June 5, 2014 at 10:46 am

Thieves target vehicle parts from Metro Detroit driveways, dealerships

Sterling Heights— Brazen thieves stole 16 tires and wheels off Ford SUVs parked at a car dealership lot in the third such incident in the past few months.

With anti-theft devices on cars more common and GPS capability making it harder to get away with a vehicle, anti-theft groups say criminals are stripping parked cars of popular parts, such as catalytic converters and expensive rims.

Local police report drivers heading out in the morning find their cars in the driveway propped up with bricks after wheels had been stolen.

Dan Vartanian, executive director of the Michigan Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, said manufacturers are making vehicles more difficult to steal, so thieves go after parts.

“It is very common place to have rims and wheels stolen,” Vartanian said. He added the rims and wheels for a Cadillac Escalade can go for thousands of dollars.

In the latest incident, Lt. Luke Riley of the Sterling Heights police said Suburban Ford had stored eight Ford Edges at a lot in the 41000 block of Van Dyke. Thieves stole two tires and rims off each Sunday.

Riley estimates dealership thefts happen at least four times a year. “A while back, we had an officer arrest, I think, three people stealing tires and wheels from vehicles at Sterling Heights Dodge,” Riley said.

Russell Maisano, general manager of Sterling Heights Dodge, said the dealership has been hit several times by thieves and he knows other Dodge dealerships have been targeted.

Over Memorial Day weekend, thieves stole 38 wheels and tires from a Dodge dealership in Warren, Maisano said. Also, up to 40 rims and wheels were stolen from a Dodge dealership in Lake Orion.

Maisano said the best deterrent against thieves aren’t cameras and locks at dealer lots. “Really the best is a live person,” Maisano said.

Suburban Ford did not return a call for comment.

“A dealer’s lot, talk about a potpourri of vehicles in one location. Take your pick,” Vartanian said.

The Michigan Automobile Dealers Association, which represents 700 car sellers, said dealers invest in extra lighting, cameras and security.

“When anything of value is involved, someone wants to steal it,” said Terry Burns, association executive vice president. “Usually, (thieves) will target something, it is kids doing some type of vandalism or sometimes it is a specific vehicle type of rim or size.”

Car owners can buy wheel locks, Vartanian said.

While most business owners lock up their inventory, dealers put theirs out for display. “We have ours right out front, under bright lights in an attempt to let our customers look at vehicles,” Burns said.

“We have worked closely with the Michigan State Police and county law enforcement agencies and in many cases they have apprehended the people that do this.”

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