State Farm Works with “Thieves” to Prevent Auto Thefts

Earl Hyser and his co-workers figure out how to steal 30 to 60 cars every year. But they aren’t thieves.

“We go back to the manufacturer and say, ‘Listen, I get a lot of phone calls on this. It’s showing up on some of the State Farm data. You have a real problem,”‘ Hyser said. “If you’re going to redesign this, here’s some areas you could improve on if you want to.”

The superintendent of the vehicle research facility for State Farm Insurance Cos. and others in his “playground” _ a garage in State Farm’s home office _ peel cars apart and cut away sections of paneling to expose all the weaknesses a thief could exploit, especially on the cars most often stolen.

Thieves stole more 1991 Toyota Camrys than any other vehicle model in Illinois during 2004, but they stole more 1995 Honda Civics than any other car nationwide, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a not-for-profit organization that works with insurance companies and law enforcement.

Hyser said people should look at the model years on the lists because newer models are not always equally at risk.

“If you’re going to buy a new Camry, it doesn’t qualify because it’s very well protected,” Hyser said. “You know, it has very tough anti-theft features.”

The remaining nine cars on Illinois’ list are domestic models, and the average age of the cars is about 10 years old.

“A lot of these are high-volume sales cars, there are a lot of them out there, parts are more in demand because the parts fit different vehicles through quite a spread,” Hyser said. “Some of these are a 10-year run on parts where you can interchange the parts, so the parts become valuable. They’re easier to steal because there’s a lot of experience in stealing them.”

In his shop, Hyser pulled the top of the passenger window of a newer model car more than an inch from the frame _ more than enough room to use a rod to pop a door lock button.

He pointed to a rod painted yellow inside the car door of another new model with paneling cut away. He said he uses the paint to show points where a thief can use a device to pull a door rod and get inside.

State Farm has for the last 10 years advocated changes that shield door rods, making ignition cylinders out of stronger materials, making locks pickproof and putting computer chips in keys, Hyser said.

Hyser said it is tough to say what people should do if their car is on one of the lists because theft techniques vary in different areas. The solutions include adding aftermarket devices that kill the engine or lock the steering wheel, brake pedal or clutch pedal, he said.

“The best thing to do is go to local law enforcement in the area you live in and find out from their theft task force how the vehicles are being stolen,” Hyser said. “And I say that because some of these vehicles can be stolen in multiple ways.”

Hyser said people buying a car should make sure it has a factory immobilizer with a computer chip inside the car key, and it should have encryption technology to prevent someone from copying the key.

He also said car owners should find out the type of alarm system the car has, how it is activated and whether someone can pop the door or hood without tripping it.

“What you need do if you’re buying a car is just push the salespeople,” Hyser said. “Find out what kind of anti-theft features this thing really has.”

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, Associated Press