15 States with the Highest Vehicle Theft Rates (Five Year Study)

The top 15 states for car theft vary by year, but overall theft rates are rising in most states. Read on to find out if you're in a high-risk area and what you can do to protect yourself.

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UPDATED: Jun 13, 2022

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Written By: Chris TepedinoReviewed By: Joel OhmanUPDATED: Jun 13, 2022Fact Checked

Here's What You Need to Know

  • Although car theft rates were dropping a decade ago, numbers are on the rise again, with an 11% overall increase in most recent years
  • While some states are new to the top car theft list, others have been in the top spots for years
  • Actions like parking in a safe spot, installing safety devices, and buying comprehensive insurance will help keep your vehicle safe

A rising trend shows a disturbing fact in America – car theft is on the rise. While no one can determine an exact reason, most experts agree that increased economic hardship and lingering stress from the COVID-19 pandemic are to blame.

This increase is easy to see when comparing theft rates in the five years between 2016 and 2020. In 2016, for example, there were 767,000 cars stolen. That number increased to 810,000 vehicles stolen by 2020, an overall increase of 11%.

But not all states have felt this increase equally. Some states are more dangerous than others, but you are at risk regardless of where you live if you don’t protect yourself. Understanding how a car is stolen can help you learn how to keep your car safe.

What are the states with the highest vehicle theft rates?

Some of the top 15 states for car theft have reputations for high-theft areas, like California and Washington D.C. Others are more unexpected, like Colorado and Hawaii. Although rankings change, most states with high car thefts tend to stay in the top 15.

To give you a better idea of how prevalent car theft is, states are ranked by the number of thefts per 100,000 registered cars. If you look at the actual number of thefts per state, results will be skewed towards states with higher populations.

Here are the top 15 states for car theft in 2020.

StateRate of TheftTotal Cars Stolen
Colorado524.330,452
Washington D.C.476.83,399
New Mexico427.69,006
California427.6168,323
Missouri393.224,189
Oregon39116,585
Hawaii379.85,344
Oklahoma37815,047
Washington356.127,399
Nevada336.410,556
Utah316.610,288
Tennessee306.421,098
Texas28784,276
South Carolina282.114,718
North Dakota2712,074
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To understand how car theft rates evolve, consider how rates have changed for the top 15 states for car theft between 2016 and 2019. 

State2016201720182019
Colorado354.0389.9380.5384
Washington D.C.436.5372.8369.1330.6
New Mexico564.3563.8485.8427.2
California450.3425.9392.4358.8
Missouri300.3325.9323.4343.3
Oregon322.3413.7395.1360
Hawaii395.8369.1397.7371.1
Oklahoma309.8311.7337338.1
Washington443388.8367.3320.5
Nevada448.3427.3392.3365.6
Utah307.7307.2244.5210.2
Tennessee227.3275.8301.9280.9
Texas247.8240.4243.2267.2
South Carolina280.6283.8281.9290.8
North Dakota259.1234.7233.5235.2
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Some states with high car theft rates, like California or Washington D.C., had been trending down due to stringent efforts to reduce crime. Except for Nevada, all of the top 15 states saw an increase in car thefts. There are some interesting similarities with the most dangerous highways by state, but for the most part, the number of car thefts seems to be unrelated to the highway safety of a state.

Although some states have reduced their numbers of car thefts, the overall trend in the U.S. is rising. States like Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Nebraska are seeing car thefts in greater numbers than historical trends suggest.

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Which cities have the most car thefts?

Just because you live in one of the top 15 states for car theft doesn’t mean you’re necessarily in greater danger. In several states, one or two cities represent hot spots for theft that raise the overall percentage.

The top 10 cities for car theft in 2020 include the following locations.

