Stories | July 14, 2010

A colourful way to deter thieves

An economist claims to have identified a low-cost way of preventing car thefts

It comes down to colour choice.

Motorists can spend large sums on specialist equipment to prevent thieves from stealing their cars. But now an economist claims to have identified a low-cost way of preventing thefts. It comes down to colour choice. By choosing a less popular coloured car, the theory goes that the potential thief will be less likely to steal it as the resale value is lower (an economic disincentive to risking a jail term).

From two wheels to four
Ben Vollaard, a professor at the University of Tilberg in the Netherlands, noticed that students often painted their bikes bright pink or yellow to make them easier to find in the case of loss or theft. In new research – called Car thieves: Not too bright, please! – Vollaard looked to see if car owners could use a similar technique. New car buyers in the Netherlands – like their counterparts around the world – have a strong preference for three colours: black, blue, and silver/grey, according to DuPont Automotive.

Bright thieves like dull cars
The research used data from Dutch police, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and Statistics Netherlands that showed that between 2004 and 2008 black, blue, and silver/grey cars were stolen more often than uncommon colours. Pink was the perfect deterrent: none of the 109 pink cars in the sample had been stolen. Vollaard found the average rate of theft of cars in common colours like blue and silver/grey was almost 40% higher than for cars in other less common colours.
But he acknowledged driving a pink car might not be for everyone. He concluded that if the aversion to driving a car in an offbeat colour is not too high or “if someone actually enjoys it”, deterring car theft by unusual car colour “may be at least as good a deal as buying deterrence through an expensive car security device”.

The colour of money
One reason for the higher rate of theft may be resale value. As eZonomics reported in a video on the economics of colour, a poll by Germany’s leading online trading site for second-hand cars, mobile.de, found a red car sold for up to EUR2,700 less than a black model. According to DuPont Automotive, the popularity of red has fallen from 25% to 5% of sales over the last 20 years.
Thefts of red cars have fallen in parallel, implying that resale value is a more powerful driver of thefts than the fear of a bright colour attracting police attention.

No silver lining
A personal anecdote to finish: the author of this article had a silver car. It got stolen. The insurance company replaced it with an identical silver model. The author awaits the inevitable…

Phil Thornton
Phil Thornton

Lead consultant at Clariti Economics

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