When Your Rental Car Gets Robbed

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Becoming the victim of a robbery will ruin your vacation faster than a bad case of the swine flu. One woman found this out on a recent trip to Hawaii, where her rental car was broken into — and she suspects she's not the only one who's been ripped off.

Offending Party: Thrifty Car Rental.

What's at Stake: A trunkload of stolen luggage.

The Complaint: Kelley Carter returned to her rented Dodge Charger to find that thieves had punched out the keyhole in the door and absconded with everything inside, including her luggage in the trunk. Nothing this bad has happened in Hawaii since Greg bought that cursed tiki idol on The Brady Bunch. (See 50 Authentic American Travel Experiences.)

When she returned her vehicle to Thrifty Car Rental at Honolulu International Airport, Carter says she was told by a counter clerk that vehicular larceny "happens quite often" on the island. Carter also filed a report with the Honolulu police and says an officer confided that there are four or five models of cars that every thief on Hawaii knows are rentals, and that those are most often targeted.

So, what's the deal? Are rental-car break-ins as rampant in the Aloha State as mock luaus? And if so, are rental agencies knowingly renting theft-prone cars?

The Outcome: The Avenger checked with Thrifty, and company spokesperson Chris Payne says the company is unaware of a "disproportionate number of car thefts in the Honolulu area." The "happens quite often" remark by the Thrifty employee was made out of sympathy alone, Payne says. He also pointed out that Thrifty — like many rental companies — does not use company bumper stickers on rentals, so as to make them more difficult for thieves to identify. (Thrifty cars do, however, have bar-coded stickers on the windshield, which makes the omission of a bumper sticker moot.)

According to the Honolulu Police Department, 10,605 cars were broken into in 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available. The numbers don't distinguish between rental cars and privately owned vehicles, but police department spokesperson Michelle Yu says that thieves most often target cars parked near popular tourist attractions, knowing that visitors often carry cameras, money, jewelry and other things worth stealing.

Is the problem epidemic in Hawaii? Sounds like it. In 2007, there were 1,369,150 cases of larceny from motor vehicles in the entire U.S., according to the Department of Justice. That's about one break-in for every 224 people. In Honolulu, however, the rate is roughly one break-in for every 85 people.

That's no surprise if you've been to Hawaii and seen the ubiquitous signs warning tourists to lock their cars and remove any valuables. And many travel books and online message boards carry specific warnings for Hawaii about break-ins. One useful piece of advice: If you see broken glass in a parking lot, don't park there. That glass probably means it's a prime hunting ground for thieves.

Unfortunately, there's nothing the Avenger can do at this point for Carter. Catching criminals is, alas, not among our powers. But if the thief who broke into her car is reading, won't you at least return her favorite bathing suit?

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