Guard those pickups!

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Pickups have a lot of utility … [and] they tend to be used in support of other criminal activity. It has long been a common practice for criminals to use a stolen vehicle while conducting other criminal activity: alien smuggling, dope transportation, etc. That’s why you see pickup thefts in the border states much more than elsewhere.” –Frank Scafidi, spokesman, National Insurance Crime Bureau

Vehicle thefts may be down according to the numbers (dropping for the fifth year in a row, actually), but if you own a pickup truck – especially an older model Ford F-150 or a newer Dodge Ram – you still better keep a watchful eye on it.

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That’s because pickups still remain one of the top vehicle types coveted by auto thieves, according to the annual Hot Wheels study compiled by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), based on data reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

According to the NICB’s latest vehicle theft study released this week, in 2008, the most stolen vehicles in the U.S. nation were:

1. 1994 Honda Accord

2. 1995 Honda Civic

3. 1989 Toyota Camry

4. 1997 Ford F-150 Pickup

5. 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup

6. 2000 Dodge Caravan

7. 1996 Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee

8. 1994 Acura Integra

9. 1999 Ford Taurus

10. 2002 Ford Explorer

Certain models of older cars and trucks are popular with thieves because of the value of their parts, the group noted – and, frequently, parts can be stripped from a stolen car or truck at a chop shop and sold for at least twice as much as the value of the vehicle on the used car market.

That being said, though, there’s been a significant decline in vehicle thefts over the last five years – due in part to more aggressive law enforcement tactics, more diligent prosecution, and a proliferation of anti-theft technology.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) preliminary 2008 Uniform Crime Report (UCR) shows that vehicle theft is on pace to record a decrease of 13.1 percent from 2007, making 2008 the fifth consecutive year of declining vehicle thefts. Moreover, if the preliminary figures hold total thefts for 2008 would be below 1 million vehicles – the lowest annual total in over 20 years, said Joe Wehrle, NICB's president and CEO.

"This is great news for … it takes years of sustained effort to deliver the kinds of reductions that we are enjoying today,” Wehrle said.

Yet the unpleasant fact remains that pickups are still one of the top models being pinched by thieves – and while thefts are down, vehicle recoveries from theft are down, too; and indication, perhaps, that chop shop activity is alive and well and remaining very busy.

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“The drop in thefts is due to a confluence of several factors delivering a great result: enforcement, legislation, prosecution, technology, and public awareness,” Frank Scafidi, NCIB’s spokesman, told me by email. “But to address your observation about chop shop activities, it could be that there is actually an increase in that activity as the national percentage of recovered vehicles slipped below 60% in 2006 and 2007—first time in ages—and we may see that for a third consecutive year when the final numbers come out from the FBI in the fall.”

That’s why the NCIB is urging the adopting of not just anti-theft devices by vehicle owners of all strops but vehicle recovery technology as well – devices that allow law enforcement to track down stolen cars and trucks quickly before they get sliced and diced for parts.

“These devices are not deterrent devices but recovery devices,” Scafidi told me. “The point is that the faster you can recover a vehicle once it is stolen, the less likely that it will be chopped or severely damaged as a result of that theft. You get your car back with little to no damage and you are spared from any of the hassle of dealing with insurance issues as well as having to secure a replacement vehicle.”

Such tracking technology is part of what NICB calls a “layered approach” to auto theft prevention, using four tactics to make vehicles less attractive to thieves and to help recover them quickly if stolen:

Common Sense: Lock your car and take your keys. It's simple enough but many thefts occur because owners make it easy for thieves to steal their cars.

Warning Device: Having and using a visible or audible warning device is another item that can ensure that your car remains where you left it.

Immobilizing Device: Generally speaking, if your car won't start, it won't get stolen. "Kill" switches, fuel cut-offs and smart keys are among such devices proven to be extremely effective.

Tracking Device: A tracking device emits a signal to the police or to a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen; thus are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles. Some systems employ telematics, combining GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of a vehicle. If the vehicle is moved, the system alerts the owner so the vehicle can be tracked via computer.

Suffice to say, though, we’re on a good trend line where vehicle thefts are concerned – but that doesn’t mean vehicle owners, especially of pickups, can rest easy quite yet.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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