The top 5 US holidays with the most car thefts

Chris Kissell

holidays with most car theftsAmerica's annual calendar is studded with holidays. From New Year's Day to New Year's Eve, Americans have plenty of chances to kick up their feet and relax during the course of a year.

Unfortunately, thieves never take the day off. Every 26 seconds, another car is stolen in the United States, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). That's about 1.2 million cars each year.

The NICB recently released its list of the holidays with the most vehicle thefts. A total of 21,325 vehicles were stolen on 11 major holidays in 2012, a 2.5 percent increase over 2011.

NICB spokesman Frank Scafidi says it can be tough to pinpoint why thieves target certain cars.

"What makes a car attractive to a thief is in the mind of the thief," he says. "That can be very difficult to catalog."

Nevertheless, every car owner can employ a few general tips to reduce the odds of a car being stolen. Find out which holidays are most vulnerable to theft, and learn what you can do to keep your steering wheel out of criminal hands.

The top 5 holidays with the most car thefts

1. New Year's Day

Americans ring in each new year in many different ways. Some spend the day nursing hangovers from the previous night. Others park themselves in front of the TV to watch endless rounds of college football bowl games.

But the nation's thieves are a little more proactive in getting a jump-start on the new year. In 2012, New Year's Day saw more vehicle thefts than any other holiday -- a total of 2,228, according to the NICB.

Theft-prevention tip: Use common sense

Instead of falling victim to car thieves, pledge on Jan. 1 to use common sense throughout the next 365 days.

Failing to exercise good, basic judgment is the single biggest mistake car owners make in terms of protecting their vehicles, Scafidi says.

Examples of poor decision-making include leaving items on the seat in plain view, or failing to lock the car whenever it is parked.

2. Labor Day

You work hard for cash, so it seems especially cruel to imagine your car stolen on the one day that officially recognizes all your workplace efforts. Nonetheless, Labor Day ranks second in holiday car thefts, with 2,158.

Theft-prevention tip: Don't keep a backup key under your car

Countless drivers have a bad habit of sticking a spare key underneath their cars. Thieves have caught on to this trick, making your car easy prey.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to this risky practice if you own certain car models, says Justin Herndon, a spokesman for Allstate.

"Thin spare keys are available and are small enough to be stored in a wallet or day planner," he says. Ask your car's manufacturer if such keys are available.

Some manufacturers, such as GM, now offer smartphone applications that allow a vehicle to be unlocked remotely by either the manufacturer or by the vehicle owner themselves.

3. New Year's Eve

Car thieves often end the year just as they started it -- by prowling the nation's streets in hopes of stealing somebody's ride. There were 2,152 such thefts Dec. 31, 2012.

Theft-prevention tip: Keep your keys in your pocket

New Year's Eve ranks with the coldest nights of the year in many parts of the country. But don't let your desire to keep your car warm cloud your judgment when stopping at the liquor store or gas station, says Michael Barry, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.

"It may seem obvious, but don't leave your keys in the car, and your car idling," Barry says.

4. Memorial Day

You might think that even the most unrepentant car thief would think twice about stealing on this day of remembrance for dearly departed loved ones and members of the armed forces. Alas, that's not the case, as 2,078 cars were stolen on this day in 2012.

Theft-prevention tip: Always keep the windows tightly rolled up

On hot, sticky days, it may be tempting to leave the car window open.

But even cracking the window just slightly may leave enough of an opening for skilled thieves to exploit, Herndon says.

"The thief (may) use a long rod or coat hanger to reach the door lock button to access the vehicle," he says.

5. Halloween

On Oct. 31, 2012, thieves played the ultimate "trick" on 2,053 car owners by stealing their vehicles. There is no word about how many of these drivers later received the "treat" of having their cars returned to them undamaged.

Theft-prevention tip: Install an anti-theft device

Keep thieving ghosts and goblins at bay by installing a good anti-theft device. The NICB recommends layers of anti-theft protection drivers can use to protect their cars. In order of increasing protection -- from least protective to most -- they include:

  • Devices that are visible (steering-wheel locks) or audible (alarm systems).
  • Vehicle immobilizers. These are devices that prevent the car from being started by an unauthorized user. They include smart keys (which contain computer chips necessary to start the car) and kill switches (a hidden button that you activate to keep the car from being started).
  • Tracking systems. These technologies emit a signal that is transmitted to the police or a monitoring service. The signal allows the authorities to know where the car is at any given moment.

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