Honda Civic, Cadillac Escalade atop list of most frequently stolen vehicles

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TORONTO - The Honda Civic has again wheeled into the top spot on a list of most frequently stolen vehicles, but the number of high-end models being snatched is a sign of growing appetite among auto thieves for luxury rides, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Rick Dubin, the bureau's vice-president of investigations, says they've seen the two-door, 2000 Civic SiR atop the list before. The 1999 model of the vehicle came in third this year.
"There's lots of them on the road, probably a demand for parts," he said of the vehicle. "Also they can be modified, which we've seen, so they've been souped up, and these vehicles are very sporty, so they're a desired type of vehicle."
But Dubin said the real concern on the list relates to the proliferation of luxury vehicles. The 2006 Hummer H2 four-door and four different four-door makes of the Cadillac Escalade are in the top 10.
Dubin said they're seeing "an awful lot" of high-end vehicles being seized at ports in Montreal and Halifax.
He said such thefts signal the involvement of organized crime. The stolen vehicles yield two to three times their value when sold in places like Ghana, Jamaica, Nigeria, Dubai, Lebanon, throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
Last month, in the Toronto neighbourhood of Leaside, six Toyota Highlander SUVs were stolen from the driveways of homes on the same night. It hasn't yet been pinpointed how these thefts were committed.
Dubin agrees the Toronto thefts are an example of a bigger problem with respect to potential links to organized crime and high-end vehicles being shipped overseas for sale.
This year, the Insurance Bureau of Canada teamed up with law enforcement in ports of Montreal and Halifax and seized 372 vehicles worth in excess of $11 million.
But Dubin said that's only "the tip of the iceberg," considering 30,000 high-end stolen vehicles with an average value of $40,000 apiece are exported out of Canadian ports annually.
"What we are pulling off at the ports are these kinds of vehicles - Range Rovers, late-model Escalades, BMW X5 and 6s, the Highlanders and the list just goes on and on," he said. "That's what they're exporting: the high-end, very popular SUVs."
According to Statistics Canada, more than 125,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada last year, a 15 per cent drop from 2007.
Dubin said electronic immobilizers have made a big difference in making it harder to steal cars. The anti-theft systems were made mandatory in all new cars in 2007. The technology features a chip in a key that signals to the engine to start when the key is in the ignition, or close to it in cars with a start button.
"The problem is, out of those reduced numbers of what's left of the 125,000 there's a significant number of vehicles, and that number of unrecovered vehicles keeps increasing every year."
Dubin said 20 per cent of all vehicle thefts are a result of people leaving vehicles running unattended. Some thieves break into homes to find car keys or they tow away vehicles, he added.
Dubin said it's best for car owners to put their vehicles inside a garage if they have one, remove all valuable contents and lock both the car and garage.
Owners of high-end vehicles could install a GPS system. Motorists could also consider using a locking device on their steering wheel, and they should never leave their vehicle running unattended, even if just making a quick coffee stop.
And while remote starters are convenient, particularly on chilly days, he doesn't recommend them.
"You've got to be with the vehicle when it's warming up and obviously that's a big deterrent. A thief is going to move on to another vehicle."
An engineer who was with the bureau had previously indicated he had a concern that when a remote starter wasn't factory-installed, there was a "real good chance" it could override the electronic immobilizer, making it easier to steal the car, Dubin said.

Organizations: Honda Civic, Insurance Bureau of Canada, Statistics Canada

Geographic location: TORONTO, Montreal, Halifax Ghana Jamaica Nigeria Dubai Lebanon Middle East Eastern Europe Leaside Canada

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