(WXYZ) - It used to be that thieves simply hot wired cars and took off, but technology has made that near impossible on many new cars
"That’s old school. You have to have a key to drive a car away," said Terri Miller, Executive Director of Help Eliminate Auto Theft or HEAT.
If you are thinking that is making her organization's job easier, you are wrong.
"The thieves are now taking extreme measures," said Miller.
One of those extreme measures is carjacking, but there is another destructive way of stealing a car you may not have heard of. It is called the "Push-Steal".
Police in the city and suburbs are scrambling to stop organized car thieves doing this on a regular basis in the suburbs that border Detroit.
Here is what they are doing. They are breaking into cars, often through the back window to avoid alarms. They then smash the gear-shift box, or use force to push the steering column into the transmission. This basically leaves the car in neutral. They then use another vehicle to push the car often at high speeds to a neighborhood plagued by vacant homes in Detroit. Police are finding the cars stripped of their tires and wheels in abandoned garages.
"They are causing $5,000-$10,000 in damage as they steal tires that cost about $1,300," said Sgt. Vernal Newson of the Detroit Police Department's Commercial Auto Theft Squad or CATS.
"A lot of people are needing to replace tires and rims because of potholes," said Miller.
HEAT and the CATS task force are working together. Both believe unscrupulous collision shops trying to fix cars damaged by potholes on the cheap are ordering wheels and rims on the black market. The thieves are filling orders.
Police say they have noticed a pattern that further leads them to believe this is organized. They will see a large amount of the same kind of cars stolen in a short time period. Right now they are seeing a lot of Fusions stolen this way. In the past it has been Escapes. Escalades are always a popular target because of the high cost of their wheels.
If you think you know who is doing this, HEAT has an anonymous tip line. The number to call is 1-800-242-HEAT. If your tip shuts down a chop shop, you could earn as much as $10,000. If it puts away a carjacker, $2,000. If it stops an individual thief, $1,000.