A truck may be safer from theft than its tailgate.
In the past few months, thefts of the rear gates from pickups have increased in Spokane, according to insurance agents and body repair shops.
“People want them bad,” said Gary Terzenbach, a claims adjuster for Nationwide Insurance Company.
“We can’t keep them in stock,” said Duane Soderstrom, a salesman for Spalding Auto Parts. “Tailgates are always one of the first things to go.”
One explanation for the run on tailgates is cost. It usually takes $1,000 to replace a damaged or stolen one, more if the truck is imported.
Another is ease. Finding a tailgate on a pickup around town is quicker than filing insurance claims and waiting for payment.
But getting caught carries a stiff price. The crime is a second-degree theft felony, Spokane police said, and thieves face two to five years in jail.
Since last summer, tailgate thefts have climbed in Spokane, but not North Idaho, where officials haven’t noticed an increase in that type of crime.
“I hope it stays that way,” said Capt. Carl Bergh of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department. “You all can keep it.”
One Spokane insurance company bought a dozen new tailgates in one month for customers who had theirs ripped off. At least two people have requested estimates on new tailgates from McCollum Ford after theirs were stolen in the past week.
“We had a rash of them all at once,” said Don McClellan, claims manager for Safeco Insurance Company. “But you know people will steal anything, and tailgates are one of the few parts you can take off pretty easily.”
And quickly, according to the pros. Without hurrying, a tailgate can be removed in less than a minute. Practiced thieves could be on their way in 20 seconds.
The tailgates on Ford pickups take less time to remove and no tools, because they’re designed to come off easily for the owner who wants to haul heavy, large loads, said Robin Palachuk, a Wendle Ford parts representative.
“I’ve seen tailgate thefts for years and years, over and over,” Palachuk said. “One person gets theirs ripped or damaged and they just go rip someone else’s,” rather than deal with insurance agents and deductibles.
“It’s an endless thieving cycle,” Palachuk said.
Nationwide’s Terzenbach said he hadn’t heard of tailgate thefts for two decades, but now takes reports of them regularly.
“We’ve heard people will go cruising around looking for just the right one and come back at night and steal it,” Terzenbach said. “When I was a kid they called it shopping at ‘Midnight Auto.’ You knew it was stolen when someone said they bought it there.”
Spokane police said only a handful of tailgate thefts has been reported to Crime Check in recent weeks. Victims who called in did so specifically for insurance purposes.
Scott Frost had his tailgate stolen one night from the driveway of his South Hill home.
“I walked outside in the morning with a cup of coffee and thought something looked funny about my truck,” Frost said. “Then I realized (the tailgate) was gone and saw all these washers and bolts all over the ground.”
Frost’s insurance covered the $1,200 it took to replace his Mazda’s red tailgate. The cost included the tailgate, handle, all the hardware needed to put it back together, a new paint job and labor.
“It was a pain in the neck,” he said.
For about $26, though, pickup owners can crash this tailgate party.
That’s the price of a special lock that keeps a tailgate from coming off, Wendle’s Palachuk said, adding truck owners rarely buy the accessory.
“Either people don’t know about it or they don’t care, I guess,” Palachuk said. “Or maybe they just know how easy it is to go grab another one.”