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Status Report, Vol. 41, No. 5 | June 13, 2006 Subscribe

For 4th year Escalade has most theft claims and costliest ones

Versions of the 2003-05 Cadillac Escalade, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Dodge Ram 1500 quad cab pickup have the highest rates of insurance theft claims. The 3 vehicles have claim rates 4 to 5 times the average for all vehicles. These are the latest theft loss results for passenger vehicles 1 to 3 years old published by the Institute's affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

Overall losses for pickups have increased sharply since 1999, mainly because of high claims for the Dodge Ram and Ford F-250/350. In contrast, theft losses for cars and SUVs increased slightly in 2003-04 but declined in 2005. The rate of theft of pickups in 2005 was nearly twice as high as for cars or SUVs.

This is the fourth year in a row that the Escalade has topped the list of vehicles most likely to have a theft claim. In fact, 4 versions of the Escalade (EXT, a specialty pickup, plus 2- and 4-wheel-drive versions of the short- and long-wheelbase Escalade SUVs) head the list of the worst overall insurance losses for theft among all passenger vehicles. The EXT has overall theft losses that are 16 times higher than the average.

"The overall results show the Escalade has not only the highest rate of claims but also very expensive claims when they are filed," says Kim Hazelbaker, HLDI senior vice president. "In fact, almost one-quarter of theft claims for the Escalade are for $40,000 or more, indicating that thieves are stealing the whole vehicles and not just their parts."

The Escalade's theft losses have been the highest in recent years even though this vehicle is equipped with a standard antitheft ignition immobilizer. An immobilizer is built into a vehicle's electronic ignition system. It's supposed to prevent the vehicle from being started without the proper key.

Cadillac redesigned the Escalade for 2007 and upgraded its antitheft system. It's too soon to know if the new model will have a lower theft rate than the previous ones.

The high-performance Lancer Evolution is new this year to the list of vehicles with the highest theft losses. Investigators say this model may be attracting the attention of thieves because its parts can be used to customize standard Lancers.

Insurance theft claims, 2003-05 passenger vehicles
  Vehicle size/type Claim
Average loss
per claim
Highest claim rates
Cadillac Escalade   large luxury SUV 13.2 $17,913 $236
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 4WD small 4-door car 11.9 $10,326 $123
Dodge Ram 1500 quad cab large pickup 11.1 $10,088 $112
Ford F-250/350 supercrew 4WD (2005 only) very large pickup 8.9 $17,702 $158
Chrysler Sebring (2004-05) midsize 4-door car 8.5 $5,007 $43
Lowest claim rates
Ford Taurus large station wagon 0.3 $3,872 $1
Pontiac Vibe 4WD small station wagon 0.4 $3,872 $1
Buick LeSabre large 4-door car 0.5 $4,905 $2
Buick Park Avenue large luxury car 0.5 $3,270 $2
Toyota Sienna 4WD (2004-05)
very large minivan 0.6 $8,777 $5
Average all passenger vehicles 2.6 $8,605 $22
Note: Claim frequencies are per 1,000 insured vehicle years; overall losses are average payments per insured vehicle year.

Geographic differences

Models with high overall theft losses vary by geographic area. For example, the Dodge Stratus and its twins, Chrysler Sebring and Plymouth Breeze, have very high losses in and around Washington, D.C. Losses are high for the 2003 Nissan Maxima and for the Lexus RX 330 in and around New York City. Results for the Maxima and Lexus are believed to be associated with their expensive Xenon headlights.

HLDI results are the only reported theft results based on numbers of insured vehicles. Loss information from the National Insurance Crime Bureau and CCC Information Services doesn't take into account how many of each vehicle are insured, so the most popular ones on the road tend to top these organizations' lists of most-stolen vehicles. In contrast, HLDI identifies vehicles with the worst losses by counting the number of claims by make and model relative to the number of each model insured, indicating which vehicles are most likely to be targets.

Long-term trends

Overall losses, or average loss payments per insured vehicle year, reflect both how often claims are filed and the cost of the claims. Since 1980 theft claim frequencies have declined while average insurance payments per claim have increased. But these trends have leveled off in recent years so that, since the mid-1990s, overall theft losses have declined by about 25 percent.

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