On The Rise: People Blowing Up Their Own Cars

Nothing salves buyer’s remorse like a match in a fuel tank. Citing National Insurance Crime Bureau figures, a Los Angeles Times story says car owners are resorting to nefarious means to put an end to burdensome car loans. In the first quarter of the year, suspicious fires or arson were up 27 percent for the first quarter of the year and cases of intentionally destroyed cars shot up 24 percent.

Barbecuing a Beamer is one of the more dramatic types of suspected insurance fraud that’s increasing in this economic downturn, the deepest in half a century. But it’s not the only one. Suspicious personal injury slip-and-fall claims increased 60% in the first quarter; staged car accidents were up 34% and commercial property fire/arson cases jumped 76%.

Some consumers figure they’ve paid premiums year after year, experts said, and that their insurers might not closely check every single claim. In fact, investigators say they tend to be particularly busy during tough economic times when an increasing number of policyholders are caught in financial crunches.

“When the economy goes south, crime goes up,” said Frank Scafidi, a crime bureau spokesman in Sacramento.

So those of you who planned on having your car be stolen, torched and abandoned may want to hold off until the stats dip in the second quarter.

Vehicle fraud cases heat up amid economic downturn [Los Angeles Times]
(Photo: emilybean)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Onion_Volcano says:

    whatever happened to leaving your car in the bad part of town with the keys still in it?

    • ARP says:

      @Onion_Volcano: That’s what I was thinking. There used to be an area on the west side of Chicago that was well known for that. Of course, the problem is that if the car isn’t stolen and simply chopped up in the street, you’ll have to pay for the car and the parking tickets.

    • shepd says:


      Remember to *lock* the keys inside the car.

      If the car is “found” with no damage to it (eg: broken window), you might not get your claim processed.

      • b01000100 says:

        @shepd: Most insurance companies insure stupidity. I spent some time as a Fire/Theft claims adjuster for a large insurance company. We would still pay on claims if you left your keys in the car, as long as we couldn’t prove that you did it just so it would get stolen. So, living in a cold state, we see people that start their cars in the morning to let them warm up. We would get people all of the time with their cars stolen from their driveway. We would investigate it to make sure it wasn’t fraud and then pay the claim. I don’t think I ever denied a claim that involved a person forgetting keys in their car. The closest I ever saw was a claim that was denied because:

        1. Brand new car was stolen (3 days off of the lot)
        2. Policy holder and dealership said they only had two sets of keys.
        3. Policy holder said keys were in the car
        4. Claim was about to be paid…
        5. Policy holder turned in two sets of keys.

        We sent them to our fraud unit and discovered that they paid a friend to “steal” and burn the car.

        Other than fraud, most stupidity is covered in most cases.

    • Jfielder says:

      @Onion_Volcano: Ha, I actually thought of doing that once a long while ago… but the sad reality is that I don’t trust people here in Detroit to even steal and chop a car correctly! They’d probably just joyride it, run in to things (not hard enough to total it), and leave it full of garbage, only so that the police can recover it 2 weeks later from the Detroit River, and your insurance company assures you that they’ll have your car all fixed up for ya! Just as soon as you pay the 500 dollar deductible! Done ranting now.

    • econobiker says:

      @Onion_Volcano: On-Star?Lo-jac? Bait cars?

    • mac-phisto says:

      @Onion_Volcano: i think torching the car is like the EZ-PASS method.

  2. Ronin-Democrat says:

    car go boom.

    it seems it would be easier to leave it somewhere with a second set of keys on the ground. a poor white trash ‘hood seems appealing.

    • ARP says:

      @Ronin-Democrat: You risk them taking the car for a hoonage ride and leaving it in the ditch. Now you still have a car and you have all the towing fees to get it out. Your insurance may or may not “total” the car.

    • Kaellorian says:

      @Ronin-Democrat: No need to single out the white trash – any place referred to as a “‘hood” will do!

      • Quake 'n' Shake says:

        @Kaellorian: More importantly, “trash is trash,” be they white, black, hispanic, etc… Let’s not label based upon race.

        But if you want white trash to steal your car, it helps if you own a Trans Am.

