DETROIT (WXYZ) - The Action News Investigators are exposing a GM security flaw. It's pushed the Cadillac Escalade to the top of America's most stolen list and other GM SUVs are also getting clobbered by thieves.
Crooks have known about this GM weak spot for years and they're taking advantage of it big time. If you drive an Escalade or another GM SUV, you'd better be careful where you park it. It could be gone In 14 seconds.
In an overgrown alley in a forsaken section of Detroit's east side, we found a symbol of Detroit elegance and style. A 2007 Escalade, up on blocks. Fancy wheels, gone. Navigations system and radio, gone. Shift lever pulled down, window busted out, and the rear bumper bashed in. Day after day, other classy Caddies are ending up the same way.
Mary Feazell had her Escalade stolen seven times. "They stole it as easily as they stole clothes out of a store," she told us.
The Cadillac Escalade is one fine machine. A ride favored by rap stars, the rich and famous and regular folks, too. Unfortunately it's also a favorite of thieves. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, the Escalade has the highest theft rate of any vehicle on the road. And the average loss per vehicle is among the highest.
Harold Maeder, who investigates car thefts for insurance companies, told Action News that he sees stripped Escalades routinely. Escalades are known for their premium parts, like chrome wheels, navigation systems, and costly radios, which thieves strip and sell on the street.
The Escalade is number one, but it's siblings, the Tahoe and Yukon Denali, are also being targeted for parts because they too can be ripped off in a flash. In fact, security camera footage we obtained showed one vehicle being stolen in 14 seconds.
You can't steal an Escalade or virutally any other new car these days by driving it away. They have a computer chip in the key. Without the key, the engine will not start. So thieves have found a new way to steal Escaldes and other GM SUVs: they push them.
That's how crooks got Rev. Jesse Jackson's Escalade a few weeks ago, it was found stripped on a vacant Detroit lot. And how do they do it?
First, they break a window and crawl into the drivers seat. Then, the thieves force the gear lever out of park so the SUV can be pushed. Our expert says that's a security flaw. Another problem pointed out by our expert: some Escalades have no steering wheel lock, so if you can push it, you can steer it.
"General Motors took that off a few years back when they instituted the security systems figuring the car can't be driven," said Maeder.
"You probably have it down the block or around the corner or where you're gonna hide it and have it stripped within 20 minutes," he said.
Kenneth Coleman is another GM customer who loved his '07 Yukon Delani, but won't buy another one. He had his stolen four times in just 14 months. Each time it was pushed away and stripped. It was taken out of his own driveway twice.
Now, he's afraid to drive the Denali and his insurance has gone up. As for Escalade owner Mary Feazell, she says her insurance company shelled out more for repairs on her seven thefts than she originally paid for the Escalade. The thefts averaged between ten and thirteen thousand dollars damage. Insurance companies are taking it on the chin.
"They're kinda mad because it's costing them thousands and thousands of dollars when GM has the engineers and should have the capacity to solve this problem," said Maeder.
GM declined an on camera interview, but a Cadillac spokesman told me the company is very concerned about security and they've been working bit by bit to toughen up these cars.
In 2010, GM put laminated glass in the side windows to slow the thieves down and they put locks back on the steering columns, but it hasn't solved the problem. One 2010 Escalade was found in a Detroit alley, the front end cut off, and the push car--a stolen Jeep--sitting next to it with engine still running.
A 2011 Denali had only a hundred miles on it when it was stolen from Eastern Market. So why hasn't the GM fix worked? Harold Maeder knows why. An insurance company donated a steering column so Maeder could find out why the the lock is failing. When the car is shut off, that small pin is pushed up into one of the slots on the ring locking the wheel in place.
But Maeder found a weak spot, a piece of metal that is easily cracked, allowing the thieves to unlock the wheel quickly.
"They tried to fix the problem," he said. "If they'd have went a little heavier on what they did it would have probably slowed the thieves down. This way...it doesn't take too long to defeat it," he said.
So folks driving Escalades, Tahoes and Denalis are still vulrnerable. But Mary Feazell doesn't have to worry anymore. After seven thefts, she defaulted on her lease and told GM to take her Escalade back. And by the way, Mary is retired. She put in 32 years at General Motors.
"I felt really bad about it because it was a GM product and I worked for