New fuel efficient SUV's on a car dealers lot for sale.

In the past decade, sports utility and crossover utility vehicles (SUVs/CUVs) have been elevated to a family-friendly status symbol sitting in American driveways. And car thieves have taken notice.

New industry research shows that SUVs and CUVs have for the first time outpaced sedans as the “most popular vehicle body style” in the U.S. Meanwhile, thieves are stealing SUVs/CUVs by the thousands every year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Online Auto Insurance (OAI) runs down the NICB’s figures from its report on those thefts and give you drivers some tips on how to protect that sweet SUV.

Ford models were the first-, second-, and third-most stolen SUVs/CUVs:

  • Ford Escape: 1,421

  • Ford Edge 1,140

  • Ford Explorer: 958

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee: 912

  • Kia Sorrento: 725

These family-friendly vehicles are most stolen from areas of the U.S. with urban centers:

  • New York’s New York City/North New Jersey/Long Island area: 2,530

  • Michigan’s Detroit/Warren/Livonia area: 1,701

  • California’s Los Angeles/Long Beach/Santa Ana area: 1,300

Categorized by state, California led the pack by a mile with 3,531 stolen SUVs/CUVs; the next-highest states were Florida, with 1,897, and Michigan, with 1,834.

And if you own a higher-class model within the SUV/CUV vehicle type, be especially aware: they have a higher chance of being gone for good after they’re stolen. For example, more than a fourth of stolen premium SUVs aren’t recovered after they’re stolen.

##Big Cars, Big Targets

One reason larger cars are appealing targets for a thief doesn’t have to do with the car itself; it’s what the car’s made of. That’s because there’s a market out there for vehicle parts, which are easier to unload to a buyer than an entire stolen vehicle. And thieves “want whatever sells,” according to federal officials.

When it comes to bigger cars, the parts are not only likelier to fetch a bigger price on the market, but those parts are sometimes easier to get to.

An example: the catalytic converter.

Larger vehicle types can be easy targets for catalytic converter theft because the component is under the vehicle. A skilled thief can swipe a catalytic converter in minutes from SUVs because the vehicle chassis is higher from the ground. And unfortunately, your car will be rendered inoperable if someone steals your catalytic converter.

Tailgates are another car part that are popular on SUVs/CUVs, and just as popular among thieves.

Online Auto Insurance has FAQs that look deeper into the issue, so drivers know what to do if they find their catalytic converter or tailgate stolen.

To combat theft of your car parts, try specific anti-theft devices for specific parts (example: the CatClamp to the Catlock for catalytic converters), or etch your VIN number on car parts so that dealers will know its stolen when thieves try to sell them.

For more tips about protecting your vehicle against thieves, read our other entries in our anti-theft series commemorating Auto Theft Awareness Month: