Why don’t thieves like the Toyota Prius?

Susan Ladika

If you’re tooling around town in a Toyota Prius in a bid to save money on gas, it also might save you from calling the cops.

As shocking as it may seem, just 2,400 of the hybrid electric vehicles have been stolen since the Prius was introduced in the U.S. a dozen years ago, according to a recent report from the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau, making it the least stolen vehicle in the country.

Honda Accord is hot commodity

But you might not want to tell that to your friends who are driving around in their 1994 Honda Accords, which were America’s most stolen vehicles last year. Almost 7,600 were stolen in 2011 alone. 

While no one can say precisely why old Accords are such a hot commodity and Priuses are shunned by thieves, crime bureau spokesman Frank Scafidi says cars often are stolen and sold to chop shops for their parts. Hondas are in demand because their parts are interchangeable.

“It just could be there isn’t a market yet for (Prius parts),” Scafidi says.

Vehicles also are stolen to meet a demand. The bad guys will swipe a high-end vehicle like a Lexus, conceal its identity so it can’t be tracked by law enforcement and sell it to someone else. “There may not be that kind of underground demand for Prius cars,” Scafidi says.

California tops list for Prius thefts

Although the numbers are small, California tops the country for Prius thefts, with 1,062 since 2000 – far outstripping any other state.

That’s likely because Prius is a big seller in the Golden State, accounting for one-fourth of all auto sales for the first nine months of 2012, says Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Network of California.

Moraga speculates Priuses aren’t major targets because “they aren’t associated with the cool cars thieves would go after.”

Stolen cars often are used in street racing, and thieves will get their hands on an old Honda and put in the engine of a pricey Acura. As for the new technology in a Prius, “I think many people just don’t understand them,” Moraga says.

More than 1.2 million Priuses had been sold in the United States as of April 2012. In the rare case a Prius is stolen, nearly 97 percent are recovered, the crime bureau found.

While Scafidi can’t say exactly why the recovery rate is so high, even simple things like locking the vehicle can be a deterrent.

Comprehensive coverage for car theft

Regardless of whether you own a new Prius or an old Accord, you won’t be reimbursed for the theft unless you have comprehensive coverage, says T. Bryan Cook, senior assistant vice president at insurance company Amica Mutual.

Along with covering auto theft, comprehensive coverage pays for damage to your vehicle, such as a tree falling on your car or hail dinging the paint. But it won’t cover damage sustained in a wreck.

While comprehensive coverage is likely to be required if you finance a new car, owners of older cars may drop it if their vehicles don’t have much value. In that case, owners need to “weigh it from a cost-benefit standpoint,” Cook says.

What other coverage do you need?

Owners of newer vehicles also should consider gap insurance, he says. Once a vehicle is driven off the dealership lot, the value declines and often is less than what’s owed on the vehicle. With gap insurance, the auto insurance company will reimburse the owner up to the remaining balance of the loan if his vehicle is stolen and not recovered, or if damage to a recovered vehicle exceeds the value of the vehicle. Insurers use resources such as Kelley Blue Book to determine the value of a vehicle.

Jeff Schroeder, group products manager at Mercury Insurance, also recommends drivers carry rental reimbursement coverage, so if your vehicle is stolen, you’ll be reimbursed for renting a vehicle until your car is recovered.

Auto insurance rates are based on many factors, including the number of insurance claims for a particular type of vehicle, so simply owning a Prius could get you a lower rate, Schroeder says. And having anti-theft devices on your vehicle also can bring insurance discounts.

If your car is swiped, you’ll usually have to wait 30 days to be reimbursed for your loss, unless the vehicle is recovered, Cook says. So if your stolen car is wrecked and sitting on the side of the road, you’ll typically get compensation sooner than if it’s never found.

If your car suddenly disappears, you first should file a report with police, then contact your insurance company, Schroeder says. “The sooner you can inform (the police),” he says, “the greater the opportunity for them to recover the vehicle.”


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