Tire thefts causing thousands in damage, loss

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Within the 36,000 motor vehicle burglaries reported to the Houston Police Department in 2013, there is a specific yet pervasive crime -- tire theft. Houston police said this type of theft tends to happen at night, but is not relegated to any particular part of town.

"It's a huge problem," said Paul Grant, with Theft Replacement Specialists. "It's a staggering amount of money we're talking about."

Grant said his company alone replaces stolen tires on at least 10 vehicles a week. Grant pointed out the work comes from a single insurance carrier.

"The amount of money that the wheels are representing are in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Grant.

Grant said the thieves are investing in specialty jacks, stands and power drills, usually only seen at a racetrack. Grant said the items allow thieves to steal tires quickly and from almost any location.

To demonstrate the speed at which these thieves work, Grant set up a demonstration for Local 2 Investigates using a company pick-up truck parked in the driveway of a home. Two expert mechanics from Grant's company were able to drive up, remove all four wheels and leave the area in 90 seconds.

"It doesn't matter the location," said Grant. "We've seen it at apartment complexes, we've seen them at houses, I've even had them where they're parked on somebody's front lawn."

Grant said thieves are particularly fond of Chevy and General Motor trucks, as well as Cadillac Escalades. However, Houston police said thieves are targeting wheels 20 inches in size or larger.

Houston police Officer Jim Woods said large wheels retain value, are easily resold and difficult to track because tires do not have identifying numbers specific to a particular vehicle.

"It makes it difficult to be able to ascertain that this particular tire came from this particular vehicle," said Woods.

Woods cited a 2011 case where two men suspected of stealing tires from Houston to Brenham were caught after a high-speed chase. Woods said he has worked other cases where thieves have hit car dealerships, stealing tires from 10 to 15 vehicles in a single night.

"They're fairly sophisticated, fairly organized," said Woods.

Woods and Grant recommend when possible, park a vehicle in a garage instead of leaving it on the street or in a driveway. If a person can't park their vehicle in a garage, Grant and Woods recommend buying anti-theft devices such as locking lug nuts, wheel locks or a sensor that alerts a person when their vehicle is being tilted by someone using a jack.

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