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Chapter 5: International Auto Theft (Kimbell)

Main Points:

  • Criminals have strong incentive to move stolen cars across the border. They have a far lesser chance of getting caught if the car can be moved into Mexico.
  • Mexican corruption has made collaboration between the American and Mexican governments difficult.
  • Stolen cars are central to the international drug trade. Cars are often traded for drugs.
  • International auto theft is usually committed by gangs.


  • Would it be possible to set up checkpoints for cars leaving the U.S. and would this prevent theft?
  • How could the U.S. provide incentives to the Mexican government to cooperate in tracking down stolen cars?
  • Would the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. lessen the incentive to steal cars and sell them to Mexico?


  • “In 1981 a Los Angeles Times article…reported that since 1975 the FBI had arrested eleven people including two [Federal Security Directorate] agents, for the theft of some four thousand high-priced cars from new-car dealerships in Southern California.” This quote highlights the corruption that was rampant in the Mexican version of the FBI.
  • “Borders – especially national borders – have always been the car thief’s best friend.”
  • “There is reason to believe that youths who joint gangs are more likely to engage in car theft than those who don’t.”

Economics Theories/Models

  • Obviously, supply and demand is critical to understanding why people steal cars. There is a great deal of demand for cheap cars in Mexico, so criminals will go to great lengths to steal the cars and smuggle them across the border. Furthermore, with demand high for illegal drugs here in the U.S., there is strong incentive to find something to trade for them.

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