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Here's a tip: Keep a spare car key in your wallet, not in your car.

That’s the lesson that thousands of vehicle owners have (hopefully) learned after their car was stolen because they left the engine running while they ran a quick errand or kept a key fob in their cupholder.

Overall, there were 880,595 vehicle thefts nationwide in 2020, about one stolen vehicle every 36 seconds — that’s up from 794,019 in 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to combatting and preventing insurance crime.

The increase in 2020 was in part due to the pandemic, the economic downturn and car owners just plain making it too easy, the NICB says. There were 229,339 vehicle thefts with keys or fobs left in the vehicles over the two years of 2016 to 2018. (Another tip: Lock the doors.)

According to the FBI, $6.4 billion was lost nationwide to motor vehicle thefts in 2019.

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And as if stealing cars wasn’t enough, thieves last year boosted their boosting of catalytic converters, which contain precious metals, by 425% over 2019, with 14,433 thefts in 2020, compared with to 3,389 in 2019. 

If you live in Maine, chances are pretty low your car will get stolen — the theft rate in this state is lowest in the nation at about 53 per 100,000 people. But if you live in Bakersfield, Calif., your car is 17 times more likely to be stolen in this hot-wiring hotspot of the U.S., where the theft rate is 905 per 100,000. Certain car models seem to be more targeted than others, too.

(By the way, if you own a truck, especially the frequently-stolen Ford pickup, lock your doors and turn off the engine. One Ford  (F) - Get Ford Motor Company Report dealership says it's a myth that letting your engine idle is better than turning your vehicle on and off, and it doesn't need to idle when you start up in the morning, either.)

Here are lists of the cities with the highest vehicle theft rates in 2020, the states with the highest and lowest theft rates, and the car models that are stolen the most. The data comes from the NICB and the Insurance Information Institute.

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