Chicago auto theft skyrocketed 55% last year, up more than any other city in the US

CHICAGO — You won’t find this factoid in any marketing brochures, but Chicago led the nation in at least one category in 2022: fastest growing city for auto theft in the U.S.

Auto thefts rose 55% in Chicago last year, topping every other city as part of an ongoing pandemic-fueled nationwide increase in reported stolen vehicles, according to data released Wednesday by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Nationwide, thefts were up 7%, surpassing 1 million stolen vehicles for the first time since 2008.

“Chicago is absolutely trending in the wrong direction,” said David Glawe, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a Des Plaines-based industry organization focused on insurance fraud and vehicle theft.

While California and Texas led the nation in thefts, Illinois had the largest percentage increase among larger states at 35%, according to the group’s annual study. Breaking it down further, Chicago, and to some extent surrounding suburbs, are behind the state’s skyrocketing auto theft statistics, Glawe said.

Chicago had 21,516 reported auto thefts in 2022, up from 13,856 the previous year. Glawe said those totals, received from the National Crime Information Center, include the full spectrum of auto theft, from driving off in unattended vehicles to carjacking.

The Chicago Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Auto theft has been increasing during the pandemic, driven by supply chain issues, and the rising value of used cars and parts, Glawe said.

In November, used car prices fell for the first time in more than 2 ½ years, but remained above pre-pandemic levels, according to a study by iSeeCars, an online auto search site. The average price of a used car is over $35,000 in Illinois, the study found.

“There is a high demand for used cars and a low supply,” Glawe said. “The car parts in these vehicles are also sought after.”

Soaring catalytic converter theft, for example, is up 1,200% over the last three years, Glawe said. The catalytic converter contains valuable precious metals including rhodium, palladium and platinum, which can fetch hundreds of dollars in resale on the black market.

Organized crime rings steal vehicles and chop them up for parts, he said.

A social media trend may also be fueling a rise in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles. Many Kia and Hyundai vehicles do not have electronic immobilizers, making them more vulnerable to being hot-wired. Videos posted online went viral last year, providing instructions on starting the vehicles without a key.

While Hondas, Toyotas, and Ford and Chevy pickups are often the top targets for thieves in Chicago, Kia and Hyundai thefts surged last year on the back of the social media trend, Glawe said.

In 2021, Hyundai and Kia accounted for 8% of the stolen vehicles in Chicago. Last year, that number jumped to 29%.

Both automakers are rolling out fixes for the vulnerability.

For Chicago-area car owners, Glawe recommends good “security hygiene,” such as parking in a well-lit space as a deterrent to thieves. The biggest tip, however, is perhaps the most obvious.

“This is going to seem simple, but a lot of people leave their keys in their car,” Glawe said. “We have a lot of surveillance of criminals going through neighborhoods and just shaking doors to see if the keys are in the car. Then they pop in the car and take off.”