Thursday, April 02, 2009

Car Stereo Theft: A Dying Crime

National Public Radio -- With all the bad news about property crime and the economy, many people are ready to lock down their possessions and bolt the doors. But here's one problem you don't need to worry too much about: car stereo theft.

It's a crime that plagued car owners throughout the 1990s. But according to the FBI's latest crime report, car stereo thefts have fallen by more than half over the past 15 years, from more than a million in 1994 to just over 400,000, even as car theft rates have remained high.

Washington, D.C., police officer Mark Lakomec has seen a dramatic difference on the street. For 10 years, his job has been to spot stolen cars, which he does two to three times a night. In the 1990s, he said, every stolen car was missing the stereo. These days, he says thieves will take just about anything — umbrellas, sunglasses, even motor oil — but they leave the radio.

Criminologists and industry experts say the biggest reason stereo theft has declined is that car manufacturers started installing good stereos. In the late 1990s, companies realized that they could charge more for their cars if they installed a high-quality factory sound system. And that, it turns out, made them theftproof.

"People don't steal factory radios," explained David Brown, owner of Savvy Mobile Electronics, one of the oldest — and last — stereo installation shops in D.C. "There's no market for factory radios because they normally don't fit in any other cars," he said.

MP: The chart above shows the dramatic change over time in the car options that car buyers consider "essential." In 1985, fewer than 9% of car buyers considered an AM/FM cassette tape player an essential car option, partially at least because of the active secondary market for car stereos that allowed car buyers to customize their cars' sound systems. Now that almost everybody considers a car stereo system an essential car option, the stereo systems are installed at the factory, which makes them theftproof, which has pretty much ended car stereo theft.

The chart shows many other vehicle options that are now considered "essential," when in 1985 they were considered expensive "non-essential" features.


At 4/02/2009 6:40 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

I wish more people would feel that cars are essential!

At 4/02/2009 8:45 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Some bastard stole my stereo about 6 years back. I was just wondering why? The stereo was after market but about 2 years old and couldn't have had a resale value of more than $100. Hardly seems worth it to risk jail time for!

Also the thief was in such a hurry that he skipped over my Oakley sunglasses (worth well over $100) and Nintendo gameboy advance (a hot item at the time).

At 4/02/2009 8:55 AM, Anonymous Rand said...

Reply to ExtremeHobo:

You are assuming that the thief was intelligent.

If he were, he could have become a lawyer or a community organizer.

At 4/02/2009 11:54 AM, Blogger misterjosh said...

I like living high on the hog, but Power seats?! Leather?! Alloy wheels?!

Damn we're picky!

At 4/02/2009 1:16 PM, Blogger John Thacker said...

I do believe that car thieves are switching to portable GPS units as the new hot target. I've heard of cars being broken into for having the tell-tale suction cup mount.

At 4/02/2009 1:51 PM, Anonymous djaces said...

One of the reasons the car companies are in such a decrepit state is that despite the burgeoning list of of now essential extras,many of which are now standard equipment rather than options, and the longer list of technical advances not included, antilock brakes, air bags, stability control, nav systems, etc. the price of cars has significantly lagged the CPI. They're selling way more car for less money. But expectations are so much higher and people have such persistent denial of how far our prosperity has advanced that they still feel they're getting hosed when they buy a new car.

At 4/02/2009 4:03 PM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Yeah GPSs are hot. The good models cost around $400 and they arent even mounted like a stereo. Grab it and roll...

At 4/02/2009 4:42 PM, Blogger QT said...

GPS at $400 is ok...but airbags are easy to remove and worth $1200 or more.

At 4/02/2009 5:36 PM, Anonymous Dr. T said...

One downside of factory installed stereos is that replacing a broken one with a factory duplicate is VERY expensive, and replacing it with a third party stereo is overly difficult (because wiring and mounting hardware are not standard).

At 4/03/2009 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One of the reasons the car companies are in such a decrepit state is that despite the burgeoning list of of now essential extras,"

I remember a story from years ago about Dodge surveying people about what kind of car they would buy - and the the survey showed people wanted basic low-frill transportation.

So they built that and it didn't sell.

So Dodge went back and asked what kind of car their uncle/aunt/cousin would want. This time the answers were they want high frill cars. So they built that and it sold quite well.


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