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.