What are Chop Shops? What Do Chop Shops Do and Why?

(Here's what you need to know)

What are chop shops?

A car seemingly vanishes, leaving the owner wondering where it may have gone and who might be driving it now. More often than not, the answer is no one. Instead, a chop shop has taken the car apart, piece by piece, and has already begun selling the parts. This is but one of the many reasons why you should consider an affordable car insurance policy.

What Are Chop Shops?

Chop shops are illegal garages that buy stolen cars, disassemble them, and sell their individual parts for profit. To avoid being caught, criminals disassemble a car within hours of stealing it. That way, the owner and the police will never be able to find it.

Since they are running an illegal business, the people operating chop shops try to be as inconspicuous as possible. They are hidden away in residential garages and small commercial spaces that do not draw attention. Chop shops rarely work independently; they are usually part of large criminal organizations.

How Many Cars Are Stolen Each Year?

  • 715,373 motor vehicles were reported stolen in the U.S. in 2011
  • During 2011, a vehicle was stolen every 44 seconds
  • Fresno, California is the metropolitan area with the highest car theft rate in the U.S.
  • 8 of the 10 cities with the highest U.S. car theft rates are in California

Do the Police Ever Bust Chop Shops?

Thankfully, the answer is yes. In fact, car theft rates have been decreasing in the United States for several years. Although the number of vehicles sent to chop shops each year cannot be calculated, the Insurance Information Institute reports that only 12.4 percent of stolen car cases were resolved during 2011. Despite all their efforts at secrecy, police forces have successfully busted many chop shops and sent both owners and workers to jail. Some examples include:

  • In June 2013, a chop shop operating within a Centerville, Texas collision center was busted by investigators who found $300,000 worth of stolen cars and parts.
  • In August 2013, the Taskforce for Regional Auto Theft Prevention in Los Angeles busted a chop shop specializing in classic cars despite the owner's attempt to change the Vehicle Identification Numbers and cover his tracks.
  • In June 2013, a chop shop connected to more than 30 stolen vehicles was busted in Marysville, Washington.

Why Do Chop Shops Sell Cars in Parts?

Criminals working in chop shops are interested in two things: making money and not getting caught. A dismantled vehicle is much harder to trace and identify than one that is still intact. Selling individual parts brings a much higher profit, too. That makes it a win-win for shady crooks who want to steal your car and make as much money off it as they can.


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What Parts Do Chop Shops Want?

Thieves go after parts that have a high resale value and are easy to remove, including:

  • Wheels: It only takes a few minutes to get the wheels off a car thanks to modern power tools. Chop shops can make up to $500 per wheel depending on the style and condition of the tire and rim.
  • Entertainment Systems: Aftermarket GPS, DVD, and radio systems are hot items on the black market. Chop shop crooks love them; they are easy to uninstall and can be sold for over $1,000.
  • Catalytic Converters: Selling the valuable scrap metal used to make a catalytic converter can bring in big bucks. It only takes a few minutes to remove this part that can be sold for upwards of $1,000.
  • Air Bags: The Insurance Information Institute estimates that over 75,000 air bags are stolen each year. Each brings from $50 to $200 on the black market.

Do Chop Shops Steal Motorcycles and Other Vehicles?

Chop shops will steal any vehicle that can be disassembled and resold. This includes cars, trucks, SUVs, and motorcycles. In big cities where commuting by bicycle is common, some bicycle chop shops have even appeared. One was busted in August 2013 in San Francisco with the help of local cyclists.

How to Protect Yourself from Vehicle Theft

Having your vehicle stolen is a terrible experience. While car theft can happen to anyone, you can use these tips to help protect yourself:

  • Always lock the doors: Even if you are just running in the house for 5 minutes or buying just one little thing at the store. The inconvenience of having to unlock your car is worth it.
  • Don’t park in dark or isolated areas: The far corner of the shopping center parking lot is a bad choice. When shopping, park close to the entrance in a well lit area. In residential neighborhoods, park your car where you can see it from the house.
  • Use a steering wheel lock to deter thieves: The criminals that steal cars are opportunists and are looking for a car that is easy to rob. If they see a club across the steering wheel or a similar device, they are much less likely to go through the hassle of trying to steal your car.
  • Install a vehicle tracking device: If linked with a security system, this can be a powerful anti-theft device. Thieves will not want to hoist a car or truck that the police will be able to instantly find through GPS. They will think twice before taking a tracked car to their secret chop shop location.

Chop shops operate in the criminal underground all over the world. They make lots of money through the suffering of others. But you do not have to be a victim. Being an informed vehicle owner with an affordable car insurance policy and using the suggestions about to defend yourself will help save your car from ever winding up in a chop shop. 

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