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No. 1 in auto theft: Modesto, Calif.

Insurance crime group reports that western states still lead the nation in car theft.

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By Catherine Clifford, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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According to a report issued by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Modesto, Calif. tops the charts for the highest rate of auto theft per capita in 2007.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Modesto, Calif., has the highest rate of auto theft per capita of any metropolitan area in the country, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Preliminary FBI crime data signals that vehicle thefts dropped 7.4% in 2007 - marking the fourth consecutive year of declining vehicle thefts. Since 2000, thefts across the nation have dropped 11%.

Western states continue to take the top spots when it comes to auto theft rates, according to the NICB.

In 2007, four out of the top 10 metro areas with the highest vehicle theft rates were in California, which consistently sees more car thefts than any other state. The final number of thefts for 2007 has not been released yet, but in 2006 Californians lost 242,693 cars. Texans, which came in a distant second for stolen cars, lost 95,429 cars, according to Frank Scafidi, spokesman for NICB.

"While there is overall great news in our new report, there is also room for concern," NICB Chief Executive Robert Bryant said in a statement.

Most of the cities that are seeing high theft rates are near the nation's border with Mexico, a fact that can make it tricky for authorities to recover the vehicles.

"When the car is stolen, it takes a period of time for a person to realize the car is gone," said Scafidi. In the meantime, cars are driven right across the border.

"Once it's in Mexico or Canada, then you are dealing with another country and you can't go in there and root around," Scafidi said.

In 2006, more than 1 million cars were stolen, says Scafidi. With a successful recovery rate of 59%, including more than 3,000 cars internationally, that still leaves a lot of cars separated from their owners.

Many older cars, such as a Toyota Camry from 1989 or 1990, are stolen not for their resale value, but for the use of parts in fraudulent repairs, says Scafidi. Body shops look for car parts that they can sell on the black market to people who want to have their cars fixed cheaper than at a legitimate body shop.

The NICB metro area rankings are based on full-year figures from the National Crime Information Center. The rate is determined by the number of vehicle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, using the 2007 U.S. Census Population Estimates.

Top 10 metro areas by per capita auto theft rate for 2007

1. Modesto, Calif.

2. Las Vegas/Paradise, Nev.

3. San Diego/Carlsbad/San Marcos, Calif.

4. Stockton, Calif.

5. San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont, Calif.

6. Laredo, Texas

7. Albuquerque, N.M.

8. Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, Ariz.

9. Yakima, Wash.

10. Tucson, Ariz.  To top of page

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