AUSTIN (KXAN) - In about the time it takes to wash your face and brush your teeth before going to sleep, thieves could descend up your car and strip it of all four tires -- hubcaps, rims and all.
That might help explain why, out of about 200 reports of stolen tires and rims from cars parked in driveways across Travis County the past couple of years, only five arrests have been made.
But that balance in favor of the lawbreakers may soon change. The Travis County Sheriff's Office is planning to launch a sting operation using a tricked-out car as bait in an effort to catch tire-and-rim thieves in the act.
In doing so, the office could also take the profitability out of what can be a very lucrative enterprise for people who traffic in the stolen automobile accessories.
All of this is welcome news for people like Michael Hansen, a Central Texan who has been a tire-thief target.
"It's really frustrating to know we've gone through the trouble to work, be good citizens and live our lives and have folks come and take that," Hansen said. "It's very frustrating."
He was out $200 when thieves took his vehicle's hub caps. He caught the crime on videotape with a home surveillance camera.
"We saw these three teenagers come up to the car and very quickly -- within a minute 30 seconds -- they were able to take all the hubcaps off and be on their way," said Hansen, after reviewing his home security tape.
Hansen's video shows what appears to be a group of teenagers surround Hansen's car at 1:15 a.m.
One teen serves as the lookout. The others go to work on Hansen's car with just a single tool.
The video shows that in less than two minutes, the thieves put the hubcaps in a white bag and walked away.
"It was the first thing I noticed when I walked out, 'Where are my hubcaps?'" said Hansen.
He said the group stole hubcaps from several other neighbors that night.
Tim Sannar, a manager at Hub Cap Annie on North Lamar Boulevard, said he has replaced hundreds of stolen vehicle parts. He said thieves are going after rims to either sell on the Internet for major cash or keep for themselves.
Sannar said wheels, rims and tires can cost thousands of dollars, especially if they are custom made.
"Some of the factory wheels, some of the chrome wheels, go for $1,400 for $1,500 a piece from the dealership and so $5,000 for a set of wheels, not including tires, it's pretty expensive," he said.
Sanner said professional thieves can rip off rims in five minutes and even a whole set of tires in no time.
"I think two or three guys, it would take them less than 10 minutes to get a set of wheels, car in the air and the wheels off and gone. I've heard of it happening that quickly," he said.
In a live demonstration with auto experts from Longhorn Collision on South Lamar, KXAN News captured how fast thieves are working to rip off Central Texans.
With a camera showing their every move, the crew of four worked to loosen the standard factory wheels of a vehicle. In a one minute and 15 seconds the crew from Longhorn Collision was able to take off an entire set of wheels.
The rims, wheels and tires would have cost the vehicle owner thousands of dollars to replace.
Cases like Hansen's and and the difficulty in making arrests prompted Travis County investigators to turn to the bait-car approach.
The idea is to load a bait car with nice wheels, rims and tires in order to catch thieves in the act and on camera.
The Austin, San Marcos and Round Rock police departments do not have tire sting operations in place.
Travis County spokesman Roger Wade said the tire sting is new to the county and a proactive approach.
Hansen said the tire sting is a step in the right direction.
"I'm excited about that and I believe it will with the number of people that come through this neighborhood at night," he said. "It's only a matter of time before they do catch people and I do think it's going to make a difference."
Insurance experts ask drivers to call their agents and make sure custom-made wheels are covered. Auto experts said wheel locks are sold at most auto parts stores and cost around $20.
For Hansen, the best advice is simply being aware.
"Know that these things happen and even though you are sleeping, there's other folks that aren't," he said. "Be aware of your property and know that other people are possibly looking at it as something they can make their own."
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