Beauty’s in eye of the beholder — car thieves have a thing for older vehicles

If you thought most car thieves imitated Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie in “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” think again.

Nevada’s legion of car thieves doesn’t dream big and flashy. Apparently many of them believe the 1991 Honda Accord is an oldie but a goodie. Who knew the Accord was cool?

And they view the 1995 Honda Civic as a must-have item on their list of favorites to filch. Drivers of 12-year-old Civics must be beaming right about now as they pull up next to a new Cadillac at the stoplight. Say, Caddy, who’s your daddy?

Then there’s the ubiquitous and reliable 1990 Toyota Camry. It ranks third on the National Insurance Council’s 2006 Top 10 list of vehicles most stolen in the Silver State.

Third?

It’s a 17-year-old automobile.

This is no slight on the Accord, Civic, or Camry. I just never imagined there would be such a demand for a 17-year-old import. These days Las Vegas is to auto theft, well, what Las Vegas is to gambling. It’s No. 1. But when you envision the world of professional car heisting with a Strip backdrop, I think Mercedes.

What next, sweet ’94 Sentras with fewer than 200,000 miles disappearing all over town? Well, yes, actually.

And creampuff Chevys getting swiped like Tiffany’s diamonds? You got it.

Most people don’t understand what’s really going on, Metro Lt. Robert DuVall says. He’s the head of the department’s auto theft detail, and lately he’s had some explaining to do about the Las Vegas rankings.

DuVall classifies car thieves into two general categories: the transportation thief who steals a vehicle to joy ride or get from one place to another, and the professional thief who steals to sell the vehicle whole or in parts after taking it to a chop shop. The Camrys and Accords are great sources of parts and also are popular targets for street racers. Approximately 20 percent of all cars stolen in the valley are older model imports with substantial miles.

The endless demand for car parts, daily crush of tourist traffic and proximity to the Mexican border are three factors, Insurance Council spokesman Jim Denton says. He also has studied the statistics and sees room for optimism.

“I expect us to lose our dubious distinction next year, is my prediction,” Denton says.

He probably drives a new car.

Metro detectives have instituted pro-active programs to catch thieves, and DuVall reports the sting operations are paying dividends. Watch for Las Vegas to drop from the top of the rankings next year.

But that doesn’t mean you can leave your car unlocked. In fact, DuVall and Denton agree that the best way to deter car thieves is to practice a few basic rules. Lock your car. If you have a garage, use it. Take your packages out of the vehicle. Install an alarm device if you can.

“Don’t think that just because you have a car 10, 11, or 12 years old that it’s beyond the theft range because it’s not,” says DuVall, a 23-year veteran.

Newer vehicles are equipped with high-tech ignitions that don’t react well to having a screwdriver jammed down their gullets. With OnStar and Lojack safety systems becoming commonplace for new vehicles, those ’90 Civics are a breeze to bust into.

“One reason older cars are stolen is that they’re a lot easier to steal,” DuVall says.

Adds Denton, “In a chop shop, the parts are worth more than the car is. I would assume getting parts for an ’89 Camry might be rather difficult.”

He’s not kidding. Nationwide, the ’89 Camry was the third most-stolen vehicle behind the ’95 Civic and ’91 Accord.

Notably, four of the top 10 most stolen autos in Nevada are pickups. That leads some people to suspect there are plenty of stolen trucks sitting in construction parking lots and other areas they’d be likely to blend in.

“I think that list shows basically everyone is a target regardless of what you drive,” Denton says.

Which leads me to my car, a Subaru with 132,000 miles.

So far, there’s no sign of it becoming irresistible to car thieves. And, alas, I have yet to see Angelina Jolie eyeing it lasciviously.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295

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