A new initiative is wending its way through Congress which, if successful, would stamp vehicle-identification numbers (VINs) on auto parts in an effort to reduce theft.
Car theft now costs consumers up to $5 billion a year, including $3.4 billion in property losses alone.
''These costs are not borne just by those unfortunate victims of auto theft, but passed on to all of us in the form of higher automobile insurance premiums, '' says Sen. Charles Percy (R) of Illinois. Insurance costs have skyrocketed in the last few years, backers of the legislation report.
Auto-theft bills were introduced in the last two sessions of Congress, but never got out of committee.
Proponents say that a parts-labeling law would add no more than $10 to the cost of manufacturing a car.
What does it cost you to drive your car for a year?
If you buy an '83-model American-built car and drive it 15,000 miles a year for 48 months, costs average out to 23.8 cents a mile, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The region with the highest per-mile cost is New England.
(The AAA cost figures represent a composite national average for three 1983 Chevrolet models: 4-cylinder Chevette, 6-cylinder Malibu, and 6-cylinder Impala.)
Fixed costs include: insurance (comprehensive, collision, property damage, and liability) $470 a year; license, registration fees, and taxes, $97; depreciation, $1,298; and finance charges, $529. Fixed costs usually are not affected by the distance driven each year.
Running costs, in contrast, are directly related to the number of miles traveled in a 12-month period and include gas and oil, 6.13 cents a mile; routine maintenance, 98 cents; and tires, 69 cents.
Meanwhile, for the first time since the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, the percentage increases in passenger-car ownership and operating costs were less last year than the overall inflation rate and the climb in family income, according to a survey by the Hertz Corporation.
Since 1972, says the car-rental company, average yearly car ownership and operating costs have gone up 127 percent. Over the same period, inflation rose 129 percent while the typical family income was up 143 percent.
Indeed, American motorists are keeping their cars longer and driving them less.
Don't look for imported cars to drop off any time soon.
David Healy, a stock-market analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc., New York, predicts 9.2 million new cars will be sold this year, 2.34 million of them imports. In 1984, he sees a total market of 10.8 million new cars with imports up to 2.9 million.
By 1985, he projects total sales of 11.8 million new cars. As for imports, they could reach 3.3 million.