CityRate of TheftTotal Cars Stolen
Bakersfield, CA905.418,161
Yuba City, CA724.461,279
Denver, CO705.8021,112
Odessa, TX664.281,114
San Francisco, CA655.2030,774
Albuquerque, NM631.755,835
Pueblo, CO602.391,023
Billings, MT564.751,038
St. Joseph, MO-KS564.64692
Tulsa, OK551.765,553
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Some of the most dangerous cities for car theft make sense, like the three cities in California. However, Billings, Montana, might come as a surprise since Montana didn’t make the top 15 states for car theft.

What are the most stolen cars?

Unfortunately, some cars are more likely to be stolen than others. Generally speaking, thieves like older vehicles because they have fewer anti-theft devices installed. If you’re worried that your car is likely to be stolen, consider the most commonly targeted vehicles:

  • What are the most stolen cars? Ford pickup trucks, Chevy pickup trucks, and Honda Civics top the list of most stolen vehicles.
  • What color car gets stolen the most? Thieves prefer cars that blend in, so silver, white, and black cars are the most stolen colors.
  • How old are the most stolen cars? Cars manufactured between 2000 and 2006 tend to be stolen more often than in other years.
  • What is the most stolen motorcycle? Vehicle theft isn’t the only crime on the rise. In 2020, more than 46,000 motorcycles were stolen, with Honda and Yamaha the most popular brands.

Although some cars are more popular with thieves than others, all vehicles are at risk in the right situation. However, even the most commonly stolen car is a little safer when you’re in a state with fewer car thieves.

Which states have the least car thefts?

While some states are consistently ranked as having a higher risk for car theft, other states maintain a stellar reputation for safety.

As of 2020, these are the safest states for car theft.

StateRate of Theft
Wyoming123.2
Virginia120.3
New Jersey116.4
Pennsylvania96.8
Massachusetts89
Idaho87.9
New Hampshire65.7
New York65.3
Maine54
Vermont47.8
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Like the states with the most thefts, the states with the least tend to do well year after year. For example, Vermont has had the smallest number of car thefts for several years.

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How can you protect your car from theft?

Although theft is on the rise, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your chances of becoming a victim. Below are some helpful tips:

  • Lock your doors- One of the simplest ways to keep your car safe is to lock your doors whenever you leave your car, no matter how safe you think the area is.
  • Don’t leave your keys- Many drivers like leaving their keys under floor mats or in center compartments, but this makes it easy for thieves to take your car.
  • Turn your car off- Running cars make easy targets for thieves. Even if you’re walking into a store for a few minutes, you should always turn your car off.
  • Park in a safe location- Garages are the best choice for parking, but make sure to choose a well-lit spot if a garage is not an option.
  • Close the windows- Leaving a car window open can inspire thieves to target your vehicle.
  • Install safety features- Audible alarms, GPS tracking, and kill switches can help protect your car from theft. As a bonus, you might get an anti-theft car insurance discount for installing safety features.
  • Get comprehensive insurance- Not all insurance policies cover theft. A comprehensive policy covers various damage not caused by an accident, including theft.

No matter how you decide to protect your car, it will never be completely safe. If you can’t afford to replace your vehicle or don’t own it outright, comprehensive insurance gives you valuable protection in case of theft.

A Final Word on the States with the Highest Vehicle Theft Rates

Comprehensive car insurance adds immense value to your policy, usually at an affordable price. If you live in one of the top 15 states for car theft, you should seriously consider adding comprehensive coverage.

However, your car is always at risk, no matter your state. As long as you can afford it, comprehensive insurance is never a bad idea. To find the best rates, compare quotes with as many insurance companies as possible.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about auto insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything auto insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by auto insurance experts.

Chris Tepedino is a feature writer that has written extensively about car insurance for numerous websites. He has a college degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and has experience reporting, researching investigative pieces, and crafting detailed, data-driven features. His works have been featured on CB Blog Nation, Flow Words, Healing Law, WIBW Kansas, and Cinncinati.com. H...

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Written by Chris Tepedino
Feature Writer Chris Tepedino

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

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