Focus or Mini?
January 7, 2006 11:46 AM   Subscribe

My car as recently stolen and I need to buy a new one. Hopefully something people won't try to steal every couple months.

I'm leaning towards a Ford Focus. But the Mini Cooper S is also very attractive. Trouble is it seems intuitive that the Cooper would have a high probability of getting stolen. But try as I might I can't find anything online that indicates Minis have a theft rate more than average. In fact I can't find a "most stolen" list anywhere that contains the car. If I an convince myself it won't get stolen I'll get the Cooper.

Bonus question - Other ideas? I want a small 2 door hatchback sort of car which is under 25K, not tragically underpowered, and won't get stolen. Mt short list is - Cobalt, Cooper, Focus, Golf.

Also FYI - The car (2000 Honda Civic Si) had an alarm system, was always parked in a visible lighted location, and had the Club, which had deterred three previous theft attempts. We're going to move, but getting a less stolen car is a must.
posted by y6y6y6 to Travel & Transportation (37 answers total)
I once owned a powder-blue 1977 AMC Gremlin. It never got stolen. The funniest thing to ever happen while driving it was getting pulled over by a cop because he wanted to get a closer look at the car. This was in the mid-1990s.
posted by camworld at 11:56 AM on January 7, 2006

How important is it to you to have an 'image' car? I say this because, in the UK, there's the Skoda, which is now part of the VW-Audi group, and which is now a very decent car (it used to be Czech made and, whilst solid, was very basic).

Modern Skodas are almost identical in spec and performance to the equivalent Audi or VW (i.e. the Skoda Oktavia is a re-badged Audi A6) but at a much lower price because they're seen as less fashionable and tend to be bought by the older, more cautious market.

I don't know the US car market, but if there's something similar to the Skoda available in the US (a re-badged, cheaper model of a better, more upmarket car made by a major manufacturer), you'll get a decent vehicle that won't be as attractive to a thief but with the full spec of a more upmarket car.

My old Skoda's best anti-theft device was its badge. No self-respecting car thief would be seen dead in one.
posted by essexjan at 11:56 AM on January 7, 2006

I believe the Cooper S has only been out since 2002...possibly a reason it hasn't shown up on those "most stolen" lists. In its favour, because it hasn't been out for too long, so there isn't as big a demand for parts.
posted by bachelor#3 at 12:06 PM on January 7, 2006

Usually, the cars that get stolen are not the most interesting and rare cars. Those stealing for profit steal cars that are easy to turn into parts and thus will stay with a couple of common models. Those looking to joyride will steal a car that they know how to steal. A Civic probably fits into both categories nicely.
If you are going to get a Golf, wait for the new GTI which is by any measure vastly better than the old one and also the other cars in your class. But you definitely should not choose the Focus over the Cooper on the basis of attractiveness to thieves. Oh and the Skoda Octavia is actually closer to a rebadged VW Passat than an A6
posted by fred_ashmore at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2006

Have you considered a cheap used car until you do move out of the area? You could get a Chevy Celebrity (my car of choice) for around 200 bucks now. It is a solid car with absolutely no appeal to thieves. Not the prettiest car, but it will more than get the job done until you are in a safer area and can splurge on a nice car.
posted by Loto at 12:21 PM on January 7, 2006

I had the two door Focus before moving to NYC. It was a terribly nice car which I miss quite a bit (hell, I miss driving). Never had to take it in for repairs, aside from replacing a tail-light bulb myself, so no complaints there. The amount of stuff you can haul with it easily trumps the Mini. As snappy as the Mini looks, I'll opt for utility.

The Focus does come with what looks like a dongle that you can remove to allegedly disable the car. While getting the car inspected, the mechanic killed some time by explaining how to overcome the dongle with nothing more than a paper clip.
Not encouraging, but if you're willing to drop a little more cash, this anti theft device sounds like it could do the trick.
posted by blueneurosis at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

What about a used car? You could get a 5/6 year old BMW three series for around $25k, I would imagine. I think they have hatches.

