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The best and worst cities for car theft

Car thefts have surged in many major U.S. cities in recent years. We determined which cities were the worst and best for motor vehicle theft. See how your city ranks.

Kara McGinley

By

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley is a senior editor and licensed home insurance expert at Policygenius, where she writes about homeowners and renters insurance. As a journalist and as an insurance expert, her work and insights have been featured in Kiplinger, Lifehacker, MSN, WRAL.com, and elsewhere.

Published|10 min read

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Car thefts have soared in recent years — in some U.S. cities, 2020 was the worst year for car theft in decades. [1] [2] Over 880,000 vehicles were stolen nationwide in 2020, which is around one vehicle every 36 seconds. [3] Nearly 90,000 more vehicles were stolen in 2020 than in 2019 and the trend only seems to be continuing. Cities like Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York City all also saw an uptick in carjackings in 2021. [4]

Experts at the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) have pointed to economic downturn and job loss during the pandemic, along with depleted school and social programs, to help explain the severe increase in auto thefts. [5]  

And there’s also the issue of what one NICB expert calls “owner complacency,” or simply not securing your car. The New York Times reported in January 2021 that police saw an increase in drivers leaving their key fobs and smart keys in their cupholders — giving thieves easier access to vehicles. [6]  

Using publicly available data and car insurance rate information, we determined the best and worst metro areas for car theft. We found that the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO area was the worst in the U.S. for car theft, while Pennsylvania cities like Pittsburgh and Harrisburg saw some of the lowest rates of car theft in the nation. 

How we ranked the cities

Using 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data, we identified the top 100 most populated metro statistical areas (MSAs) in the country. We used four key metrics to determine which of those metro areas were the best and worst for vehicle theft.

For more details, see our full methodology.

  • Motor vehicle theft rate per 100,000 residents. We analyzed the NICB’s 2020 theft rate data — the most recent data available — of each of the top 100 most populated MSAs. To adjust for population, the rates are calculated per 100,000 residents.    

  • Percentage increase in theft rate from 2019 to 2020. We also compared NICB data from 2019 to 2020 to calculate the percentage increase or decrease in theft rate. If a metro area had a high percentage increase, this negatively impacted its score.  

  • Percentage increase in cost for a full coverage policy vs. minimum coverage. We looked at the average cost of a full coverage car insurance policy in each MSA and compared it to the cost of just the minimum car insurance requirements in each area. A full coverage auto policy covers theft, while only meeting minimum requirements won’t include theft coverage. 

  • Vehicle recovery by state in 2020. We factored in auto recovery rate by state for each MSA. Note that just because an auto is recovered, doesn’t mean that it’s usable — in fact, recovered cars can still be considered totaled. 

The 10 worst cities for car theft

10. Louisville–Jefferson County, KY-IN

The theft rate in the Louisville–Jefferson County metro area went up by almost 30% from 2019 to 2020, coming in at a rate of 505.76 car thefts per 100,000 residents.  

9. Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga, TN had a theft rate of 435.84 per 100,000 residents — a 38.6% increase from the year before, which is pretty significant for one of the smaller cities on our list. There were 2,484 vehicles stolen in the area in 2020 — but Tennessee has 76.1% recovery rate, so some of those vehicles may have been returned.

8. Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City saw a whopping 48.02% theft rate increase in 2020 — over 2,200 more vehicles were stolen in the city compared to the previous year. One upside is that the state of Utah’s stolen vehicle recovery rate is one of the highest in the country at 87%, so there’s a chance you’ll see your stolen car again — or at least a piece of it. 

7. Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim, CA

The cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Anaheim make up the seventh metro area on our list, with a 482.35 theft rate per 100,000 residents. The metro area saw a theft rate increase of nearly 29% from 2019 to 2020, with over 60,000 vehicles reported stolen in 2020 alone. 

6. Kansas City, MO–KS

Kansas City is the sixth worst city for car theft in our index, with a theft rate of 544.68 per 100,000 residents in the area. The theft rate increased by almost 22% from 2019 to 2020, and the city sees above-average car insurance rates compared to other parts of the state. 

5. San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara, CA

The San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara metro area in California had a theft rate of 551.3 per 100,000 in 2020, an increase of 23.05% from 2019. That said, the state of California recovered a lot of stolen vehicles in 2020 — around 88% of them. 

4. Tulsa, OK

The auto theft rate in Tulsa increased by around 14% from 2019 to 2020, helping put it at number four on our list. In fact, Tulsa had one of the highest theft rates out of the 100 cities that we ranked — with a rate of 551.76 per 100,000 residents.  

3. Bakersfield, CA

Though it’s one of the smaller cities on the list population-wise, Bakersfield has seen consistently high rates of auto theft over the years. It has the highest per-capita theft rate of any city in the country, coming in at 905.41 per 100,000 residents. The good news is that California has a statewide recovery rate of 88%, so hopefully some stolen vehicles were found. 

2. San Francisco–Oakland–Berkeley, CA

The San Francisco–Oakland–Berkeley metro area had a theft rate of 655.2 per 100,000 residents, a 33% increase from 2019 to 2020. 

1. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

The worst metro area for car theft on our list, the Denver–Aurora–Lakewood area saw a theft rate of 705.8 per 100,000 residents in 2020. That represents an increase of over 48% from the previous year — which is the sixth biggest increase out of any of the 100 cities on our list. In fact, Colorado had the highest car theft rate of any state in the country, with over 7,000 more vehicles stolen in 2020 than 2019. 

The 10 best cities for car theft

10. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA

The metro area of Allentown–Bethlehem–Easton experienced some of the lowest car theft rates in the country, with a rate of 86.6 per 100,000 residents. The theft rate did slightly go up, but Pennsylvania has a recovery rate of 75.4%.

9. Tampa–St. Petersburg–Clearwater, FL

Florida isn’t a great state for car thefts, but the area of Tampa–St. Petersburg–Clearwater saw a 4.48% decrease in auto theft rates from 2019 to 2020. The theft rate was 154.72 per 100,000, and the NICB estimates that 5,019 vehicles were stolen in 2020.

8. Palm Bay–Melbourne–Titusville, FL

The Palm Bay–Melbourne–Titusville area of Florida also saw a decrease in car theft rate from 2019 to 2020 — 6.22%. 

7. Provo-Orem, UT

The area of Provo–Orem in Utah came in seventh on our list for best cities for car theft. The area saw a theft rate of 108.57 per 100,000 residents. With Utah having one of the highest recovery rates out of any state — 87% — it’s likely many stolen cars were recovered. 

6. Lakeland–Winter Haven, FL

The Lakeland–Winter Haven area of Florida saw a 2.65% decrease in auto thefts from 2019 to 2020, making it number six on our list of best cities for auto theft. The area saw an auto theft rate of 135.79 per 100,000 residents. 

5. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX

Although Texas is one of the worst states for vehicle theft, the McAllen–Edinburg–Mission area is an outlier. The area did see a minimal theft rate increase, but the total theft rate was only about 110 per 100,000 residents, and the recovery rate of stolen autos in Texas is around 70%.

4. Deltona–Daytona Beach–Ormond Beach, FL

Florida has a high statewide average theft rate, but the area of Deltona–Daytona Beach–Ormond Beach actually saw a decrease in theft rates of slightly over 10% in 2020. 

3. Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA

The Harrisburg–Carlisle area saw a drop in theft rates as well, with a decrease of 5.6%. The metro area has a theft rate of 69.08 per 100,000 residents and saw 402 cars stolen in 2020. Pennsylvania has a recovery rate of 75.4% — so it’s likely that some of those vehicles were found. 

2. Cape Coral–Fort Myers, FL

The theft rate in Cape Coral–Fort Myers saw a decrease of almost 6% in 2020. The rate was 111.92 per 100,000 residents. If you want protection against car theft in Cape Coral–Fort Myers, a full coverage car insurance policy costs an average of $2,534 a year — about $300 cheaper than the statewide average in Florida for the same amount of coverage. 

1. Pittsburgh, PA

The number one city on our list saw a major decrease in theft rates from 2019 to 2020 — over 14%. The city has a theft rate of 77.47, which is one of the lowest rates in the country, and it’s been on a steady decline for the last few years. The recovery rate of stolen vehicles in Pennsylvania is around 75%. And although Pittsburgh car insurance costs are higher than the Pennsylvania average, the average rates in Pittsburgh are still cheaper than the nationwide average.

Top 100 cities, ranked from best to worst for car theft

Note: Cities are indicative of the metropolitan statistical area. 

Top 10 most stolen cars

Make and Model

Model year

Number of thefts in 2020

Ford full-size pickup

2006

44,014

Chevrolet full-size pickup

2004

40,968

Honda Civic

2000

34,144

Honda Accord

1997

30,814

Toyota Camry

2019

16,915

Nissan Altima

2020

14,668

GMC full-size pickup

2005

13,016

Toyota Corolla

2020

12,515

Honda CR-V

2000

12,309

Dodge full-size pickup

2001

11,991

Ford full-size pickups took the lead for the most commonly stolen vehicle in 2020, followed by Chevrolet full-size pickups. The theft rates for these vehicles saw a combined 38.7% increase from the year before. [7]

Does car insurance cover car theft?

Car insurance only covers car theft if your policy includes comprehensive coverage. Comprehensive coverage is typically required if you are leasing or financing your car, but most drivers should consider adding it even if it's not required. This type of coverage is designed to protect your car if it’s damaged or destroyed by something other than a collision — like theft, vandalism, fire, or falling objects. 

If your car is stolen, you’ll need to report it to the police and then call your insurance company. To use your comprehensive coverage, you have to pay a deductible before your insurer will kick in the costs to cover your stolen car. If your claim is accepted, your insurer will reimburse you for the actual cash value (ACV) of your stolen vehicle, which means that depreciation is factored into your claim payout. 

For example, say your car was ten years old when it was stolen. With actual cash value, its age will be factored into your reimbursement — so you won’t be receiving the same amount of money that you paid for the car if you bought it as new (or the cost to replace it with a new car).   

→ Learn more about comprehensive coverage

How does location factor into car insurance rates?

