Motor Vehicle Theft Content Updated 02/17/06

Definition

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines motor vehicle theft as the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle. The offense includes the stealing of automobiles, trucks, buses, motorcycles, snowmobiles, etc. The taking of a motor vehicle for temporary use by persons having lawful access is excluded from this definition.

Trend

Year Number of offenses Rate per 100,000 inhabitants
2003 1,261,226 433.7
2004 1,237,114 421.3
Percent change -1.9 -2.9

National Volume, Trends, and Rates

In 2004, there were an estimated 1,237,114 motor vehicle thefts in the Nation. Two-, 5-, and 10-year trend data showed considerable volatility: the number of motor vehicles estimated to have been stolen in 2004 decreased 1.9 percent from the 2003 estimate, increased 6.6 percent from the 2000 estimate, and decreased 16.0 percent from the 1995 estimate.

This volatility in trend data was also apparent in the estimations for rates. With 2004 as the base year, the rate of motor vehicle thefts was estimated at 421.3 motor vehicles stolen per 100,000 inhabitants. Changes at the 2-, 5-, and 10-year points showed that this 2004 rate decreased 2.9 percent from the 2003 estimate, increased 2.2 percent from the 2000 estimate, and decreased 24.5 percent from the 1995 estimate. (See Tables 1 and 1A.)

Figure 2.15
Motor Vehicle Theft
Percent Change from 2000
Figure 2.15: Motor Vehicle Theft Percent Change from 2000

Regional Offense Trends and Rates

In order to analyze crime by geographical area, the UCR Program divides the United States into four regions: the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, and the West. (Appendix III provides a map delineating the regions.) The following paragraphs furnish a regional overview of motor vehicle theft.

The Northeast

The Northeast Region accounted for an estimated 18.6 percent of the Nation’s population in 2004 and 11.6 percent of its motor vehicle thefts. (See Table 3.) An estimated 143,253 motor vehicle thefts occurred in the Northeastern states in 2004. This figure represented a 9.7-percent decrease compared with the previous year’s estimate, and it was the largest decline among the regions. Estimated at a rate of 262.5 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, the 2004 figure decreased 9.9 percent from the 2003 rate. (See Table 4.)

The Midwest

An estimated 22.4 percent of the country’s population resided in the Midwestern states in 2004, and 18.1 percent of the Nation’s motor vehicle thefts occurred in this region. (See Table 3.) The Midwest had an estimated 224,517 motor vehicle thefts in 2004. This number represented a 4.4-percent decrease in the previous year’s volume. The rate estimated at 341.6 motor vehicles stolen per 100,000 inhabitants, decreased 4.8 percent from the 2003 number. (See Table 4.)

The South

The Nation’s most populous region is the South, where an estimated 36.1 percent of the U.S. population resided in 2004. This region accounted for over one-third (34.1 percent) of the Nation’s motor vehicle thefts. (See Table 3.) The estimated 421,414 motor vehicle thefts in the South decreased 2.9 percent from the 2003 estimate. It is estimated that motor vehicles in the South were stolen at a rate of 397.8 offenses per 100,000 population. The 2004 rate decreased 4.2 percent when compared with the 2003 rate. (See Table 4.)

Table 2.28

Motor Vehicle Theft by Month
Percent Distribution, 2000-2004

Month 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
January 8.1 8.1 8.6 8.3 8.6
February 7.4 6.9 7.2 7.0 7.5
March 8.0 7.7 8.0 8.0 8.2
April 7.6 7.6 7.8 8.1 7.9
May 8.2 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3
June 8.3 8.2 8.1 8.2 8.4
July 8.9 9.0 9.0 8.8 8.7
August 9.1 8.9 8.8 8.8 8.7
September 8.5 8.5 8.6 8.6 8.2
October 8.7 9.3 8.8 8.8 8.7
November 8.5 8.9 8.4 8.3 8.4
December 8.6 9.0 8.6 8.8 8.5
 
Table 2.29

Motor Vehicle Theft
Percent Distribution by Region, 2004

Region Total 1 Autos Trucks
and
buses
Other
vehicles
Total 100.0 72.8 18.4 8.7
Northeast 100.0 88.3 5.3 6.5
Midwest 100.0 76.2 15.0 8.8
South 100.0 67.2 21.2 11.5
West 100.0 72.3 20.8 6.9

1 Because of rounding, the percentages may not add to 100.0

 

The West

With approximately 23.0 percent of the U.S. population, the Western states accounted for 36.2 percent of all motor vehicle thefts in the Nation in 2004. (See Table 3.) By volume, the largest number of motor vehicle thefts, an estimated 447,930, occurred in this region. The only region to show an increase, the estimated number of motor vehicle thefts went up 3.2 percent from last year’s number. Also on the rise from the 2003 number was the rate, estimated at 664.5 offenses per 100,000, an increase of 1.7 percent. (See Table 4.)

Community Types

The UCR Program aggregates data by three community types: Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), cities outside metropolitan areas, and nonmetropolitan counties. MSAs are areas that include a principal city or urbanized area with at least 50,000 inhabitants and the county that contains the principal city and other adjacent counties that have as defined by the Office of Management and Budget, a high degree of economic and social integration.

