You won’t find this fact in any marketing brochure, but in 2022, Chicago led the nation in at least one category: the fastest growing city for auto theft in the US
Car thefts rose 55% in Chicago last year, outpacing all other cities, amid a continued nationwide spike in stolen cars fueled by the pandemic, according to data released Wednesday by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Nationwide, thefts rose 7%, surpassing 1 million stolen vehicles for the first time since 2008.
“Chicago is going in the wrong direction,” said David Glau, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a Des Plaines-based industry organization that focuses on insurance fraud and vehicle theft.
While California and Texas lead the way in burglaries, Illinois saw the largest percentage increase among large states at 35%, according to the group’s annual study. More specifically, Chicago, and to some extent the surrounding suburbs, are behind the state’s skyrocketing auto theft statistics, Glau said.
Chicago had 21,516 reported auto thefts in 2022, up from 13,856 last year. Glau said those findings, obtained from the National Crime Information Center, cover the entire spectrum of car thefts, from drive-bys to car theft.
Last year, the Chicago Police Department announced the creation of an expanded carjacking task force in response to a spike in these crimes. There were 232 reported car thefts in Chicago through February, a 23% decrease from the same period in 2022, a police spokeswoman said in an email.
But the total number of auto thefts has risen sharply this year, with 5,375 reported vehicle thefts, a 138% increase through March 5, according to Chicago Police Department crime statistics.
Car thefts are on the rise during the pandemic, driven by supply chain problems and the rising cost of used cars and parts, Glau said.
Used car prices fell in November for the first time in more than 2 1/2 years but remained above pre-pandemic levels, according to research from iSeeCars, an online car-finding site. The study found that the average price of a used car in Illinois is over $35,000.
“There is a high demand for used cars and a low supply,” Glau said. “Auto parts in these vehicles are also in demand.”
Hovering theft of catalytic converter, for example, has grown 1,200% in the past three years, Glaue said. The catalyst contains valuable precious metals, including rhodium, palladium and platinum, which can fetch hundreds of dollars when resold on the black market.
Organized crime gangs steal cars and cut them up for parts, he said.
The social media trend may also be contributing to the rise in theft of Kia and Hyundai vehicles. Many Kia and Hyundai vehicles do not have electronic immobilizers, making them more vulnerable to shifting. Videos posted online went viral last year showing how to start cars without a key.
While Hondas, Toyotas and Ford and Chevy pickups are often the top targets for thieves in Chicago, thefts of Kias and Hyundais have skyrocketed in the past year amid the social media trend, Glau said.
In 2021, Hyundai and Kia accounted for 8% of all stolen vehicles in Chicago. Last year, this number jumped to 29%.
Both automakers are releasing patches for this vulnerability.
In addition, the Chicago Police Department conducted vehicle security drives throughout January and February that distributed Kia and Hyundai steering wheel locks and etching kits to identify catalytic converters, making them more difficult to resell.
For car owners in the Chicago area, Glau recommends practicing good “security hygiene,” such as parking in a well-lit area as a deterrent to thieves. The biggest clue, however, is perhaps the most obvious.
“It’s going to sound simple, but a lot of people leave their keys in the car,” Glau said. “We have a lot of sightings of criminals walking around blocks and just shaking doors to see if the keys are in the car. Then they jump into the car and take off.”