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While car thefts are declining across the country, stealing car parts and accessories is proving to be a lucrative business for professional thieves.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), organized crime rings are targeting newer vehicles parked in neighborhoods, in parking lots, even at dealer lots – anywhere they can quickly jack the car up, remove the wheels, and leave it sitting on blocks.

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NICB says theft of parts is costing consumers, insurance companies, car dealers and car rental companies. Rental car companies have been particularly hard hit with hundreds of newer model cars targeted.

In some cases, thieves break the window, pop the hood and disable the gear shift to put the car in neutral. They then use another vehicle to push the car away to a nearby empty garage or lot where they can safely strip it.

It’s become a big problem in Michigan, particularly in the Detroit area, according to NICB.

“We hear all this good news about auto theft being down in Michigan, but unfortunately, what’s replaced that is component theft,” said Terri Miller, executive director of Help Eliminate Auto Thefts (HEAT). “Because it’s harder to steal an entire vehicle these days, they’re stealing the parts. The tires and rims are not marked and they are very, very marketable.”

Car Theft Decline

An NICB analysis of FBI data shows that from their peak year in 1991, vehicle thefts have trended downward. From 1991 through 2000, there was a 30 percent decline. From 2000 through 2003, thefts rose a little before falling precipitously and consecutively each year from 2004 through 2011—43 percent in eight years.

In 2012, thefts increased slightly before falling again in 2013 to levels not seen since 1967, according to NICB.

Lucrative Parts

According to Michigan State Police Detective Lieutenant Ray Collins of the Southeast Auto Theft Team (SEATT), the person stealing the tires and rims may be paid $150 to $400 for their work but more money is made by the middle man who resells the stolen property to smaller tire dealers or collision repair shops for $700 to $900. The repair shop may then install those tires and rims on a car and bill an insurance company for $1,200 or $1,300. And an insurance company has likely already paid a claim for those same stolen tires and rims.

“I encourage people to put some kind of identifying mark on their tires and rims,” said Collins. “If they report them stolen, we may be able to tie them back to the victims if we recover them.”

NICB says some manufacturers are working on technology to help track these parts when they are stolen.