In January 2022, Ara Nenninger had just returned from a trip to Missouri visiting her mother. She parked her Sprinter van on the street outside her home in north Central Park, but when she came out two days later to clean it out, the van was gone. “I couldn’t quite believe it. It had vanished.” Unfortunately, her experience is becoming all too common in Colorado.
Last year, more than 48,000 vehicles were stolen in the state, with an estimated value of more than $468 million, according to AAA Colorado. Colorado, in fact, leads the nation in vehicle theft on a per capita basis. “We have had a huge influx of people into the state and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, and that is a big part of why thefts are up,” says Jeff Magoon, an insurance and risk management expert who lives in Central Park. He says Northeast Denver is particularly vulnerable to car theft. “We’re close to I-70 and I-225. One reason thieves target the area is that they have access to get out quickly.”
Magoon and other insurance experts say that those thefts have led to skyrocketing auto insurance rates. “Colorado has some of the fastest rising premiums in the country,” says Skyler McKinley with AAA Colorado. “Insurance companies pay out between $150 million and $300 million annually for car theft–and that’s not even including catalytic converter theft. That’s a significant cost to insurers. And, of course, the way insurance works, that’s then a significant cost to motorists.”
McKinley is quick to point out that the rising car insurance rates are also due to other Colorado-specific factors: hail damage, icy roads, and an increase in crashes and fatalities. Still, car theft and catalytic converter theft is a pernicious problem, especially for working class families. Insurers only cover auto theft if owners have purchased comprehensive coverage, which many lower-income motorists can’t afford. And in general, thieves don’t target high-end luxury cars but instead they take older, more modest cars that tend to be driven by motorists of more modest means. More than 85 percent of stolen vehicles are valued at under $25,000.
In addition, some insurers won’t even offer comprehensive coverage for Hyundai and Kia cars, since they represent seven of the top ten models of cars that are stolen, according to the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority (CATPA). McKinley says older versions of those cars are targets because they don’t have as advanced anti-theft technology. Rounding out the list of the top ten most stolen vehicles are Chevy Silverados, Ford F-250s, and GMC Sierras.
There are some common-sense precautions that motorists can take to try to prevent theft. McKinley says that at the top of the list: don’t park at Denver International Airport (DIA). “Three to five percent of all cars stolen in the state are stolen from DIA.” He also recommends parking your car in a garage or in a well-lit area, buying anti-theft technology, or installing a steering wheel lock.
Catalytic converter thefts have also been soaring. Thieves steal the auto parts because they contain precious metals. Replacing a catalytic converter can cost car owners anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000. The Colorado Legislature recently increased funding to provide marking kits that motorists can install to deter thefts or make it easier for police to track the part if the catalytic converter is stolen. For information about how to receive a kit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ara Nenninger says she has definitely changed her behavior since her car was stolen. “I’m hyper vigilant now on all fronts. I know this area is ripe for crime so you have to be on high alert. I always park my car in the garage and I make sure to always close the garage door.”