One thing you have to remember is that cars get stolen for their components. There was a model year of Nissan Altimas or something that were stolen just for their headlights which were worth like a thousand dollars, and would fit into older model's ports. When they changed the shape of the headlight, the newer cars were not stolen so often.

Seriously, consider a used car.
posted by delmoi at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2006

When I'm car shopping, I always call my insurance company, and ask how much it would cost to insure the cars I'm considering. I've sometimes asked about theft, too.

Your local police should also be able to tell you. Around here, the local paper publishes the top 10 most stolen cars every year (and, yes, they are the cars that can be quickly chopped, and the parts sold quickly - think the Focus, not the Mini).
posted by QIbHom at 12:33 PM on January 7, 2006

If you don't mind a 4-door hatch, I think the Mazda3 hatch is a pretty good value. It's about as powerful as your old Civic si, but less common (so, probably, less likely to be stolen for parts). Handles great, neat features you don't often find in ~$20k cars, pretty well built (so far, at least). Plus, coming from a high-revving Honda, you'll appreciate the considerable low-end power the 2.3L puts out. And it's certainly heaps nicer than the Cobalt or Focus.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:35 PM on January 7, 2006

Wow, I had no idea so many car thieves lived in the desert :P

There's a '94 BWM 318 in your area for $8k, with 100k miles. There's a '97 for $8k with 140 miles. It has an AM/FM cassette deck too!

There are a few Priuses in your area, but 2001's are the only ones with the price listed on, and I think that was before the hatchback model.

You could get an '87 CRX for $2500. Always liked that car. And it's technicaly a hatchback.

You could get a Scion xB for $13,588

You could get a 1990 Dodge Ommi for $1,495 (the closest thing i could think of to a gremlin :P It's a hatchback, IIRC)

But yeah, shop around don't just get a new car. You can get a nice new one when you get your own garage or move to a less crime ridden area.
posted by delmoi at 12:44 PM on January 7, 2006

The 2000 Si was the previous body style, right? Er, now two body styles ago. My understanding is that the newer ones are less succeptible to theft. Something about the IvTEC engines makes them less desirable to ricers. Or maybe just better security features. I have found anecdotally that the hatchback Si from 2002-2005 tend to attract less vandalism and road challenges from idiots with grapefuit shooter tailpipes. YMMV.

As for the current crop of VWs, I find that they are overpriced. I mean really, the Jetta and Golf compete with Civics and Corollas, not BMWs and Acuras. As for the Mini Cooper, keep in mind that it is a lot smaller than your previous car. If you ever used your backseat, the Cooper may not be the car for you. The Focus seems really bland compared to everything else on your shortlist.

Disclaimer, I used to be a diehard VW person. Now, I'm pretty much into Japanese cars, particularly the ones made in America.

Good luck choosing a new car.
posted by ilsa at 12:50 PM on January 7, 2006

I find the NHTSA report(pdf) pretty interesting, since it shows number stolen vs. produced, rather than simple totals which bais toward highest volume cars.

For 2003 models,
Focus:   610 / 257,453   2.37%Cooper:   15 /  33,255   0.45%

posted by SpookyFish at 12:57 PM on January 7, 2006

Anecdotally: When our Honda was in the shop, we rented a Focus. It's possible that it was just that particular car, but the Focus seemed flimsy inside and out, had a cheap interior, and felt laughably underpowered. After only half a day with the vehicle, we returned it to the rental outfit as unacceptable.

As a result of that experience, the Focus is now the butt of many family jokes.

Nobody's mentioned it yet, but take a look at the Mazda 6. It's still a Ford, but at least it doesn't suck as much as the Focus.
posted by majick at 1:00 PM on January 7, 2006

I have a Mazda3, and while it's a great car, it's on the same platform as the Volvo S40 and Ford something-or-other. I'd wager that the Mini is of less than average likelihood to get stolen based on the fact that it doesn't share a platform with any other car, and the parts it does share are with BMWs. BMWs, while cool, aren't all that ubiquitous and of average or better reliability (not needed spare parts).

On preview, good bet for me.
posted by sachinag at 1:02 PM on January 7, 2006

I don't know the US car market, but if there's something similar to the Skoda available in the US (a re-badged, cheaper model of a better, more upmarket car made by a major manufacturer)

In the States you might be looking, for example, at the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe twins. The Pontiac would be, arguably, the less desirable.

