Thefts of Autos With Keys are Rising

car key in ignition

As a smart business person, you'd never leave a key in a vehicle you own, right? You know that a vehicle with a key inside is an invitation to a thief. Yet, the truth is many people do leave keys in vehicles. Here is a common scenario.


It's an icy January morning and you are getting ready for work. Your company-owned truck is parked in your driveway. Your truck will be frigid on a morning like this so you decide to warm it up before heading out. You dash out the door, jump into the truck and start the engine. Then you drop the key into the cup holder and run back into the house.

Five minutes later you walk out the door. Your truck should be nice and warm by now. You head to the driveway and stop short, staring in disbelief. Your truck is gone! A brazen thief swiped your truck right in front of your home! You are annoyed and angry, but you are also feeling a bit foolish. Leaving the key in the truck was a bad idea. Fortunately, your commercial auto policy includes physical damage coverage. You pick up your cell phone and sheepishly call your auto insurer.

Thefts With Keys Increasing

Incidents like the one described above are not uncommon. A report published by the National Insurance Crime Bureau ((NICB) in 2016 showed that 1,247,434 vehicles were reported stolen with keys between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2015. The actual numbers of stolen autos are probably higher than the statistics indicate. Some victims were likely too embarrassed to admit they'd left the key in their vehicle.

Vehicle thefts with keys are on the rise.  As you can see from the table below, thefts of vehicles with keys increased each year from 2012 to 2015.

Year # Vehicles Stolen With Keys % Increase Over Previous Year
2012 39,345* N/A
2013 43,643 10.9
2014 46,695 7.0
2015 57,096 22.2

*Numbers for 2012 came from the NICB's  2015 report.

The rise in auto thefts with keys may seem surprising since vehicle thefts as a whole have declined substantially in recent years. The overall decline in thefts is largely due to technology. Modern cars are difficult to steal. Yet, car thieves are opportunists. Virtually any vehicle can be stolen if the keys are left inside.

More Thefts in Cold Weather

According to the NICB's report, more vehicles with keys are stolen during the late fall and winter than the spring and summer. This makes sense since more vehicles are left running when the weather is cold. Between 2013 and 2015, an average of 135 vehicles were stolen with keys each day. The NICB identified ten dates when thefts were particularly high. These are listed below. Note that all were in November or December of 2015.

Date # Thefts
December 31, 2015 210
December 14, 2015 204
December 28, 2015 203
November 21, 2015 202
December 21, 2015 201
December 30, 2015 197
November 20, 2015 197
December 18, 2015 196
November 22, 2015 196
December 23, 2015 196

Where Thefts Occur

While vehicle thefts with keys can happen anywhere, they are more common in some places than in others. The NICB report lists ten states and ten metropolitan areas that had the most vehicle thefts with keys between 2013 and 2015. Here are the top 10 states in descending order:

State # of Thefts
California 22,580
Texas 11,003
Florida 9,952
Ohio 8,623
Nevada 8,073
Michigan 7,037
Georgia 5,405
Illinois 5,258
Wisconsin 4,872
Indiana 4,550

Here are the top 10 metropolitan areas for vehicle thefts with keys:

Metro Area # Vehicle Thefts
Las Vegas-Henderon-Paradise NV 7,815
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn MI 4,380
Altanta-SandySprings-Roswell GA 4,118
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-W. Palm Beach FL 3,847
Phil.-Camden-Wilmington PA-DE-NJ-MD 3,365
NYC--Newark-Jersey City NY-NJ-PA 3,095
L.A.-Long Beach-Anaheim CA 3,087
Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington TX 2,997
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood CO 2,810
Cleveland-Elyria OH 2,634

Model Year

The NICB analyzed vehicle thefts with keys by model year. It studied thefts that occurred during the period 2013-2015. Not surprisingly, more older vehicles were stolen than newer models. Older vehicles are generally easier to steal because they lack some of the anti-theft devices found on newer ones. Vehicle thefts with keys declined with each model year between 2004 and 2009. Thefts rose for each model year between 2009 and 2013, and then fell sharply for the 2014 and 2015 model years.

Protect your Vehicles!

You can protect your vehicles against theft with a key by exercising common sense. If you warm up your car on a cold day, be sure to lock the doors. Alternatively, you can start your vehicle remotely. Special devices are available for this purpose, or you can use a smart phone equipped with remote-starting app.