CHAPEL HILL — Chapel Hill police are alerting older Toyota owners about an unusual string of thefts.
Since January, thieves have taken 18 older Toyotas in Chapel Hill. Police don’t know whether the thefts are related, spokesman Sgt. Josh Mecimore said.
The stolen cars range in model and in year, falling from 1996 to 2003. That year, Toyota began to include more anti-theft features in its cars, including immobilizers, keys with special chips that are more difficult to duplicate than other keys. Toyota began including immobilizers as a standard feature in some Camrys in 2003.
Four of the 18 cars taken were models from the 1990s, including three Rav4s. Most are from the early 2000s, including six Corollas, five Tacomas, a Camry and a 4Runner. A 2006 Prius was also stolen this year – engine immobilizers will not come standard on the Prius until the 2013 model.
Although Toyotas and Hondas have been popular targets for car thieves historically because of their reliability and popularity, Chapel Hill police have not seen a similar pattern before. They speculate the cars have been stolen for parts, which are more valuable individually than the car overall.
After five thefts in March and three in April, the thefts died down through the summer. They picked back up with several incidents in September.
Most have occurred along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hillsborough Street, close to some student apartments as well as the interstate.
Police have recovered several of the stolen Toyotas, most recently a 4Runner stolen in September. So far, none has been connected to the major chop shop uncovered in Durham a few weeks ago.
Most cars are stolen at night. To guard against theft, police urge residents to keep cars locked and park them in well-lit areas, preferably driveways.
Carrboro police have not seen any similar string of thefts.
The number of Toyotas stolen this year in Durham has increased from 42 last year to 58 so far this year, and a third of the Toyotas stolen are models from 1996 to 2003, Durham Police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.
Toyotas are the third-most stolen vehicle in Durham this year, behind Hondas and Fords, Michael said.