Think your new stereo system is the most valuable thing in your SUV? Think again.
A growing number of thieves are breaking into SUVs and ignoring electronics and other items of value -- what they're after, instead, is the third-row seat.
"Back when third-row seats were originally put in the older-model cars, they were basically bolted to the floor. They weren't removable at all. And they didn't come out until they were unbolted and basically professionally removed. Some of them are easier to take than others, but unfortunately it's not going to take very long to remove [a newer] seat," explains Alan Hamilton, a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department.
A pair of replacement seats can cost as much as $3,500, and it's that high price tag that's driving a black market demand for them.
"Basically, the market for third-row seats is your auto body shops where they're repairing rear-end collisions," says Hamilton. "And unfortunately, there are a lot of rear-end collisions for SUVs."
He also notes that an auto body shop is probably not going to ask a lot of questions when you come walking in with a seat that's going to save them about $800 to $1,000.
But there are steps you can take to protect your third-row seats, such as locking them to the floorboard.
"If that seat is secured, they're going to get in there, they're going to try to remove that seat, but they'll see there's maybe a cable lock and then they're going to leave right away because they're generally not going to want to spend the time to work on that lock to get that seat out of there," says Hamilton. "That's cheap insurance for keeping your multi-thousand-dollar third-row seat!"
He also recommends storing your seats at home when they're not needed.
"When you're taking the kids somewhere or whatever and you need that third-row seat, put it right back there in the SUV and you're off and running. But if you know you're not going to use it for a period of time, just take it off and put it in your garage," he advises.
And finally, Hamilton suggests etching your vehicle identification number (VIN) on your seats, which will increase your chances of getting them back if they are stolen.
If your seats are stolen, you should call the police immediately and report it.
"We may know where a crooked auto shop is. It may be under surveillance. And if we have them under surveillance and your third-row seat is reported, maybe during that investigation, that seat shows up. But you definitely have to make a report and get it into the system," Hamilton says.
Sometimes, people find their stolen property - including their seats - for sale online at sites like Craigslist. If this happens to you, he warns against engaging with the seller directly. Instead, contact your local police immediately.