Four auto parts that thieves really want

Linda Melone
If you own a pickup truck, your tailgate may be a prime target for an auto parts thief. From tailgates to headlights, stolen auto parts are hot property.
If you discover your tailgate -- or any other car part -- has been swiped, it's time to call your auto insurance agent to find out whether you're covered. Unfortunately, you may not be. That's because theft and vandalism fall under a policy's comprehensive coverage, which is optional. Many drivers carry only basic liability insurance, which is mandatory in 49 states; New Hampshire is the lone holdout.
Kevin Alsup, vice president of insurance at Foundation Insurance Services in Florida, points out that if you do have comprehensive coverage, you'd have to pay a deductible of probably $250 or $500. After that, your auto insurance company will pick up the tab for a stolen auto part.
"Any part of a car is susceptible to theft. It really comes down to the individual taste or need of the thief," says Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The cash value of parts motivates most thieves, as the stolen parts -- such as doors, headlights and tailgates -- typically are sold to scrap yards. The following parts are most likely to get a thief's heart racing.
1. Tailgates.
Why tailgates? They typically do not require tools or much time -- maybe 20 seconds -- to remove, making them easy pickings. Ditto for Jeep Wrangler doors, which easily unlatch.
"Easily removed means easily stolen," Scafidi says. "Tailgates from pickups and even the third seat from larger SUVs are also popular targets for thieves."
Tailgates and Jeep doors sell on the black market for about half their retail value, or between $200 and $500, says Matt Allen, owner of Virginia Auto Service in Arizona.
2. Catalytic converters.
Catalytic converters transform harmful compounds in the car exhaust into harmless compounds. Converters also contain precious metals, including platinum, palladium and rhodium, making them highly desirable to thieves.
In December 2011, a couple in Delaware was arrested and charged with stealing catalytic converters from more than 100 cars in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, according to the FBI.
On the black market, a catalytic converter sells for $65 to $200 or more, depending on the year, make, model and condition, according to Allen.
3. Copper wiring.
The price of metals such as aluminum, steel and copper is at an all-time high, says Greg Burchette, owner of Bridgewater Motorworks in New Jersey. Copper wiring sells for about $3 a pound, and the average car has a mile of copper wiring in it. Stealing that copper can yield a pretty penny.
Newer cars don't have as much copper wiring, Allen says. "Manufacturers are adopting wireless technology and fiber-optics because copper wire is expensive and also heavy, which reduces fuel economy," he says.
4. Headlights.
Headlights make for easy pickings, as they can be easily popped off, often without opening the hood or doing any other tinkering. Depending on the type of headlights, they can fetch several hundred dollars on the black market.
Personal items
Although they're not auto parts, personal property such as GPS devices, iPads and iPods can be irresistible to thieves and never should be left in your vehicle. Personal items inside your car are covered by your home or renter's insurance policy, rather than your auto insurance policy, says Dawnyel Smink, owner of Canyon Lands Insurance in Arizona.
An exception: Any item that's permanently attached to your car is covered by your auto insurance.
If a thief damages your car while stealing a part, the optional comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy will pay for the repairs, according to Smink.
Covering your assets
Taking steps to prevent theft may not only save you from losing an auto part and filing a claim but may earn you a discount as well.
The NICB.org website offers recommendations for anti-theft devices. Some of those devices, such as alarm systems and steering-wheel locks, could lead to auto insurance discounts of 15 percent to 20 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Ask your insurance agent or insurance company for details.

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