Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Honda Civic was the most stolen car on Oahu in 2004, according to Honolulu police. The stolen 1992 Honda Civic hatchback shown below was involved in a wreck that claimed the auto thief's life.

Guard that

Civics top Oahu thieves' wish lists

Honda Civics are hot in Honolulu, figuratively speaking.

Once again, the Civic -- especially 1990 to 1995 models -- was the most stolen car on Oahu in 2004, according to police.


To avoid becoming an auto theft victim:

» Install an anti-theft device or system on your vehicle such as an alarm.
» Drive with the doors locked and windows up to avoid carjackings.
» When parking, lock your vehicle and close all windows and the sunroof, even in your own driveway.
» Always remove your keys from the ignition and take them with you.
» Never hide a spare key in or under your vehicle.
» When possible, park in attended lots and well-lit areas.
» Use your emergency brake and turn your wheels toward the curb when parking to make it difficult for thieves to tow your vehicle away.
» Do not leave valuables in plain sight.

"Car thieves in Hawaii have been in love with that car forever," said Lt. Hank Nobriga, who heads the Honolulu Police Department's auto theft unit. He noted that the Civic has been Honolulu's most stolen vehicle for at least the past five years.

HPD officials reported earlier this year that 7,369 vehicles were stolen in 2004. While Nobriga would not break down the total of stolen vehicles by models, he did say about one-third of all of the vehicles stolen every month are Hondas, mostly Civics.

The trend seems to be continuing this year as well. Of HPD's 338 stolen-car cases last month, 130 were Hondas and most of them were Civics, Nobriga said.

He pointed to the upsurge in street racing as one reason that the Civic is so popular with thieves.

"Nowadays, cars are easy to modify, and nine times out of 10, we find the stolen car, especially the Honda Civic, stripped for parts."

Still, Honolulu's car thieves have vastly different tastes from their mainland counterparts.

CCC Information Services Inc., a Chicago-based insurance industry tracker of theft and vehicle damage, released last week a nationwide list of the 25 most popular stolen cars, and the Civic ranked last on that list.

According to CCC's report, the 1999 Acura Integra coupe was the most stolen vehicle in the country in 2004, with Integras from other model years not far behind.

The list, which compares loss claims with the total number of registered vehicles, reports that one out of every 200 registered 1999 Acura Integras was stolen last year.

According to HPD, the Acura Integra ranked second among Honolulu's most stolen cars in 2004, closely followed by the Toyota Camry. Rounding out the top five in Honolulu were the Honda Accord and the Dodge pickup truck.

Acura is Honda Motor Co.'s luxury brand, so many of their parts are interchangeable, adding to their popularity with thieves.

Besides the Civic and the Integra, the other three car models did not appear on CCC's top 25 list. Nobriga said Honolulu's list often differs from that of the mainland because of the islands' physical isolation from the rest of the country.

Although the model of the most stolen cars vary from state to state, analysts seem to agree that car thieves across the nation seem to share a common motive: parts.

A Honda Civic was photographed yesterday with a damaged steering column after it was broken into. The thief got in by prying off the driver's side door-post molding.

"We can never say for sure why a car's stolen, but we can look at the data and make some interesting assumptions," CCC's director of marketing services, Jeanene O'Brien said.

O'Brien also said the recent upsurge in street racing might be responsible for the Integra and other fast cars on the list.

O'Brien said it is difficult to overstate the value of vehicle parts. She said a 2000 Honda Accord LX cost $22,365 when it was new but would cost $68,065 if it were built entirely from Honda replacement parts.

Nobriga noted that car thieves tend to target older-model cars because they are easier to break into since they have less anti-theft protection.

Newer-model Hondas made within the last two to three years often come equipped with theft-deterrent devices such as an engine immobilizer that will only start with an authorized key, a Honda sales representative said.

The newer models also have an outer handle securely attached to the door and often include a plastic cover around the lock area that deflects "Slim Jim"-type mechanisms from being used to force a door lock.

Some Hondas also include a sophisticated alarm system that disables the starter, blasts the horn and activates the flashers when an unauthorized attempt is made to enter or start the vehicle.

This Honda Civic's steering column was damaged by a thief during a break-in.

Nobriga said the recovery rate of a stolen vehicle on the island is about 70 percent.

HPD usually finds stolen cars a couple of days later abandoned on the side of the road and stripped of parts, he said.

In addition to the missing parts, Nobriga estimates it costs the average victim anywhere from $200 to $500 to fix the damaged lock and ignition, plus the inconvenience.

Nobriga noted that auto theft is most prevalent in Pearl City and downtown Honolulu but that thieves strike in many places.

To combat the crime, police and prosecutors made an agreement that any suspect arrested for auto theft in the Pearl City district would be charged and held in custody instead of being arrested and released pending an investigation. The agreement was part of a two-year pilot program that started on April 30, 2003, and ended May 31.

Nobriga said the Pit Stop program has made a difference because many thieves continue their crime spree until they are imprisoned.

"Some of the younger thieves just take the car for a joy ride, but the older ones are oftentimes the repeat offenders who are in it for the long haul," Nobriga said.

"Each time they get caught, they learn from the experience and are a little wiser the next time around."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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