Allstate video demonstrating how quickly and easily a car can be stripped of its parts.

It doesn’t take long for thieves to strip a car for parts to sell on the black market. As a way to remind drivers of this, Allstate Insurance Co. launched a 14-state tour in April of this year to show just how fast a car can be stolen and stripped.

The insurance company tested the live chop shop demonstration at lunchtime for a crowd of more than 100 Allstate employees and media at its headquarters in Northbrook. The “Stripped In Seconds” campaign involved Sterling Auto Body Employees armed with common hand tools and a timer. The demonstration, a lesson in theft prevention, shows what happens inside a chop shop as the auto body employees race against the clock to rip the car to pieces, turning it into a pile of parts sold for big bucks.

During the demonstration, the Sterling Auto Body Employees hustled to dismantle a white Honda Civic in just under six minutes. Signs were then placed on the parts to show how much money thieves can typically get for the parts. The bumper is valued at $250 on the black market, the quarter panels go for about $400 while the headlights were valued at $165.

These days cars aren’t being stolen to take on fancy joy rides. They are taken apart to sell the parts. The stolen car’s parts are usually sold for more than the value of the vehicle. A car thief can make more money these days stealing cars and trucks and stripping them down than trying to find someone to buy a stolen vehicle. Every part is a potential financial windfall. Body panels, electrical components, wheels, tires and mechanical parts including engines and transmissions are the reasons for most of the auto thefts in both Canada and the US.

Allstate says most stolen vehicles are historically reliable rides that stay on the road longer. A dependable car’s parts don’t end up as salvage, so spare parts can be more difficult to find, creating a black market for thieves. The Honda Civic, Dodge Caravan and Oldsmobile Cutlass are the top targets in Illinois for thieves, according to Allstate. The company added that a car is stolen in the United States every 33 seconds, citing the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Suburban police departments say auto theft is more prevalent in Chicago, but stress it happens everywhere. The Illinois State Police reported that 628 vehicles were stolen in 2008 in DuPage County, 459 in Lake County and 155 in McHenry County. Cook County saw 24,554 auto thefts during 2008.

To protect your ride always lock your vehicle and take the keys. One out of every five vehicles stolen had the keys in it, and almost half of all vehicles stolen were unlocked. Most chop shop car thieves rely on you leaving the doors unlock and the keys in the ignition. A thief driving a stolen vehicle is less likely to be caught when they have the keys to your vehicle. They can sell a stolen vehicle to any number of both large and small salvage companies when they have the keys and the ownership that you conveniently left them in your stolen vehicle. Most salvage yards don’t usually ask questions when a vehicle with so many salvageable parts rolls into their yard. All salvage yard sales reps worry about selling not where the part came from.

What is being done by the police to protect consumers here in Canada and in the US? Literally nothing. Two factors have exacerbated the problem: Border officials on both side of the Canada US border don’t routinely check shipping containers to see if the contents inside are stolen, and police auto theft squads have weakened over time. Police are increasingly powerless to stop the black market cross border transporting of salvage parts procured from stolen vehicles.

Ten years ago in Ontario Canada the Provincial Auto Theft Team (PATT) had 48 officers attached to it, 23 of them dedicated full time. In 2009 it was down to 15. PATT was established in 1995 as a joint task force involving the OPP, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency and local police forces, to stop auto theft rings. But the border services, along with Toronto, York and Peel police, has since left the team. Toronto’s auto theft squad used to have around 30 officers assigned to it. Toronto with a population of 2.48 million people (5.5 million in the GTA - Greater Toronto Area) has just 10 officers assigned full time to auto theft. York Regional Police has 11 officers attached to its auto squad. Peel has eight. Durham has just one.

“People think this is a victimless crime,” says Stephen Boyd, an investigator with the Ontario Provincial Police, “that the insurance companies pay out for the cars and no one gets hurt. But it’s not.”

