Auto thefts in Los Angeles hit highest count in nearly two decades

Number of stolen vehicles rises for fourth consecutive year, driven in part by ‘Kia challenge’

Illustration of a vehicle being stolen


The number of cars stolen in the city of Los Angeles climbed for the fourth consecutive year in 2023.


Although the 25,825 auto-theft reports is a slim increase from the previous year, it marks a 64% spike over the number of vehicles taken in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.


Bar chart of annual car theft reports in Los Angeles from 2014-2023


The last time the annual total in the city was higher was in 2005, when 28,721 vehicles were reported stolen, according to state Attorney General records.


The year-end increase is notable in part because, during the first half of 2023, thefts were trending in the other direction. According to LAPD Compstat data, on April 1 stolen-vehicle reports were 7.8% below the equivalent period in 2022. On July 1 the year-over-year decline had reached 10.1%.


Things changed in July, and in five of the next six months there were more than 2,300 car thefts, a level that had only been hit three times since 2010, according to publicly available LAPD data. The peak was the 2,431 stolen-vehicle reports in October.


Line chart of monthly car theft reports in the city of Los Angeles


Nationwide problem

Car thefts across the country began soaring after the onset of the pandemic, propelled at first by thieves targeting vehicles that sat on streets for extended periods. Yet even as many people resumed pre-COVID driving habits, the count never fell significantly.


Recently, the trade group National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that nearly 500,000 cars were stolen across the country in the first half of 2023. That marked a 2% increase from the previous year.


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One factor keeping thefts elevated is the “Kia challenge.” First reported in the summer of 2022, this is a social media trend that shows people how to use a USB port to overwhelm the ignition system of many Kia and Hyundai models. 


During a recent press conference to present year-end crime statistics, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said it remains a factor in the city.


“The increase in those two makes and models is dominating our increase in auto theft,” Moore stated.


He added that in 2019, fewer than 4% of auto thefts in the city were Kias and Hyundais. “In 2023, that percentage has grown to just under 30% of all auto thefts,” he said.


He urged owners of those vehicles to take advantage of software fixes that have been made available to prevent thefts.


Targeting busy communities

For many years a small number of densely populated communities have been the focal points for car thieves. That was the case again last year. There were 1,582 car theft reports in Downtown. That is slightly more than the next two neighborhoods—Westlake and Boyle Heights—combined.


Table of neighborhoods with the most crime theft reports in Los Angeles in 2023


According to police data, more than 20,700 cars, or about 80% of the total, were stolen when parked on the street. Another 3,100 were reported missing from a parking lot.


Despite the high number of thefts, Moore previously stated that the vast majority of stolen vehicles are recovered within a few days, and often are found in the same neighborhood where they were taken. He has said this indicates that in many instances a thief uses a vehicle for transportation, as opposed to stripping it for parts or selling it overseas.


That is borne out in other statistics. According to a report from the California Highway Patrol, of the 198,538 vehicles reported stolen across the state in 2022, 86.7% were recovered.


To prevent car thefts, law enforcement officials urge steps such as parking in a well-lit area, using a steering-wheel lock or other visible deterrent, and being sure not to leave a key fob in the cup holder. 


How we did it: We examined publicly available crime data from the Los Angeles Police Department from Jan. 1, 2010–Dec. 31, 2023. We also examined LAPD Compstat data. Learn more about our data here.


LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.


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