It’s a terrible feeling. You walk out—from work, from a grocery store, from a movie theater—to exactly where you parked. And it’s just not there. Your four-wheeled wonder is gone.
To help you avoid that moment, 5 On Your Side Investigates has crunched three years of stolen auto data, to tell you some of the places you’re most likely to lose your car.
First stop, an area of the Central West End, with its restaurants, theaters, and high-end apartments. From 2013 through 2016, 314 cars were stolen in just a few blocks.
“It’s always an access thing,” says security expert Mike Barbieri, who came along for the ride.
His first real lesson for us was in a parking garage, telling us that even the best surveillance may not protect your car.
“Very seldom do they catch somebody breaking into the car with the cameras, and by the time they call a security team to get down there, the car is gone,” says Barbieri.
Our next hot spot is in Soulard, with 436 thefts in three years, where we discovered one of the biggest problems in stopping car thieves.
The public often makes it so easy, like leaving windows rolled down. We spoke with the owner of one car we came across with opened windows: “Yeah, we just cracked it open a little to let the air in…and we don’t keep anything valuable in there,” they said. “We’re hoping our car isn’t too easy on the eyes and somebody wouldn’t want to steal it.”
The problem is that it’s actually the older cars that are attracting criminals. Just ask David McCoy, a reformed car thief who says he once stole “everything from classic vehicles to broken-down Hondas.”
McCoy says older cars with simpler security are the hot pick. In fact, he adds, “if it has a steering wheel lock, I’m not even going to go near the car.”
The next hot spot is near Carondelet, where 415 cars were taken in three years. It’s no wonder, with easy access to highways that provide car thieves with escape routes.
And once again, we found open doors and windows. The owner of one vulnerable car said, “To be honest, I don’t keep nothing valuable in the car. I play it safe.”
When asked whether she worries about thieves stealing the car itself, she added, “They’ve attempted that twice so I’ve already replaced two steering columns. So the car can’t be stolen, but they can damage it.”
“The most important thing is just lock it up,” says our former car thief. “It doesn’t matter if it is locked in the driveway or your home. Lock the vehicle, ‘cause you never know.”
Oddly enough, it was at our number-one hotspot, the Baden area with 481 car thefts in three years, that we discovered a real irony: Lots and lots of locked cars. According to Barbieri, “Most people are aware that they may lose their automobile, so they lock it up” because “it’s a high crime area.”
Just outside city lines in St. Louis County we found hotspots between Skinker and Goodman where 329 cars were stolen in three years, an area of Mehlville with 90 cars taken in that time, and in the north, a hotspot off of New Halls Ferry.
In another hotspot in Spanish Lake, Stedman Harold left his broken-down car at a repair shop. But then he got a late-night call from the police: Thieves had stolen his car from the garage. They didn’t get far. The reason? It stopped working.
“You really wouldn’t expect a car that broke down to get stolen,” says Harold.
But Stedman admits he made it easier by leaving the car open. His motto now: “Really lock your door. Lock your doors,” he says.