Or a Hyundai or Kia... either would be equally undesirable to a thief, but both makes are pretty solid cars these days, especially if you get a model that's been refreshed in the last couple of years. The new Sonata is particularly nice; my dad got one. I have a 2003 Elantra and have liked it a lot, although as I get myself into better shape I find myself not slouching as much, and the car's beginning to lack headroom now.
posted by kindall at 1:12 PM on January 7, 2006

I don't know if there is a publically (free) available list, but Consumer Reports publishes a list of the highest-risk car models (and model years) in their annual "Cars" issue.

also, RE: buying a rebadged or smaller sibling car, I think the problem is that thieves want to steal parts that fit the most expensive cars, but can do so by stealing parts of a sibling more easily than a more expensive car (car alarms etc. on the more expensive model) So your Honda was probably a high theft risk because its parts were shared with Acuras. Likewise Toyota and Lexus.

Oh, looks like sachinag already said something similar.
posted by misterbrandt at 1:41 PM on January 7, 2006

The other thing to remember is if a thief wants your car, he will take it. Just don't incent him to take yours -- ie leaving your car unlocked or putting bait in visible from the street. Getting your car to safer neighborhood/garage would be ideal regardless of what you buy. Your insurance rates will go down as well.

Your Civic was a volume car, meaning they are sold in the millions and gazillions and so have a huge underground after market. A Golf or a Cooper are higher profile, but are rounding error in terms of total volume.
posted by birdherder at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2006

When my sorry little late-80's mazda hatchback got stolen back in 1997 the insurance person told me that ordinary, dull cars like mine actually got stolen all the time. She said she rarely investigated the theft of fancy or expensive cars. As others have stated above.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:52 PM on January 7, 2006

as someone who has had her 91 camry stolen twice in 3 weeks, i have some suggestions:

1. contact local police and see if there're any master keys floating about. it depends on your area - no matter how shitty your car is, what the model/make is, if there're master keys for your car, it will get stolen.
2. do not buy anything mass-produced - because of master keys.
3. get a club. there's one more thing i heard that prevents engine from getting started - i forgot what it is, but they're definitely worth it.

i don't know which people steal cars for what reason : mine was stolen purely for the purpose of joy riding. my ex-coworkers was stolen because of bling custom parts that were put into his car. just make sure it's extra hard for thieves to start your engine and drive your car and you should be fine.
posted by grafholic at 1:55 PM on January 7, 2006

Comments on the Mini Cooper's desirability by thieves are correct. But the car, while adorable, is very over-rated and frankly being on the same road with massive SUV's not something I'd trust my family to be safe inside and may be something to consider.

For a small car I'd go with the Golf - with a Low Jack installed - one of VW's options now. You can get all the fancy options for the same cost as the Cooper.

We have a 2001 Focus (and a Jetta TDI licensed through our business). We HAD an old Audi Quatrro and a Honda Accord. The Audi committed suicide and the Honda left and just never came back.

We live in the hood - or what passes for it if you look at the Census Tract Data. An area with a very high incidence of car theft. And have had few problems with the new cars. When we had the Honda it was stolen three frigg'n times. The Audi broken into a dozen times but nobody but a German engineer would know how to start that fucker - let alone drive the behemoth.

Now. The Focus is a good car but plagued with the typical Ford minor defects - like cheap plastic interior moldings that break very easily. Annoying shit like that. Otherwise very very dependable. Get the less sexy sedan or wagon put a couple of dents in that sucker (my wife would be happy to help you with that) and nobody will give it a second glance.

The Jetta is great. We have every anti-theft measure on the planet in that thing - including the club and my Bersa 380 - and we block it in with the Focus everynight. The parts for VW are so expensive it makes a tempting target. Since it's through the business... eh.

BTW. If you get a wagon version of what ever they are slightly less desirable to thieves for some reason. Same with manual transmissions. Slightly less.
posted by tkchrist at 1:56 PM on January 7, 2006

3. get a club.

