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Stealing Cars

Technology and Society from the Model T to the Gran Torino

John A. Heitmann and Rebecca H. Morales

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The technology-thwarting car thief has become as advanced as the cars themselves.

As early as 1910 Americans recognized that cars were easy to steal and, once stolen, hard to find, especially since cars looked much alike. Model styles and colors eventually changed, but so did the means of making a stolen car disappear. Though changing license plates and serial numbers remain basic procedure, thieves have created highly sophisticated networks to disassemble stolen vehicles, distribute the parts, and/or ship the altered cars out of the country. Stealing cars has become as technologically advanced…

The technology-thwarting car thief has become as advanced as the cars themselves.

As early as 1910 Americans recognized that cars were easy to steal and, once stolen, hard to find, especially since cars looked much alike. Model styles and colors eventually changed, but so did the means of making a stolen car disappear. Though changing license plates and serial numbers remain basic procedure, thieves have created highly sophisticated networks to disassemble stolen vehicles, distribute the parts, and/or ship the altered cars out of the country. Stealing cars has become as technologically advanced as the cars themselves.

John A. Heitmann and Rebecca H. Morales’s study of automobile theft and culture examines a wide range of related topics that includes motives and methods, technological deterrents, place and space, institutional responses, international borders, and cultural reflections.

Only recently have scholars begun to move their focus away from the creators and manufacturers of the automobile to its users. Stealing Cars illustrates the power of this approach, as it aims at developing a better understanding of the place of the automobile in the broad texture of American life. There are many who are fascinated by aspects of automobile history, but many more readers enjoy the topic of crime—motives, methods, escaping capture, and of course solving the crime and bringing criminals to justice.

Stealing Cars brings together expertise from the history of technology and cultural history as well as city planning and transborder studies to produce a compelling and detailed work that raises questions concerning American priorities and values. Drawing on sources that include interviews, government documents, patents, sociological and psychological studies, magazines, monographs, scholarly periodicals, film, fiction, and digital gaming, Heitmann and Morales tell a story that highlights both human creativity and some of the paradoxes of American life.

Reviews

Reviews

This volume tells a social and cultural history of auto theft — honest — and it does so remarkably well.

Stealing Cars; Technology & Society from the Model T to the Gran Torino provides a fine study of auto theft and culture, and examines a range of topics to include motives, methods, and more. Studies of transportation issues have typically focused on auto manufacturing history, so it's refreshing to see a treatment that considers users and the automobile's role in American life.

Stealing Cars fills a lacuna in the historical literature on the automobile. Thus, this is a thoughtful, useful study.

Full of good history and excellent research... Heitmann and Morales mix in just enough psychology, sociology, and talk of morals, sex, and love of speed to make the work educational but not didactic. All auto enthusiasts should get this book. Highly recommended.

Heitmann and Morales have added to a better and broader understanding of both crime and the automobile in American life and have pointed to other fruitful avenues for exploration.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
232
ISBN
9781421412979
Illustration Description
8 halftones, 5 line drawings
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Park at Your Own Risk
1. "Stop, Thief!"
2. Juvenile Delinquents, Hardened Criminals, and Some Ineffectual Technological Solutions (1941–1980)
3. From the Personal Garage to

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Park at Your Own Risk
1. "Stop, Thief!"
2. Juvenile Delinquents, Hardened Criminals, and Some Ineffectual Technological Solutions (1941–1980)
3. From the Personal Garage to the Surveillance Society
4. Car Theft in the Electronic and Digital Age (1970s–Present)
5. Mexico, the United States, and International Auto Theft
6. The Recent Past
Conclusion: Stealing the American Dream
Appendix: Tables Summarizing Various U.S. Automobile Theft Crime Reports and Surveys, 1924–2010
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bios
Featured Contributor

John A. Heitmann

John A. Heitmann is a professor of history at the University of Dayton, Ohio, and former Knapp Chair in the Liberal Arts at the University of San Diego.
Featured Contributor

Rebecca H. Morales, Ph.D.

Rebecca H. Morales holds a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a former curator at the San Diego Automotive Museum.
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