So Columbus Day brings some good news and not so good news for auto owners and their insurers. Vehicle thefts have declined for the third year in a row, according to the National Insurance Crime BureauÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s (NICB) Hot Wheels study. The headline stats are 1,192,809 motor vehicles reported stolen in 2006, some 42,417 fewer than in 2005. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one vehicle every 26.4 seconds. Based on the FBIÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s average valuation of $6,649 per stolen vehicle, this amounts to over $7.9 billion in losses just in vehicle value alone for 2006. But the other side of the coin is that only 59 percent of stolen vehicles were recovered last year — the lowest recovery rate in over a decade. More than 700,000 vehicles remain outstanding, which as the NICB points out, fuel a number of related insurance fraud and vehicle theft activities. Exports of stolen vehicles to foreign countries are part of the problem. In 2006, over 4,000 vehicles valued at nearly $42 million were returned to the U.S. from various countries. A trend to monitor.Ã‚ NICB’s advice to owners is to take a layered approach to theft prevention, and that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to be costly. The cheapest form of defense? Locking your car and taking your keys. Warning devices, immobilizing devices, and tracking devices are other effective tools. I.I.I.’s auto theft update has more details.