When calculating your car insurance premiums, insurers will look at your ZIP code to help assess risk. The car theft rate or accident rate in your area can have a big impact on your rates. If you live in a city or town that reports frequent car theft or break-in claims, your car insurance rates may be higher than someone who lives in a place with a lower theft rate. 

→ Learn more about what affects your auto insurance premiums

How does a stolen car affect insurance rates?

If you have a full coverage auto insurance policy (meaning one that includes comprehensive and collision coverage in addition to liability) your policy will cover a stolen car. If you file a comprehensive claim for a stolen car, your rates may go up when you renew your policy — even though it likely wasn’t your fault your car was stolen. 

“A vehicle theft claim can raise rates at your policy renewal just like any other claim,” says Deante’ Peake, licensed property and casualty operations sales manager at Policygenius. “When you file a claim to an insurer, you become a higher risk in the insurance company’s eyes. Based on statistical data, after you file one claim, the likelihood of you submitting another claim in the future increases. So to overall balance the loss of the claim that has to be paid and the increased risk, insurers raise the rates of the insured. In some cases, they may even raise the rates of everyone in your area, especially if multiple claims were filed in that geographic region.”

Consider shopping around to see rates from different insurance companies if your car insurance does go up — some insurers may offer you a better deal, regardless of your theft claim.

Methodology

We used the top 100 most populated metropolitan statistical areas in the United States as the basis for our index. Each MSA was given a score from 1 to 100 in four different categories, and each category was weighted according to relevance, with the theft rate being the most heavily weighted category. The lowest score was the “worst” city for auto thefts and the highest score was the “best.” 

In the last category, recovery rate by state, each MSA was ranked according to their state's score on a scale of 1 to 44 (not all 50 states are represented in the top 100 MSAs). The state with the most recovered vehicles was given a score of 44 and the state with the least recovered vehicles was given a score of 1. 

  • 2020 motor vehicle theft rate per 100,000 residents: We used 2020 data

    — the most recent data available — from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) to determine the theft rate of each of the top 100 most populated metropolitan statistical areas. The rates factor in population, and are based per 100,000 residents. This was given a value of six times the baseline. [8]    

  • Percentage increase in motor vehicle theft rate from 2019 to 2020. We compared 2019 and 2020 data from the NICB to calculate the percentage increase or decrease in theft rate from 2019 to 2020. This was given a value of two times the baseline. [9]  

  • Percentage increase in cost for a full coverage policy vs. state minimum coverage: Rates courtesy of Quadrant Information Services for every ZIP code in the top 100 most populated MSAs and were based on full coverage policies with liability amounts of 50/100/50. We compared those rates to the rates for the minimum car insurance requirements in each city. Rates provided are average costs, so your quotes may differ. This was given a value of one times the baseline.

  • Vehicle recovery by state in 2020: 2020 rates courtesy of the NICB. Recovery rate is listed by state, not by MSA. These rates do not factor in whether or not the vehicle was recovered as usable or totaled. This was given a value of one times the baseline.

About Policygenius

Policygenius is the online insurance marketplace combining cutting-edge technology with the expertise of real licensed agents to help people get the coverage they need to protect their family, property, and finances with confidence. Since 2014 we’ve helped over 30 million people shop for insurance and placed more than $150 billion in coverage from our headquarters in New York City and Durham, North Carolina.

For reporters

To request more information about the data, or to speak with one of our experts, contact press@policygenius.com.

References

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Policygenius uses external sources, including government data, industry studies, and reputable news organizations to supplement proprietary marketplace data and internal expertise. Learn more about how we use and vet external sources as part of our

editorial standards.
  1. Insurance Information Institute

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    Facts + Statistics: Auto theft

    ." Accessed February 15, 2022.

  2. Federal Bureau of Investigation

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    Crime Data Explorer

    ." Accessed February 16, 2022.

  3. National Insurance Crime Bureau

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    America's Hottest Spots for Vehicle Theft

    ." Accessed February 16, 2022.

  4. National Insurance Crime Bureau

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    Violent Crime and Auto Thefts Continue Record High Trends

    ." Accessed February 15, 2022.

  5. National Insurance Crime Bureau

    . "

    NICB 'Hot Spots': Auto Thefts Up Significantly Across the Country

    ." Accessed February 15, 2022.

  6. The New York Times

    . "

    Here’s Why Car Thefts Are Soaring (Hint: Check Your Cup Holder)

    ." Accessed February 15, 2022.

  7. National Insurance Crime Bureau

    . "

    Hot Wheels: NICB Annual Auto Theft Report

    ." Accessed February 16, 2022.

  8. National Insurance Crime Bureau

    . "

    2020 Hotspot Report: NICB Annual Hotspot Report

    ." Accessed February 16, 2022.

  9. National Insurance Crime Bureau

    . "

    2018-2020 Hotspots: NICB Annual Auto Theft Report

    ." Accessed February 16, 2022.

Author

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

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Kara McGinley is a senior editor and licensed home insurance expert at Policygenius, where she writes about homeowners and renters insurance. As a journalist and as an insurance expert, her work and insights have been featured in Kiplinger, Lifehacker, MSN, WRAL.com, and elsewhere.

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