A growing number of cars are being stolen when motorists leave keys in their vehicles.

Automakers have gone to great lengths in recent years to make it more difficult to steal a car. Some owners, however, are going to great lengths to make it easy again.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NICB, at least $750 million worth of vehicles were stolen between 2012 and 2014 because motorists left the keys inside. And NICB President Joe Wehrle says, “I’m sure the numbers are probably higher,” but owners aren’t likely to admit the fact when they file a police report or insurance claim.

California topped the list of states where the problem occurred during the three-year period. Texas was next on the list, followed by Florida, Michigan and Ohio.

If you leave out the cars stolen because of owners leaving the keys inside, the NICB says overall vehicle thefts would have dropped to a nearly 50-year low in 2014.

The sad part, notes Wehrle, is that “Stealing a vehicle is very difficult with today’s anti-theft technology and leaving the keys in the vehicle is an open invitation for the opportunistic car thief.”

(Maine is cheapest state for auto insurance, Michigan the most expensive. Click Here for more.)

With a few bumps, car thefts have fallen sharply in recent decades, in part due to a crackdown by law enforcement authorities. But manufacturers have also helped by introducing a variety of high-tech solutions. These include vehicle immobilizers and stolen vehicle recovery systems that make it easier to track a car once it has been snatched.

So-called “smart keys” also help by making it all but impossible to jimmy the lock and hotwire the ignition. In fact, a growing number of vehicles don’t actually use keys anymore but, instead, have opted for keyless remotes and push-button starters. Experts suggest there’s a downside to such technology. Motorists might hit the button to shut their vehicle off but then forget to grab the key out of a cupholder or storage bin.

NICB’s Wehrle cautions that forgetfulness might be only part of the problem. In some cases, owners who might be facing financial problems will intentionally leave keys where a thief might spot them hoping to have the car grabbed – and then to get a payoff from insurance.

(Overall car thefts take spectacular plunge. Click Here for the full story.)

In all, 126,603 vehicles were reported stolen with the keys inside between 2012-2014. During the last year of that study, the total was 44,828, or 6.7% of all the vehicles snatched that year. That was up from 5.4% in 2012 and 6.0% in 2013, suggesting the problem is getting worse.

In 2014, the NICB said the total thefts in the top five states came to:

  • California, 19,597;
  • Texas, 8,796;
  • Florida, 7,868;
  • Michigan, 7,726; and
  • Ohio, 7,452.

According to the NICB study, Saturday saw the most thefts with keys, followed by Friday and Monday.

(Feds crack down on crooked car dealers. Click Here for the story.)

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