Small cars that can be chopped into parts and sold for use by street racers dominated the list of the most-stolen autos in the U.S. last year, but high-priced cars and expensive sport utility vehicles also ranked high, according to a report released Tuesday.
Leading the way was the 2001 BMW M-Series Roadster, which was stolen at a rate of one for every 200 on the road, according to the Chicago-based CCC Information Services Inc., an industry group that tracks theft and vehicle damage.
Six of the top 10 most-stolen cars were models of the Acura Integra, which has a powerful engine that easily can be swapped into a lighter Honda Civic, making it a quick street racer, said Jeanene O'Brien, who analyzes the data for CCC.
The Acura models in the top 10 are from the mid-to-late 1990s through 2001. O'Brien said the 2004 and 2005 Suzuki Aerio, another small car with a powerful engine, appeared in the No. 11 and 12 slots almost from nowhere.
"That's where you see the whole tuner illegal street racing thing coming out," she said. "We saw a big spike in it last year. There's been further movement this year."
Such thefts are mainly in coastal states where illegal street racing is more popular, O'Brien said. The resale value of the parts is often far more than the value of the car as a whole, she said.
Thieves are grinding serial numbers off the Acura's double-overhead-cam engines and dropping them into Hondas, said Lou Koven, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department's commercial auto theft division.
The racers run their cars hard until the parts fail, then steal Acuras for replacement parts, Koven said.
"They're easy to steal, they're plentiful, and it's a lot cheaper than going out and buying the parts," he said.
Most parts don't have serial numbers and can't be traced, he said.
The Integra was replaced by the RSX in the 2002 model year, but that model doesn't show up in the top 25.
Acura realized the theft problem and built more deterrent systems into the RSX, said Mike Spencer, an Acura spokesman. The RSX will not start without the key, which has a computer chip in it that the ignition system must recognize, Spencer said.
In Los Angeles, there's a huge market for older-model Honda and Toyota parts because the vehicles are reliable and stay on the road for many years, Koven said.
To compile its list, CCC first gathers data on vehicles that are stolen but not recovered, or are stripped to the point of being a total loss. Then it compares that list to vehicle registration data and calculates a percentage.
As a result, many niche models make the list because they are popular with thieves.
For example, although the 2001 BMW M-Series Roadster topped the list, only 5,000 of those models were registered nationwide.
Other limited-edition, high-performance specialty models such as the 2002 Audi S4 and the 2004 Mercury Marauder also made the top 10, as did the 2000 Jaguar XJR luxury car.
Despite high gas prices, several high-end luxury sport utility vehicles also made it into the top 25, O'Brien said. The car-market segments with the most stolen vehicles were the full-sized SUV and the heavy-duty station wagon, she said.
Koven said many older-model big SUVs don't have computer chips in the keys to prevent theft, so they are easy to steal. Such vehicles often are taken so thieves can rip out and resell their expensive wheels and tires or video systems, he said. They also are sold intact by changing the vehicle identification numbers.
A Cadillac Escalade's wheels and tires alone are worth $10,000, and even the 2002 model, which ranked No. 18 on the list, still sells for around $48,000, O'Brien said.
CCC, which provides software and information services to insurers and repair shops, compiles its report with loss claims from more than 350 property and casualty insurers in North America.