If you have a pickup, you might want to think twice about where you park it tonight.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau says tailgate theft is skyrocketing in the U.S. — thanks, in part, to websites that have made it easy for thieves to connect with unsuspecting customers looking to give their trucks a makeover.
Most tailgate thefts go unreported because the cost of replacing the part often is less than the truck owner’s insurance deductible. The bureau said the number of thefts reported to insurance companies nationwide has soared from just three in 2008 to more than 500 in 2012.
“Those are just insurance claims. We know that number is woefully under-representative. The problem is much, much larger,” said Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the NICB. “There’s a huge market, and that feeds the monster.”
Now, automakers are beginning to take notice.
“Tailgates can be taken with no effort at all. There’s no bolt. There’s no tools. I don’t know a single manufacturer that makes a tailgate that doesn’t pop right off,” says Chrysler Group LLC spokesman Nick Cappa. “The incentive for some sort of locking system is pretty high.”
That’s why his company has become the first to offer a remote locking system for its trucks that secures the tailgate as well as the cab doors. It comes with any 2013 or newer Ram pickup that has a remote key fob.
Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. also have begun installing tailgate locks on their pickups, but they are manual locks that require drivers to walk to the back of the truck and secure them with a key. As a result, those tailgates often go unlocked.
Chrysler learned about the theft problem during consumer research for its 2009 Ram trucks. A number of existing Ram owners requested a locking tailgate when asked how the company could improve their trucks.
“It’s the Number One theft item on a pickup,” said Ram’s resident truck guru, Bob Hegbloom. “Typically, the thing that’s damaged first on a pickup is the tailgate. People are always replacing these things.”
The proliferation of backup cameras has made tailgates more valuable. A basic tailgate costs about $1,200 to replace, but the NICB says that figure can easily leap north of $3,500 if it includes a camera or other electronics. Since there are no serial numbers on tailgates, they are impossible to trace.
A search of Metro Detroit Craigslist reveals many apparently new tailgates for sale — though not necessarily stolen.
Hegbloom said Ram customers were not satisfied with tailgates that required insertion of a key.
“People didn’t really care for that because you had to go around and lock it,” he said. “Our new system makes it simple. It’s just like locking your doors. You push the button and you walk away.”
The same system also locks the RamBox on trucks equipped with one.
Locking tailgates are a real deterrent, Scafidi said, adding that consumers also can buy aftermarket locks for older trucks that are not equipped with built-in security. While experienced thieves can still defeat them, he said there are so many unlocked pickups to choose from that most will simply move on to one of those.
An experienced thief can steal an unlocked truck tailgate in as little as 10 seconds, Hegbloom said.
Most tailgate thefts occur in Texas, which is not surprising considering the state also is the largest pickup market in the country. Nor is it surprising that most of those recovered by police come off Ford F-series trucks. The F-series is the best-selling vehicle in America.
“We have locks on our truck tailgates today. They’re manual locks,” said Ford Motor Co. spokesman Mike Levine, though he would not rule out the possibility of adding a remote locking system in the future. “We’re always looking for ways to improve our products.”
General Motors Co. also is working to make its trucks more secure, said Chevrolet spokesman Tom Wilkinson.
GM’s 2014 Silverado and GMC pickups, plus its 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups coming in 2015, come standard with manual tailgate locks, Wilkinson said. The automaker’s previous-generation full-size pickups had a manual locking tailgate as an option for fleet and government orders, and was included in popular option packages for retail customers. But some trucks such as its work truck and LS models had no locks, Wilkinson said.