FF12: Chop shops make quick work of stolen vehicles

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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Wichita police admit there is a car theft problem in the city, but what happens to those cars after they’re stolen?

In the time it takes to make a cup of coffee, not only can your car be stolen, but it can cease to be a car at all. Mike Lemming of A-One Auto Salvage says it’s something he’s heard many times over the years.

“It happens more often than people think,” Lemming said. “You get up in the morning, your car's there, you get ready to go out there and it's gone. The process starts from there.”

Wichitan Early Ray can attest to that. He had his truck stolen and wasn’t even aware of it until he was contacted by authorities.
“They said, ‘do you know where your pickup is?’ I said, ‘well, yeah, it's parked at my house right behind us,” Ray tells Factfinder 12. “I got home and looked and sure enough it wasn't there, and I called it in as stolen.”

Believe it or not, Earl is one of the lucky ones. He actually got his truck bad…a little worse for wear, but he got it back.

“The next thing I knew, I got a call from the highway patrol stating they (car thieves) were involved in a chase on the turnpike with it and then I got a call the next day that they had found it in a wheat field and they had impounded it.”

According to Wichita police, by the middle of November, 2,218 vehicles had been stolen in the city this year. Most of those, 1,713, were recovered…often by authorities outside the city, like the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office.

Sedgwick County Lt. Tim Myers says what happens to the cars they don’t recover may not be something auto theft victims want to hear.

“We recover a lot of stolen cars from the city of Wichita, Myers says. “(Others) are taken apart for their parts and then you have some that are taken strictly for, less monetary value, but they're taken to some salvage yard and crushed.”

Mike Lemming says stolen cars are actually taken to scrap yards to be crushed. Just like almost anything made of metal, cars have value as scrap metal. Someone scrapping a car may only get a couple hundred dollars for scrapping that vehicle, but if it's not your car...a couple hundred dollars is a couple hundred dollars...And that doesn't include what thieves can get for the parts, according to Mike Lemming.

“The headlights, the hood, all four doors, the trunk lid, the tail lights and the tires and wheels,” Lemming explains. “You’re looking at least probably $500, $600. Just for that quick of taking that stuff off there.”

The quickness Lemming refers to has to do with just how fast a car can be dismantled. A crew from A-One Auto Salvage did it for Factfinder 12 cameras in under four minutes.

“That was one car that they were able to do that too,” Lt. Myers says. “If you have one of the rings around where they're dismantling cars, they do several cars in a day so now you're talking several thousand dollars."

So, bad news first, if your vehicle is stolen -- but not recovered fairly quickly -- there's a pretty good chance it never will be.
“Once it's crushed, it's pretty well, your VIN plates and everything are gone it's hard to identify,” Myers says.

If there is good news, it's that -- most stolen vehicles are recovered -- and it's a highly preventable crime. Lt. Myers says most stolen cars had the keys left inside. So, he says, take the keys out of the car every time you get out of the car...because all a thief needs to take part in a crime of opportunity is the opportunity.