  3. Skankingmike says:

    puts new meaning to putting flames down the side.

  4. aerick79 says:

    Wow. Thanks Comsumerist for the great idea. Goodbye car loan goodbye.

  5. mariospants says:

    The problem with leaving your car to be stolen is that it might actually be recovered, in which case, not only do you get the unwanted car back, but it might contain a bag of hash, 30 frozen steaks and aids-tainted blood and vomit (happened to a friend). At least you can bbq the steaks and eat them later.

    • taking_this_easy says:

      @ARP: weren’t there cases where the insurance company found owners negligent in leaving keys in their vehicles for them to be easily stolen, and refuse to pay?

      • mariospants says:

        @taking_this_easy: I’m pretty sure they had left their keys in the center console in this case, but insurance paid up anyway.

        Apparently it was decent hash, yes. Can’t imagine why the police didn’t either clean the car up of evidence or ask some serious questions to my my friend. I’m pretty sure the “hey, I stole this car, the hash was in here already” defense is a pretty standard one.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @mariospants: But… Was it good hash?

  6. sir_eccles says:

    Younger Cop: And was there anything of value in the car?
    The Dude: Oh, uh, yeah, uh… a tape deck, some Creedence tapes, and there was a, uh… uh, my briefcase.
    Younger Cop: [expectant pause] In the briefcase?
    The Dude: Uh, uh, papers, um, just papers, uh, you know, uh, my papers, business papers.
    Younger Cop: And what do you do, sir?
    The Dude: I’m unemployed.

  7. onapartyock says:

    In Miami people are dumping their cars in to lakes or rock pits all the time. If you do it in a deserted location, it might go years before anyone finds it.

    Better yet, most stolen cars in Miami end up on a boat to an Island or South America; nobody is ever going to get that car back.

    Take a trip to Miami and get rid of that car at the same time; just don’t buy the return flight ahead of time – it might raise eyebrows.

  8. econobiker says:

    While environmentally disasterous, sinking a car in a body of water is a better way to total it out especially with todays digital electronics. There have been various articles over the years about certain water areas of the metro NY region that got piled up with cars along with abondoned quarries in the SE USA serving the same purpose. The authorities typically go through and clean these out once every few years. One friend in Alabama related how he saw US Army cargo choppers being used to clear a quarry in the Huntsville AL region of abandoned cars.

    There is a certain state highway around Nashville,TN that is far from fire services that seems to get alot of burnt out cars on it along with thrown out auto fuel tanks (illegal for businesses to send cars to junk yards with the tanks). When the car is completely burnt down you know it is probably a theft or arson deal- if just the front end/motor is burnt out then it is a mechanical problem. The state is putting in lights and other services on that highway so I imagine that ccvc monitoring cams are not far off…

    • Megan Squier says:

      @econobiker: Yeah, we’ve got lots of quarries around Huntsville. This area is also a real good place to find used car parts, seriously. I’ve never seen so many junkyards in one county than I have here in Madison county. Its great for me because my ’91/’92 Pontiac Bonneville (factory built with a ’91 engine and a ’92 body) will never be without a cheap used parts supply.

      The funny thing is Huntsville is a white collar town doing pretty well economically so I doubt that its engineers dumping cars. Probably saps too dumb to figure out what they can and cannot afford. My husband is a software engineer and we only have ONE car, my Bonneville along with a 2008 Suzuki Boulevard motorcycle that he rides to work every day.

      In most cases, I blame the saps, like the GI in the article who couldn’t keep up with the payments on his Silverado. Don’t buy it, if you can’t afford it. Its that simple!

  9. heybtbm says:

    I’m most people have seen cars on fire here or there. I once saw a car on fire next the pumps at a gas station. The fire department arrived soon after, so no “boom”. I have to admit I was slightly disappointed.

    • Auto-Erotic_GitEmSteveDave-ation says:

      @heybtbm: Wouldn’t be much of a “boom”. The “pumps” are actually underground above the storage tanks under a manhole type cover. The dispensers w/the nozzles, which you get the gas out of, only hold on average 1-2 gallons of gas. As soon as any alarms trip, the main pumps are powered down, and can also be powered down w/a kill switch.

