News Release, AAA

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, July 18, 2019) –– Thieves are targeting tires, wheels, and rims sometimes in the still of the night and, in other cases, in broad daylight. Across the region, hapless victims are reporting they awoke from their slumber to find their vehicles left sitting on cinder blocks. Their tires and rims were stolen.

It is a wake-up call for automobile owners every day, and especially during July, which is “National Vehicle Theft Prevention Month.” Protect your vehicle. Depending on the vehicle make and model, “the average cost to replace the tires and rims is about $3,000-$4,000,” police departments warn.

It is theft by unlawful taking. “Thieves can steal all four tires, wheels, and rims within minutes,” experts warn. Compounding matters, thieves and their fellow travelers are “fencing stolen tires and rims.” Earlier this year “a rash” of tire and rim theft was reported on Capitol Hill. One victim reportedly had her wheels stolen “twice in one month.” It is axiomatic: the more layers of protection your vehicle has, the less likely your car or its parts and accessories, such as factory 20” wheels or custom 22” wheels, will be stolen.

“The wily thieves strike with the speed and efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Like a NASCAR jack-man, one member of the band of thieves jacks up the car, while another bandit armed with pneumatic tools removes the five lug nuts and the wheels in a matter of seconds. Then they leave it on blocks. Poof! They are gone!”

The vehicle above also sustained costly frame damage, a common occurrence, when thieves stole its wheels. The total insurance claim: about $6,000. During 2018, thieves stole 1,135 tires and rims in Prince George’s County. A popular target of this type of thievery is the Toyota Corolla, which reportedly comprises half of all car perpetrators leave hoisted on cinder blocks once they strike under the cover of darkness. Other top targets of the caper: the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, which were also the most frequently stolen vehicles during 2017; the Honda Civic, which is also the most stolen car in the United States for all model years, and the Honda Accord, which ranks second on the list of most stolen cars by model year. Thieves also cast their eyes on the Honda Fit Sport, which boasts 15-inch alloy wheels, or 16-inch black alloy wheels, plus its “six-speed manual.” The white and red rims for the Honda Civic LX or EX can run nearly $600 each. The telltale signs: “Cars up on blocks, missing their tires and rims.” Kleptomaniacal crooks are selling high-end wheels for “1,500 to $2,000.” It is their modus operandi (M.O.).  

“Most car theft occurs during July and August in the warm weather that blankets the United States,” reports the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Such is life and its caducity. During 2018, motor vehicle thefts declined 3.3 percent in the United States, according to Preliminary Semiannual Crime Statistics for 2018 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “While car thefts are declining across the country, the thefts of some parts and accessories are proving to be a lucrative business for professional thieves,” explains the NICB.

Motor Vehicle Thefts By Jurisdiction 2017-2018

 Jurisdiction 2018 2017 Variance
 Washington D.C. 2,407 2,412 0 Percent
 Virginia 11,040 10,223 +7.9% Increase
 Maryland N/A 13,553 N/A

In the nation’s capital, 2,407 vehicles were stolen during 2018, compared to 2,412 vehicles during 2017, according to data points from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). However, thefts from automobiles increased 13 percent across town a year ago, with the number of such crimes rising from 10,289 incidents in 2017 to 11,639 cases in the District in 2018, according to the MPD. As of July 17, 2019, the city witnessed 1,156 stolen automobiles, compared to 1,233 during the same period a year earlier, for a 6 percent decrease in the city. However, thefts from automobiles were up one percent, with 5,381 incidents as of July 17, compared to 5,329 in the same period a year ago. In Prince George’s County “rim thefts fall under ‘thefts from autos.’” As of July 16, the county experienced 2,305 thefts from automobiles this year. The crime is down 12.4% in the county, compared to the same period a year ago.

Virginia incurred 11,040 motor vehicle thefts during 2018, according to the 2018 Crime In Virginia Report compiled by the Uniform Crime Reporting Section of the Virginia Department of State Police. During 2018, Virginia witnessed 7,816 thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories, compared to 28,842 cases of thefts from motor vehicles. “July had the greatest occurrence of offenses reported,” explain the Virginia Department of State Police. It is proof perpetrators are more active during summertime.

Maryland experienced 13,553 motor vehicle thefts during 2017, according to Maryland’s 2017 Uniform Crime Report. It represents a two percent decrease over 2016. Car thieves absconded with 3,154 stolen vehicles in Prince George’s County during 2017. That compares to 5,184 stolen vehicles in Baltimore City, 2,029 motor vehicle thefts in Baltimore County, and 828 auto thefts in Montgomery County during 2017. It is the latest year complete crime figures are available on a statewide basis.

