BOSTON (MainStreet) Few things feel worse than coming back to where you parked your car and finding thieves have broken into it if not stolen it altogether. So, here's a heads-up for U.S. car buyers about which recent models crooks seem to target the most.
"It shouldn't be a deal-breaker if you're thinking about buying one of the cars on this list, but what it should tell you is that you'll want to take some precautions with the vehicle," says Matt Moore of the Highway Loss Data Institute, which recently named the 2010-12 models that face the highest theft claims.
The HLDI, a research consortium funded by the insurance industry, compiles its list annually by analyzing theft claims U.S. consumers file with their insurers.
The latest rundown covers claims filed last year for stolen cars, parts taken off of vehicles (typically things such as fancy wheel-and-tire packages) or personal property swiped from inside a driver's ride.
Moore says all of the model atop this year's list are large pickup trucks or sport utility vehicles with open beds that crooks find easy to steal from. The "winners" are also popular with tradesmen, who often leave their rides unattended at construction sites for hours the perfect combination for burglars.
"It's easy in general for thieves to steal things out of the back of a pickup, and big pickups are especially used a lot on job sites," Moore says.
Click below to check out the five models at the top of the latest theft list.
Vehicles appear in order of their "claim frequency," the number of theft-related claims filed for every 1,000 insured vehicle years. ("Insured vehicle years" refer to how many of a given model are on the road multiplied by how long each car has been in service. For instance, the HLDI considers 2-year-old cars as accounting for two "insured vehicle years.")
Estimates of hikes in insurance premiums resulting from thefts are calculated by looking at how much firms paid a model's theft victims last year divided by the number of 2010-12 versions of the car that are still on the road.
Fifth-worst vehicle for theft: Ford F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab (4WD)
Claims rate: 5.6 per 1,000 vehicle years
Although the HLDI doesn't break out specifics of theft-related claims, Moore suspects the F-350 has lots of insurance losses because people steal items from the truck rather than take the truck itself.
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"It's got that open bed, which is a vulnerable place to keep things," he says.
The expert also suspects that like other pickups on the list, F-350s often sit unattended all day at construction sites.
HLDI figures show that insurers paid $7,517 for the average F-350 Crew Cab theft claim last year. That works out to about $42 a year in added insurance costs for every F-350 Crew Cab on the road.
Fourth-worst vehicle for theft: GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab
Claims rate: six per 1,000 vehicle years
Moore believes that like the F-350, the GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab makes the list because it's a big pickup with an open truck bed and often sits for hours at construction sites. Again, that's the perfect situation for crooks.
"Being a larger vehicle, the Sierra is more likely to be used on a job site and it has a bed that's easy to take things out of," he says.
Last year, insurance firms paid out $6,366 on the average Sierra Crew Cab theft claim. That averages out to an extra $38 a year for every 2010-12 Sierra still in service.
Third-worst vehicle for theft: Chevrolet Avalanche 1500
Claims rate: 6.1 per 1,000 vehicle years
Insurers technically classify the Avalanche 1500 as an SUV, but the model's large, open flat bed functions more or less like a pickup truck's right down to the high potential for property thefts.
"The Avalanche has the same issues as trucks do in terms of the ease in which thieves can get to your property," Moore says.
The only difference he sees is that Avalanches often appeal to outdoor enthusiasts more than to contractors.
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Moore says that means Avalanches don't sit unattended at work sites as much, but do often carry jet skis, motor scooters and other expensive "toys" thieves can steal.
He notes that insurers paid Avalanche owners a hefty $6,163 for the average theft-related claim last year higher than the payouts for comparable pickup trucks.
All told, the HLDI estimates thefts add around $38 to the average 2010-12 Avalanche's insurance cost.
Second-worst vehicle for theft: Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab
Claims rate: 6.8 per 1,000 vehicle years
The Silverado 1500 Crew Cab had the largest absolute volume of 2012 theft claims of any model at or near the top of the HLDI's list. But the big number of Silverado Crew Cabs on the road managed to dilute the truck's claim rate enough to put the Chevy in second place on this year's rundown.
Once again, Moore blames the Silverado Crew Cab's popularity with burglars on the model's open truck bed and frequent time spent unattended at construction sites.
"Heavier-duty trucks and/or those with crew cabs are more likely to be job-site vehicles," he says.
HLDI figures show that insurers spent $5,463 on the average Silverado Crew Cab theft claim last year. That boosts the typical vehicle's annual insurance cost by around $37.
Worst vehicle for theft: Ford F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab (4WD)
Claims rate: 7 per 1,000 vehicle years
The F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab 4WD takes first place on the HLDI's rankings thanks to, as with other vehicles on the list, an open bed and frequent use at construction sites.
"Rather than being a black eye for the F-250, what I think the study really shows is that bigger trucks are more likely to have theft claims," Moore says.
Researchers found that insurance companies paid F-250 Crew Cab owners $7,060 on average for last year's theft claims. That translates into an extra $50 in insurance costs for every 2010-12 version of the vehicle still on the road.
By Jerry Kronenberg