How Chop Shops Work: Vehicle Theft on the Rise

  • July 20, 2017
  • kdailey

Previously, we took a closer look at why recent FBI data shows a rise in vehicle thefts across the U.S. One of the most alarming trends we noticed is how these thefts are not only increasing nationwide, but are actually becoming more prevalent in the West. While this may be due to number of reasons, such as fewer police, we believe the data tells us that thieves are working hard at building a more robust and wide-ranging infrastructure. Here’s what that means.

The infrastructure around auto thefts actually consists of a complex network of thieves, chop shops, mechanics, and resellers all working together. For instance, we have seen cases where gangs of car thieves steal vehicles and sell them to chop shops as a means of financing other crimes. Efficient and discreet, these chop shops—often run by organized crime syndicates—can dismantle an entire car in as little as an hour. Although they’re most commonly located in garages and junk yards, ambitious operations with dozens of vehicles have been found in more remote locations, which may also help explain why thieves are increasing their efforts in the West.

Consider this case in point: A chop shop recently found by local police in a remote region of San Bernardino County, in the California desert, was three miles from any road. Completely isolated and otherwise undetectable, the only reason the police discovered it was because a 2006 Cadillac Escalade with a LoJack® unit had been brought there. Shortly after it was stolen, the owners contacted the police department, which then picked up the silent LoJack system signal and followed it to the secluded chop shop. In addition to the Cadillac, 31 other stolen vehicles were also discovered, putting the combined value of the find—possibly thanks to a single LoJack system signal—at approximately $500,000.

“With more thieves working together and the growing market for stolen vehicles, car theft is unfortunately a problem that’s not going away anytime soon,” Marc Hinch, investigator and member of the Alameda County Regional Auto Theft Task Force (ACRATT), remarked. “Because of this, breaking up large car theft rings will be essential to reducing current auto theft rates. The LoJack System is a key tool helping investigators do this.”

It’s important to remember that, even as anti-theft and safety technology becomes more common, many auto thieves are keeping pace with innovation and becoming more sophisticated. Despite this, however, car thefts are often still crimes of opportunity, making it more important than ever to practice common-sense safety tips. These include removing all valuables from your car, never leaving a window down or even partially cracked, parking in a well-lit area, and always keeping the vehicle locked.

As we mark National Vehicle Theft Protection month, check back here for more educational posts about how to help keep both you and your vehicle protected.