Your car gets, the more attractive it becomes to...

THE OLDER

January 29, 1994

THE OLDER your car gets, the more attractive it becomes to auto thieves, up to a point.

It's not the shiny new model that catches the eye of the criminal as much as the four- to six-year-old car, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The organization compiled a list of the most popular stolen cars in 1991, ranking them by the number of thefts per 1,000 cars sold.

The Top Ten of theft favorites included 1985 through 1989 models. Not one later model.

The main reasons why older cars are more desirable, according to bureau spokesman Greg Taski, are:

For professional thieves, the automotive parts become more valuable, particularly if a model had few major changes over the years. Tougher measures and larger national computer data bases to trace auto titles from state to state make the whole stolen car a harder item to sell than its components.

As a car ages, the owner becomes less vigilant and more lax in protecting it, such as not locking it or leaving it on the street instead of in a garage. Thinking that no one would steal your dirty, old jalopy is faulty logic, whether the thief is a pro or simply a joy rider.

Older cars are less likely to have an anti-theft device. Such devices become obsolete, too: a five-year-old theft device has likely become child's play to any experienced thief. And again, car owners don't think it is worth the bother or the cost of adding a theft-deterrent device as a car ages and loses its value.

The bureau's list contradicts the common belief that Corvettes are the most popular theft target.

The Chevrolet sports car has fallen from the list largely because of its more sophisticated anti-theft technology, such as coded microchip electronics that control entry and ignition, Mr. Taski explained.

The NICB rankings place the 1989 Mitsubishi Starion way at the top of the 1991 theft list. All told, three model-year Starions and the 1989 Chrysler Conquest, a carbon copy, made the top 10.

Why? Because relatively few of these models were sold, so a few thefts sharply jacked up the rating. And the parts didn't change much over three years, either.

But the top listings do include a substantial sprinkling of the usual racy and expensive suspects:

Pontiac Firebirds, Chevy Camaros, Toyota MR2s, Alfa Romeos, Mazda RX7s and the Porsche 928. Foreign models are at least as popular with thieves as domestic makes.

Auto theft dropped by 3 percent between 1991 and 1992, Mr. Taski reported, but it remains an $8 billion annual headache. If people took care of their older cars as well as they do the new ones, that crime figure could be cut significantly.

* * *

THE latest euphemism for "over 65" we've seen around town: "Premier Years" (good for half-rate discounts at the Sinai Hospital parking lot).

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