The vast majority (82.9 percent) of the U.S. population resided in MSAs during 2004, where approximately 93.5 percent of motor vehicle thefts occurred. For 2004, the UCR Program estimated an overall rate of 475.7 motor vehicles stolen per 100,000 MSA inhabitants. Cities outside MSAs and nonmetropolitan counties, comprised 6.8 and 10.4 percent of the Nation’s population, respectively. The former accounted for 3.2 percent of motor vehicle thefts and the latter 3.3 percent. The Program estimated a rate of 198.0 motor vehicles stolen for every 100,000 persons inhabiting cities outside MSAs and a rate of 132.7 motor vehicles stolen per 100,000 inhabitants of nonmetropolitan counties. (Based on Table 2.)

Population Groups: Trends and Rates

The national UCR Program aggregates data by various population groups, which include cities, metropolitan counties, and nonmetropolitan counties. A definition of these groups can be found in Appendix III. In cities collectively, the number of motor vehicle thefts decreased 2.9 percent in 2004 compared with the previous year’s data. From 2003 to 2004, the number of motor vehicle thefts reported by law enforcement in all city population groups decreased. The Nation’s largest cities, those with populations of 250,000 and over, experienced the greatest decline—4.0 percent; cities with populations of 25,000–49,999 experienced the smallest decline—0.7 percent. Within metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties, however, the number showed a slight increase, +0.3 percent and +0.2 percent respectively. (See Table 12.)

Among the population groups, in 2004 cities overall had a motor vehicle theft rate of 534.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. The largest cities, those with 250,000 and over in population, experienced the highest rate of motor vehicle thefts with 873.5 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Conversely, the Nation’s smallest cities, those with populations under 10,000, had the lowest rate of motor vehicle theft with 217.2 per 100,000 in population. Within the county groups, metropolitan counties had a rate of 304.6 motor vehicles stolen per 100,000 inhabitants and nonmetropolitan counties, a rate of 138.9 per 100,000 persons. (See Table 16.)

Offense Analysis

Based on law enforcement agencies’ reports, the UCR Program estimated the combined value of motor vehicles stolen nationwide in 2004 at approximately $7.6 billion. (Based on Tables 1 and 23.) Automobiles were, by far, the most frequently stolen vehicle type–accounting for 72.8 percent of all vehicles stolen. Trucks and buses accounted for 18.4 percent, and other vehicles accounted for 8.7 percent. (Based on Table 19.)

By type of vehicle, automobiles were stolen at a rate of 320.5 cars per 100,000 in population in 2004. Trucks and buses were stolen at a rate of 81.1 vehicles per 100,000 in population, and other types of vehicles were stolen at a rate of 38.4 vehicles per 100,000 people. (See Table 19.)

Clearances

In the UCR Program, law enforcement may clear offenses either by arrest or by exceptional means, i.e., when elements beyond the control of law enforcement prevent the placing of formal charges against the offender. (Section III provides more information regarding clearances.) In 2004, law enforcement agencies in the United States, collectively, cleared 13.0 percent of motor vehicle theft offenses. Law enforcement in cities cleared 12.0 percent of motor vehicle thefts. Among the Nation’s population groups labeled city, law enforcement in cities with populations of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants cleared the largest proportion of motor vehicle thefts (24.6 percent) reported in their jurisdictions. Law enforcement in the Nation’s largest cities, those with 250,000 and over in population, cleared the smallest proportion of motor vehicle thefts (9.4 percent) reported to them. Law enforcement agencies in metropolitan counties cleared 15.4 percent of motor vehicle thefts in their jurisdictions, and nonmetropolitan counties cleared 26.0 percent of motor vehicle thefts. (Table 25.)

Regionally, law enforcement agencies in the South cleared the highest percentage of motor vehicle thefts (15.0 percent, collectively) within their jurisdictions. Law enforcement agencies in the Northeast cleared 14.7 percent; agencies in the Midwest, 14.0 percent; and agencies in the West, 10.2 percent of motor vehicle thefts. (See Table 26.)

Clearances and Juveniles

Before analyzing data involving clearances and juveniles, the data user should consider two important pieces of information. First, when an offender under the age of 18 is cited to appear before juvenile authorities, the UCR Program considers the offense to be cleared by arrest, even though a physical arrest may not have occurred. Second, clearances involving both adult and juvenile offenders are classified as adult clearances. For more information on clearances, see Section III, Offenses Cleared.

Nationwide, 16.4 percent of all clearances of motor vehicle thefts in 2004 involved juveniles only. In cities collectively, 16.7 percent of all clearances of motor vehicle thefts involved only persons under 18 years of age. Within the city population groups, law enforcement agencies in cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999 reported the highest percentage of clearances (17.5 percent) for motor vehicle thefts that involved only juveniles. The lowest percentage of clearances for motor vehicle thefts involving juveniles (15.5 percent) was reported by law enforcement in both cities with 100,000 to 249,999 in population and in the Nation’s smallest cities, those with under 10,000 inhabitants. Law enforcement agencies in metropolitan counties reported that 15.2 percent of motor vehicle theft clearances within their jurisdictions involved juveniles only. Agencies in nonmetropolitan counties reported that juveniles only comprised 16.2 percent of their total clearances for motor vehicle theft. (See Table 28.)

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