      I worked at a gas station, which, no lie, was adjoined by a Natural Gas Main and a High Voltage Swithcing Station, which had feeder lines which ran right above out UST vent pipes. I knew EXACTLY where our kill switch was.

  10. Froggmann says:

    “When the economy goes south, crime goes up,” Probbibly should say, “When the economy goes south, cars go up,”

    BTW Am I the only one who thinks Frank Scafidi is a perfect mobster name?

  11. Anonymous says:

    This seems to promote insurance fraud. I doubt the numbers will go down in the second quarter with comments like this.
    I remember reading somewhere that insurance fraud costs americans at least 80 billion a year. If you cant afford the car payments dont buy it to begin with.

  12. DjDynasty says:

    Thanks for the idea, I’ve got a few cars I’d like to get rid of!

  13. Stefanie Faith Gray says:

    So if you’ve got to blow up your car to escape car loans, then how do I escape my student loans?

  14. crackers says:

    My husband and I live on the edge of an industrial wasteland, and our block is apparently known as a place to dump/torch cars. We saw 5 cards set alight within our first two years here, and it eventually became part of the scenery: “Honey, there’s another car on fire.” “Huh.”

    • temporaryerror says:

      I’m envisioning the Paper St Soap Co. house/neighborhood…

      • rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

        @temporaryerror: Please abstain from approaching my second business.

        If you would like to join, (we have mean benefits) just stand in front of our door for three days without support, food or water while ignoring the abuse.
        Also bring 50 buck funeral money, and some change of clothes, this job is a lifelong commitment.

    • econobiker says:

      @CCS: For 6 months, I worked in a place in North Philadelphia that was like that…

  15. Anonymous says:

    Wont’ you still owe on the loan after totalling out the car? Insurance doesn’t usually cover the entire value of the car, just the blue book value, which might not be enough to cover the amount you still owe on the loan.

  16. theblackdog says:

    Not worth it, my car is so old I probably should consider dropping comprehensive now.

    • Megan Squier says:

      @theblackdog: I only keep comprehensive on my ’91/’92 Bonneville because USAA gives me free towing plus other roadside coverage and it only costs me an extra $2 a month. When a tow from the nearest city to my house runs around $100, its well worth it. Its cheaper than AAA.

  17. SabrinaFaire says:

    When my dad’s house burned down last year the first thing the cops asked was who held the deed to the property. My dad told him to go to hell and that he owned it free and clear.

  18. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Insurance Fraud is rampant and unfortunately many people are starting to accept it.

    My roof has to be replaced after a hail storm. I can’t see the damage, but after seeing half the houses on my street get new roofs, I asked my insurance company for an inspection. I certainly didn’t trust any of the roofers knocking on my door.

    Many roofers claim that they can pay the deductible (and sometimes rebate some back to me!!) They are all very open with this claim. It is also illegal.

  19. savdavid says:

    Look, the insurance companies have been stealing from and defrauding their customers for decades. Let them scream our rates will go up! Well, lots of luck with that considering less people can pay them so more cars “go boom” and the circle continues. Insurance up, cars burned, less people can afford insurance and drop it, more cars go boom, insurance goes up………

  20. Quaoar says:

    Just a note about accuracy: it is almost impossible to set fire to a car with a burning match, or anything else burning, inserted into the gas tank – there is simply not enough oxygen in a gas tank to provide for a fire or explosion.

    The hole in the disk in the filling nozzle that prevents anything of greater diameter than the non-lead nozzle to be inserted limits the amount of combustible material that can be inserted at one time anyway.

  21. howie_in_az says:

    I hate to be “That Guy”, but Beemers/Beamers are the bikes and Bimmers are the cars ([www.bimmercenter.com] if you don’t believe me).

    A year ago I got a speeding ticket and the cop told me he’s seen tons of roadsters on fire out in the desert. I never really liked the Z4 so I was kinda OK with it but a kitten dies anytime an M vehicle is torched.

  22. KMan13 still wants a Pontiac G8 says:

    i can haz insurance money and get my pontiac G8 now?

  23. chauncy that billups says:

    People in the Bronx did this in the 70s, except that they did apartment buildings along with the cars.