The problem is the volume of stolen car parts entering Canada

Shipping a container with stolen cars or car parts under the current legislation is relatively easy. Before a container can be exported, a customs declaration must be completed identifying, among other things, the shipper, the contents of the container and the destination. The problem lies in customs agents inspecting containers entering Canada. The shear volume makes it impossible to open and inspect every container that enters Canada. Because of this a number of containers with stolen car parts enter Canada every day. Border agents only investigate a container that is suspected of carrying stolen car parts when the paperwork looks suspect or when they act on a tip by either US or Canadian authorities.

Stealing, driving or shipping a stolen vehicle in Canada, if caught, results in a charge under the Criminal Code of possession of stolen property over $5,000 or with theft over $5,000. Repeat offenders and those charged with multiple thefts rarely face jail time. Police say they are consistently arresting the same cast of characters.

“They’re just the foot soldiers,” says Paul Lasalle, a York auto squad detective. The “big players,” are the freight forwarders who either knowingly or unknowingly allow stolen vehicles and cars parts to be placed in their containers and transported cross border

The problem (with arresting a freight forwarder) is proving knowledge, Police must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person knows what is in the container..

Police and the Insurance Bureau have long been calling for tougher legislation. They’ve been asking for legislation that would make altering a vehicle identification number an offense, and those convicted of trafficking in stolen car and car parts get mandatory prison sentences. A bill that would allow the Canada Border Services Agency to prevent cross-border movement of property obtained through crime would seriously impact the black market industry. The one solution with the most immediate effect would be for the Canada Border Services Agency to hold for inspection all containers with declared contents of cars and used or salvage auto parts. A quick inspection and comparison with the corresponding customs declaration could identify suspect stolen cars and car parts. Will that ever happen? Not likely. The shear volume of stolen cars and car parts entering and leaving Canada today makes it practically impossible.

There is a very easy solution that you, the consumer, can take to protect yourself. If you want assurances that the salvage auto parts you are buying are not stolen only buy salvage auto parts from your local wreckers. If you call and order from only local suppliers odds are the salvage auto parts you buy are from scrap cars and not stolen stripped vehicles. Your local salvage supplier is a part of your community and in order to stay in business they will need to remain honest. Your local supplier are people you grew up with, people you went to school with or went to church with. They will not cheat or deceive you. Also, if you buy from a salvage supplier that is Canadian owned and operated your hard earned money stays in Canada. If you buy from US salvage suppliers your money is going directly to the US. If you buy from a US supplier there is always the possibility that the salvage auto parts you buy could be stolen. If you live in the US the same prudence applies. Only buy from local suppliers. Your money stays locally and chances are you won’t be buying stolen parts from Canada or Mexico.

Ask the supplier of the salvage parts questions each and every time you are shopping for used parts. Buy only parts that are already in stock. That way you save both time and money. If a part isn’t in stock you could be made to wait and you could be required to fork over more money than the part is worth as shipping costs are always added to the cost of every part sold. It might not state the actual shipping cost on the invoice as the cost is usually worked into the price. Local parts are a lot cheaper because they are free of long haul shipping fees.

Another very important thing to remember is to shop around. If the first supplier you called or visited doesn’t have what you are looking for in stock chances are another supplier in your area will.

If the part you need isn’t in stock anywhere locally and you really need the part ask the supplier who is going to have it brought in for you to state in writing exactly where the part is coming from and always require that the serial number of the vehicle it is coming from be put on the invoice. By doing so the supplier becomes liable if it is determined some time in the future that the part came from a stolen vehicle that was stripped of its parts and sold on the black market. Paperwork like an invoice with information as to who sold you the part, where the part came from and the serial number of the vehicle it came from is you best protection against being charged by your local law enforcement agency for possession of stolen car parts. That invoice is your proof that you bought the part in good faith and that you had no intention on buying any stolen auto parts. That invoice makes your supplier accountable. It keeps the honest suppliers in business and puts the dishonest ones out of business. Bottom line, buy only locally, buy only parts that are in stock (shop around by phone if not in stock) and demand a detailed invoice every time you buy used auto parts.