It takes like 20 seconds to get past a club. You can freeze the lock, or just cut the steering wheel.
posted by delmoi at 2:00 PM on January 7, 2006

It takes like 20 seconds to get past a club. You can freeze the lock, or just cut the steering wheel.

the club works if you have a mass-produced car and if there are other cars w/out club - thieves will most likely to go past the nuisance and go for easy target.

or at least thats what the cops in sf told me (on two different occasions), plus my friend's car got stolen like 3 times last year and after he started using a club, his car hasn't been stolen since.

i do believe there are other things that make car theft difficult as well - just put 2 or 3 of those, then i'd say your car makes it highly unattractive for thieves.
posted by grafholic at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2006

The last thing grafholic was thinking of was a Kill Switch.
posted by atom128 at 2:11 PM on January 7, 2006

If you got any money from the insurance company for the car, bank it until you can get out of the hood. HSBC direct has a Money Market account that's paying 4% or so at the moment, which is pretty nice, or you can slap it in a six month CD if it's going to be at least that long. Then, buy a used car that no one will care about and get your nice car in four or six months, and have a little extra money to spend on it, too.

Oh, and if I had my druthers I'd get the Cooper, but my husband drives pretty much anywhere we go together or when we take people. I drive myself to work and on errands. I therefore do not need a back seat of any real utility. If you're going to need the back seat, go with something else. We have a Focus and we like it just fine, but we've known other people who have nearly the exact same car and they hate it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:32 PM on January 7, 2006

there's one more thing i heard that prevents engine from getting started - i forgot what it is, but they're definitely worth it.

Are you thinking of the Ravelco Auto Anti-theft Device?

I don't buy anything without checking Cool Tools and AskMeFi anymore.
posted by joshuaconner at 2:44 PM on January 7, 2006

Anecdotal evidence from me and a few buddies, who live or have lived in the city (Detroit). Manual transmissions seem to be a deterant. When my partner's Elantra was stolen (an automatic), I asked the cops about this. They thought for a minute, then allowed as how they couldn't remember anyone reporting a manual transmission car stolen.

Also, when auto thieves made a try at my 81' Jetta diesel, the sewing machine factory sound of starting it without pulling the glowplug scared them enough that they just took the radio (which was broken, anyway).

Hmm...the Jetta was a manual. Maybe NYC thieves are more educated, or 24 years has made a difference. Or I'm crazy.
posted by QIbHom at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2006

fwiw you should be able to get a 5/6-yo 3-series BMW for way less than $25k depending - my 6-yo 5-series wagon was $18k - and the only hatch was the 318ti which is hard to find because no one liked it. I'd do what Medieval Maiden says - if your car just got stolen, and there were 3 attempts on it before, it just doesn't seem like a good idea to buy a new car now - and get something like an old Celebrity or Golf or even a used Rio Cinco/Elantra hatch or something along those lines until you move, then sell it. As an added bonus, your insurance will probably be less so you can sock some of that money away in preparation for the car you want. Afterwards, I'd go with your choices, except I'd do them in the order of Mini, Golf, Cobalt, and then Focus. my aunt has a Focus and I thought it was kinda.. cheap. The Minis i've looked at have all had better fit and finish.
posted by mrg at 4:16 PM on January 7, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all. Great advice.

We spent the day talking and test driving the Mini and the Focus. I think we can rule out the Mini, and the jury is out on the Focus.

One problem with the Mini is that the demand is high enough that they won't sell you the base model. You need to get 10K worth of options. Or wait months. And it turns out to be a wee bit narrow. I have really wide shoulders and it felt cramped. And even if I wanted to pay 30K for one I'd need to wait a month for one to come in that isn't spoken for.

The Focus SE felt okay. But just okay. And I have no doubt it would fall apart much faster than the Honda (I've only owned Hondas). For 15K? It's good enough. But there is the problem of it being a mass producted model, so maybe it will be very attractive to thives in 5 years. I sort of like it. My wie hates it. But it's strickly for me.

