lifted. A report from the nonprofit group National Insurance Crime Bureau found that 932,329 cars, trucks, and SUVs were reported stolen to law enforcement in 2021 – a 6% increase from 2020 and a 17% increase from 2019, the year before the pandemic began. 

Experts attribute the rise to more vehicles sitting unattended and unused for longer periods of time during the pandemic. Some newer car models with keyless entry and push button ignitions are also increasingly being targeted by criminals who use devices to amplify a key fob’s signal, allowing them to enter and drive off in cars that are parked and locked. Additionally, certain Hyundai and Kia models can be stolen with no more than a screwdriver and USB charger. (Here is a look at the least reliable cars in America.

The national surge in motor vehicle thefts is being driven by certain cities in particular, where reported cases of automobile theft surged by anywhere from 50% to over 100% since 2019. 

Using data from the NICB’s report 2021 Hot Spots Vehicle Theft Report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the U.S. metro areas where motor vehicle theft rose the most during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 384 U.S. metro areas are ranked based on the change in reported thefts from 2019 and 2021. In each of the 40 cities on this list, cases of vehicle theft rose by 50% or more in that period. 

All but nine of the cities on this list are concentrated in the Western and Northeastern United States. The Midwest is home to eight cities on this list, and Charlottesville, Virginia, is the only city in the South to report a more than 50% increase in vehicle thefts from 2019 to 2020. 

New York is home to more metro areas on this list than any other state, with nine of its 13 metropolitan areas reporting a 50% or more surge in auto theft. 

Notably, there are over a dozen cities on this list where, despite the rise in theft, the motor vehicle theft rate remains below the national average of about 281 incidents per 100,000 people. Still, four of the five metro areas with the nation’s highest automobile theft rate are also on this list. (Here is a look at the worst cities to drive in every state.)

Click here to see cities where motor vehicle theft spiked during the pandemic.

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