Special Assignment: Gone in 60 Seconds

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It happens dozens of times an hour.

Auto theft.

Across the country, one car or truck is stolen every 24 seconds.

Nationally, the 1989 Toyota Camry is the most popular car to steal.

The 1994 Honda Accord is tops in Georgia.

Three foreign cars are on the list. So are four pickups or SUVs.

In South Carolina, the 1995 Honda Accord is the most stolen.

Trucks and SUVs are also high on the list.

Seven of the top ten cities for stolen vehicles in the US are in California. Modesto is number one overall in the US.

Las Vegas makes the top ten, and so do Phoenix and Seattle.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says these cities are targeted in part because they are close to borders: Mexico or Canada. That makes it easier for criminals to chop up a car and move parts out of the US.

Even if you don't live in one of those cities or drive one of the most popular cars to steal, your car or truck could still be a target.

One Augusta woman found out auto theft can happen anywhere, anytime.

Shirley Mongold says she woke up Monday, April 24 to find an empty space next to her husband's car.

"The next morning we got up...the car was gone," she says.

The same thing happened to her in the early 90's.

"It's easy prey," says Donny Graves, owner of Graves Auto Salvage. He says General Motors cars like Shirley's are a popular choice for thieves.

"They can have your car out of your driveway before your dog barks and be gone."

Graves says it takes about a minute to steal a car.

Once thieves break the window, they can start the car by busting the steering column.

Sgt. Ken Eskew of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office says it happens hundreds of times each month.

"It's a crime of circumstance. They see it, they hop in it, and they're gone just that quick," he says.

In cases like Shirley's, it's for a quick ride. Other times it's for parts.

Like tires, airbags, and stereos. But Graves has seen worse.

"No front end, no bumpers, no seats, no doors, everything," he says.

"People should go out and buy their own stuff," Shirley says.

But if they want yours, they can drive off in just sixty seconds.

So how fast can a car thief chop up your car? Deputies say it takes about a minute to steal...and about a half an hour to take it apart.

They say thieves often head for the woods or another hidden place to work.

The people at Graves Auto Salvage gave us a live look at how it happens with an Oldsmobile, another vehicle on the easy-to-steal list.

In ten minutes the car was already partially ripped apart. The first things they stripped were the tires...and that didn't take long, maybe a few minutes. So that means in the time it takes you to check an email or two and make a quick phone call, your tires could be gone.

And in the time it took our viewers at home to watch the thirty-minute newscast, the car was completely stripped. Tires, doors, stereo, bumpers...all completely gone.

The mechanics started off by breaking their way in to the ignition switch to start the car and drive off with it.

Then they started with the tires and worked their way through the entire thing.

Stripping this car took a crew of two half an hour...but in real life there could be a bigger crew with special tools to speed up the process.

So this could happen in half the time it took today.

While your car can be an easy target for thieves, there are some simple ways to make it harder for your car to get stolen.

Locking your doors and taking the keys out of the ignition are two important things to remember.

Police say you'd be surprised how many people don't do it.

Insurance.com suggests installing an alarm.

You can also get a device that will stop your car once it is stolen, or put a tracker on your car.

There is a ton of information online about protecting your car.

stolencarreports.com tracks stolen cars across the country. You can report your car stolen, and people with information about stolen cars can post it online.

www.insurance.com has ideas to prevent your car from being stolen.

www.nicb.org provides nationwide car theft statistics.

And www.crimedoctor.com has even more car theft information.

Car theft is such a large problem that police and sheriff's departments across the country are setting up "bait cars".

The cars are rigged to catch thieves.

A computer inside the car alerts the police station. Officers can track the car, slow it down...even stop it.

Departments often put cameras in the car to record the criminals.

The Richmond and Columbia County Sheriff's Offices say they only use bait cars when there is a pattern to the thefts, and they're contained to a certain area. Aiken County says they don't use them and investigate each case separately.