Fuck. I don't know. I think my last AskMe question was about my wheels getting stolen, and at that time I did lots of research on theft prvention that would actually work. I had the club, I had an expensive alarm with an engine cut off. Etc etc. This was actually the fourth time someone tried to steal it, so I had lots of faith in the alarm. And the car was rather beat up. I travel a lot, so high miles. And it had plenty of dinges and scratches. The idea someone would steal it given all that just makes no sense to me. Maybe trying to be logical is useless here.

We'll do more test driving tomorrow. I'll be looking at some of the cars folks have suggested. And a used CRX is something we'd talked about actually.

If people have other ideas - Smaller is better for me. I would seriously rather get a new car vs used. We never use the back seat for anything but groceries. We travel on long road trips rather frequently. Good gas milage is a big plus. My need for bling factor is low but not zero. Around 20K or less is a big factor.

Thanks again everyone.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:29 PM on January 7, 2006

No one's mentioned the Subaru wrx - I have no idea how much they cost or whatever, but my friend has one and for a car I never even knew existed before I met him, it's a really, really, nice ride and seems to be right up yr alley!

You should at least check it out.
posted by 31d1 at 6:51 PM on January 7, 2006

You mention the Cobalt; I don't know about the base model, but the automotive press loved the SS model this year. Might warrant a look if you haven't driven one yet.
posted by willpie at 7:24 PM on January 7, 2006

WRXs can be a bit spendy -- $25K+, I believe. The less expensive alternative would be the Outback/Impreza Sport. We got an '05 SE in September for about $19K. I love the handling, and the 2.5L engine is adequate. Very enjoyable to drive. As for them being stolen, a quick Google search yielded this statistic in Canada:

"The Subaru Impreza WRX 4DR 4WD holds the dubious distinction of topping the list of 10 vehicles with the highest theft claim cost per vehicle."
posted by DakotaPaul at 8:53 PM on January 7, 2006

Yeah, I read your previous post regarding the wheels just the other day, in some odd search I did. Sorry to see it's gone.

I love to drive. I hate the idea of someone tampering with my car. So, I have an okay car in great shape. Thankfully I don't live in big cities, so theft isn't an issue of any kind.

Find yourself a nice used car for around $5K-$10k or so. While you may prefer a hatchback, don't limit yourself. You are flexible, the car is not. You'll be better off getting a decent car that isn't quite what you want, for much less money. Lower Price, Lower Insurance. Save for a better car, find a new place to live with a garage!

So do yourself a favor, go find a nice mid-size Oldsmobile, Pontiac, or other odd car that thieves ignore, put a decent stereo package in it, get a car alarm, a Club, LowJack, a Kill Switch.

I think you'll find a compromise in the type of car you drive MUCH less frustrating then dealing with your car being broken into, stolen, etc, 4 times in several years. I'd rather have an okay car that I don't worry about then a nice thief friendly car where I wake up every morning and look outside to make sure my car isn't on blocks and the wheels are gone.
posted by Phynix at 5:12 AM on January 8, 2006

I'm getting a new Scion xA. It's a small but roomy hatchback, fairly uncommon (but does share a platform with the more-common xB and Toyota Echo), and a great value at $14000. It might qualify as "underpowered," though.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:09 AM on January 8, 2006

(The xA has excellent mileage - 38 mpg on the freeway, according to the EPA rating.)
posted by mbrubeck at 9:13 AM on January 8, 2006

A GPS-trackable-from-your-computer Mologogo phone could be an awesome lo-fi security device, especially if you have a lighter you could charge from in your glove compartment. Throw the phone in the car - when it gets stolen, look up the GPS and tell the police.
posted by joshuaconner at 10:39 AM on January 8, 2006

I second the vote for a GTI. I have a '02 (1.8T), and I love it. It's got the subtly of a Golf, but the go power of a much nicer car. If you're seriously considering the Golf and the Mini in the same breath, change your considerations to the GTI; they're much more comparable. And (I'd assume) much less likely to be stolen. And for a small car, you would not believe what you can cram into one of those things with the back seats down.
posted by cgg at 11:12 AM on January 8, 2006

Response by poster: For those still playing the home game, the Mini is off, and the Mazda 3 is on, the short list.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:41 PM on January 8, 2006

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