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In motor vehicle theft, a chop shop is a location or business which disassembles stolen vehicles, primarily cars, for the purpose of selling its parts. The term originated from the practice of building a car from two halves by welding them together.
After the vehicle was disassembled, its parts are sold in foreign countries for several reasons. In underdeveloped countries, there is often lax regulation and less enforcement of laws pertaining to plates, vehicle theft, and title paperwork, so the car is less likely to be tracked or noticed. Criminals are also hopeful that there is little incentive on the part of the victim to search in other countries, as even if the car is found, recovery may cost more (in detective, legal, and transportation fees) than the car is actually worth.
Difficulties stealing certain cars
The latest models of cars often have sophisticated anti-theft devices, requiring sophisticated measures to defeat them. For the car thief, the difficulty in bypassing these security features may be nearly impossible or too time consuming. Most cars equipped with these systems are either stolen while the keys are still in the ignition – mostly from owner negligence at a gas station – or towed away by "sneaker" tow trucks. Advanced car theft "rings" have the knowledge and equipment needed to bypass this security. For instance, on cars equipped with RF transmitters inside of the key, the RF transmitter ID must match the security module and the engine computer. So, not only does the physical key cut have to match, the RF transmitter has to match as well. To get around this, some "rings" establish relationships with car dealers and get car keys cut by VIN directly from the dealer themselves. Other methods are to try multiple pre-cut keys, and to use code scanners for RF based systems. There may be many hidden places on the car where the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is stamped. The chop shop will likely be more familiar with these devices.
In Australia, buying accident-crashed cars at auction and repairing with parts from a stolen vehicle or using the VIN and engine numbers of the purchased vehicle to register the stolen vehicle is called car rebirthing.
A chop shop must be able to take apart a car without damaging the parts and keep them organized. Time is of the essence: more cars processed equals higher profits. There is no advantage to a large inventory, as it can be done more efficiently in a "JIT" (Just In Time) manner by asking a thief only when cars are needed.
In the Czech Republic, there are 2.7 million registered cars. A calculated estimate (made on a sample of 240,000 cars) is that 450,000 (16%) cars were once stolen or contain stolen parts. In total, 23,000 cars were stolen in 2004, of which 4,000 were found (17%). Following the information from Pavel Nahodil, the representative of foreign insurance companies in the Czech Republic, about 7% of the regular market price is paid for a stolen first-generation Škoda Octavia car in a chop shop.
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- Criminal Resource Manual 1369: Chop Shops (Title 18 U.S.C. § 2322)
- Multi-State Chop Shop Operation Disrupted - Criminal Enterprise Leader Among Those Convicted (FBI)
- City of Pittsburgh: Types of Car Theft
- Autoblog.com "BUSTED! Canada's largest chop shop caught with 700 stolen cars" – May 3, 2007
- Deseret News (Salt Lake City) "Auto-theft ring and 'chop shop' out of commission" – Feb 19, 2006
- WKRN Nashville Tennessee "Car Thieves Target Hondas, Acuras For Chop Shops" – August 29, 2007
- InsideBayArea.com "Tracy authorities bust alleged chop shop" – 25 August 2007
- thedenverchannel.com "Police Discover Alleged Chop Shop, Auto Theft Ring" – October 15, 2004
- KSN.com "Feds bust Wichita chop shop for auto theft" – Aug 22, 2007
- "Lidove Noviny 19 September 2007"