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Thieves target Chargers in Hawaii

by Bill Cawthon on

A story making its way around the blogosphere involves a high incidence of vehicle thefts involving Dodge Chargers in Hawaii.

The Truth About Cars says Dodge Charger rental cars in Hawaii have become popular targets for thieves because they are easy to break into.

According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, thieves can break into the Charger by inserting a flat-head screwdriver into the door lock.

There is now a push on the police and car rental companies to warn tourists of the risks and various blogs are advising tourists to refuse a Charger when they rent a car in Hawaii.

Of more concern is that the Charger locks are being described as defective. Sources note that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics show the Charger has one of the highest rates of theft of any car. In 2010, the Charger had the highest rate of theft of any vehicle brand and model reported. However, the NHTSA rate is based on dividing the total number of thefts of a specific vehicle by the number of those vehicles produced in a given year. This is how the Toyota Camry, which has a much higher number of actual thefts, has a lower rate than the Charger.

There are some important points that need to be factored into accusations that the design of the Charger’s door locks is inferior. First and foremost, the NHTSA figures deal with theft of the vehicle; the Hawaii problems are more often theft from the vehicle, which is not auto theft, but burglary. This is important because most vehicular security systems are focused on preventing the vehicle from being taken. In cases where the target is not the vehicle, but its contents, resistance is more difficult. It is costly to build a vehicle to resist break-ins and most people wouldn’t be happy with the results (for one thing, the windows couldn’t be rolled down).

As the old saying goes, “Locks are for honest people.” Door locks can be jimmied, broken, or even popped out using a flat-blade screwdriver or similar tool. Slim jims can be used to unlatch doors and windows can be broken. The thief is not concerned about the condition of the vehicle once he has gotten what he wants from it. Since other LX cars do not seem to have the same problem, it’s probably reasonable to assume the Charger’s locks are not particularly vulnerable.

(Eric Mayne, who handles engineering, powertrain, safety and regulatory communications for Chrysler Group, told Allpar that “Dodge Chargers meet all mandated safety and security requirements.” He did not go into any engineering issues or comparisons.)

Second, this phenomenon seems to be isolated to Hawaii and therein lies the most likely explanation of the problem. In Hawaii, the Charger is a popular rental vehicle for tourists but not so popular with the residents who prefer Japanese cars by a wide margin (sales of all domestic brands account for just 18.9% of Hawaii new car sales, while Toyota, Honda and Nissan combine for a 55.4% market share). According to the Hawaiian Automobile Dealers Association, a grand total of 1,600 Dodge and Ram vehicles were sold in Hawaii during the two years between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011. This means any Charger a thief encounters is likely to be a tourist rental, which means there is a decent chance that valuables have been left inside.

It’s worth noting that renters of Ford Mustang convertibles in Hawaii are having similar problems. Few Mustang convertibles are sold to residents, but they are popular with tourists. Thieves cut the soft tops to gain access to the passenger compartments.

As the evidence indicates there is nothing wrong with the Charger, it seems tourists should take one of two paths when renting a car in Hawaii: the straightforward method – rent what you like, but make it a habit to avoid leaving valuables in the car, which is the recommendation of every police department on the planet, or the stealth approach: always rent a Toyota so you can blend in with the natives.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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