During 2017 Maryland experienced 8,783 thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories, compared to 29,643 cases of thefts from motor vehicles, reveals the 2017 Crime In Maryland report. Moreover, the state witnessed 13,857 auto thefts in 2016 compared to 13,564 motor vehicle thefts statewide during 2015, reports the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. For peace of mind, auto theft is covered under the comprehensive section of an auto insurance policy. Theft coverage applies to the loss of the vehicle as well as parts of the car, such as tires, rims, wheels, and airbags, explains AAA Insurance.

Like motor vehicle theft, burglary and larceny-theft, such as tire and rim thefts, are considered “property crimes.” Legally, the “thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories” are classified as “larceny-theft” under the nomenclature of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Even so, “thefts from motor vehicles accounted for 26.8 percent of all larceny-thefts” in the United States during 2017, reports the FBI.

 In 2017 alone thieves stole 363,035 car or auto accessories in the United States. That compares to 1,318,007 cases of thefts from automobiles during 2017, according to the FBI. “Law enforcement and police agencies across the country recorded more than 366,000 cases of car-accessory theft in 2016, for an average loss of $541 per incident, according to statistics for that year,” reports Stolen tires and rims are often sold on the black market. But the trend is keeping pace with technology. “New technology allows thieves to grab tire more quickly, and online marketplaces make them easier to sell,” as one blogger explains.

Then there is the seasonality of the thievery of auto accessories and parts. It is no great secret “summertime is prime time for vehicle thefts,” thefts from vehicles, and the theft of auto and truck parts, including factory wheels, alloy wheels, steel wheels, and custom wheels. Best-selling custom wheel models cost as little as $106. Spinners and floaters can run $7,143 a set, depending upon size and configuration. 

Like other “car crimes,” tire and rim theft is a crime of opportunity. Like other jurisdictions and localities across the region, Loudoun County has been “plagued by a series of tire and rim thefts.” In 2017, a jury in Northern Virginia sentenced a man to 132 years in prison and 63 months in jail for stealing tires and rims in Loudoun County, Virginia. The Circuit Court jury also penalized the alleged serial thief $6,000 in fines. In May, thieves stole 124 tires and rims from vehicles in one night at a Chevrolet dealership in Slidell, Louisiana. Police suspect a professional crime ring was behind the caper.

What is behind the crime spree by the sleight of thieves? As cars become harder to steal, thanks to anti-theft technologies, such as engine immobilizer systems, thieves have resorted to plundering parts and accessories, notes AAA Insurance. “Radios and wheel covers aren’t the only popular stolen vehicle parts thieves take,” explains the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “They want whatever sells, from the mandated labeled parts to those that aren’t. Some of the most popular vehicle parts or valuable items were stolen from vehicles include doors, engines, transmissions, airbags, radios, GPS units, cell phones, iPads, laptops, and purses.”

Because wheels, tires, and rims are not marked, it is easy for thieves to dispose of the stolen property and for criminal middlemen to fence the high-priced items. Law enforcement officials offer the following tips:

  • Park your car, truck or SUV in your garage.
  • Install a car alarm that includes wheel sensors.
  • Install wheel locks or lug nut locks on your vehicle, including your spare tire, and place the key in a secure location.
  • Do not keep the key to the lug nut locks in your glove box.
  • When parking on the street, park as closely as possible to the curb.
  • When parking in a driveway, turn your steering wheel and tires all the way to the right or left,
  • Add motion lights and/or security cameras around your home and your parking area.
  • Park your vehicle in a well-lit, heavily traveled area.
  • Most thefts occur during nighttime hours. Please be observant of any suspicious activity and immediately report it to your local police department.
  • Watch out for your neighbors and ask your neighbors to watch out for you and your property too.

Car thieves don’t take a holiday. Don’t drop your guard when you are in the vacation mode. The summer months are the busiest time for car thieves. Tire and rim theft, as well as auto theft, is covered “by the optional ‘comprehensive’ coverage on your policy,” according to the NICB and AAA Insurance. Rates for comprehensive insurance are affected by the risk of loss, meaning the likelihood that an insured car will be stolen or damaged, and also the car’s value at the time of the loss, explains AAA Insurance.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...