OIJ in action, taking down a car thief in San Sabastian in a 1989 Honda stolen the day before in Coronado.

Q COSTA RICA – Owners of 1998 to 2002 vehicles take note, yours is mostly likely to be robbed by car thieves in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) of San Jose, according to the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ).

In the report made public last Friday, the judicial agency did not specify the brand and model, but it is the model year range that car thieves fill an “theft for hire” by drug gangs, who have waiting buyers – “chop shops” – to dismantle the vehicle and sell it for used parts.

The reason is a short supply of “legal” used parts for those model years. Also, the ‘stolen vehicle’ parts typically sell at prices well below the legal parts.

Kenny Garbanzo Navarro, head of vehicle robbery at the OIJ, explained that in many cases the stolen vehicle is used to rebuild a vehicle that has been damaged in say a traffic accident.

“What they are looking for are motors, head lights, grills, bumpers, doors, side panels (…) of cars of similar make and models. The robberies are commissioned and are taken to shops where they are dismantled and parts installed in other vehicles. In many cases the chassis and motor ID is erased or replaced,” said Navarro.

Infographic by La Nacion based on OIJ statistics for methods of car thefts. In the first, a master key is used. If that doesn’t work, the car is hotwired. The Bajonazo – at gunpoint – is another method used by car thieves.

Navarro added that most of the thefts occur due to the carelessness of the owners, cars left unattended or parked on streets where it can easily be taken.

In the province of San Jose, with the exception of Tarrazú, Dota, León Cortés, Acosta, Puriscal and Pérez Zeledón, the majority of the vehicle thefts occur between 6:00 pm and 6:00 am.

In the GAM, the areas with the highest incidents are Desamparados (in the area of the central park, Dos Cercas and Gravillas), Moravia (west of the church), Goicoechea (San Francisco and Ipis) and Vasquez de Coronado (Cascajal).

Modus Operandi

Generally, car thieves roam the streets in search of a vehicle, explained Navarro. After verifying that it has no alarm or other security devices, they open it with a master key for that year and model.

Navarro said that if that (the master key) fails, then they will hotwire the vehicle and make off with it, all within minutes.

The OIJ official recommends the installation a security system. “We still do not have a report of a car with an alarm being stolen,” said the official.

Another form of theft is by “bajonazo”, stolen at gunpoint.

Navaroro said that of the 31 reports so far this year, only two were by ‘bajonazo’, the rest due to carelessness.