Lights out for owners of vehicles with HID headlamps

Jan. 1, 2020
Owners of some high-end vehicles are getting their lights punched out — literally.

Owners of some high-end vehicles are getting their lights punched out — literally.

In a trend that began two years ago in New York and New Jersey, spread to California and most recently cropped up in Dade County Florida, thieves are stealing expensive high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights from luxury and near-luxury vehicles. These crimes have left thousands of vehicle owners, many of whom have been robbed numerous times, facing repair bills regularly exceeding $1,800.

“The thieves are after the igniters and bulbs,” says Abraham Echeverry, manager of Countach Corp., a specialty mechanical shop in Coral Gables, Fla. Countach has replaced headlights on more than 200 vehicles since last year. “On a Porsche, the igniter costs $600 and the bulb $180.”

HID lights use xenon gas to generate illumination three times brighter than traditional lights, producing the signature bluish tint that makes them popular with auto enthusiasts, most notably the younger tuner market that decks out Acura Integras and Honda Civics. Because the bulbs and igniters can be transplanted into these and other vehicles, a ready market exists for them. This makes them attractive to criminals, as does the relative ease with which HID lights may be stolen. In most cases, thieves need only pry open the vehicle hood, disconnect the lights and then dislodge them with a screwdriver. Echeverry says particularly adept criminals can remove the lights with little damage to the vehicle. Amateur thieves, however, often destroy fenders and bumpers, leaving owners with bills exceeding $3,500.

While any vehicle with HID lights can be targeted for theft (Porsche, Nissan, Acura, Audi and Cadillac all equip vehicles with HID lights), several models have proven particularly popular. Among them are Porsches, Nissan Maximas, Acura CL, TL and RL models as well as some Infinitis.

Sgt. Ed Hudak of the Coral Gables police department says Porsches have been popular targets in his jurisdiction most likely because many residents own them.

John Schilling, manager of corporate communications for Nissan, says the popularity of the Maxima, particularly in the Northeast United States, also explains why it is often targeted. “HID lights were a standard feature on the 2002 and 2003 Maxima,” says Schilling.

Nissan attempted to address these crimes in 2003 by contacting Maxima owners in high theft areas. The company offered to install, free of charge, security and parts identification systems.

Some say motivated thieves still target Maximas by simply destroying the added security system to free the lights.

For now, the aftermarket has stepped in with possible solutions. Jose Dieguez’s Miami-based business, Auto Alarm Specialists, sells and installs a special micro sensor kit that detects any metal coming into contact with the lights. The sensors are tied into the vehicle security system, triggering an alarm when the lights are touched. Other options include the DataDot system, which places microscopic dots on HID parts so the vehicle owner can be notified.

Police and vehicle manufacturers are trying to do their part by running public information campaigns. Unfortunately, tracking the effectiveness of these efforts and other trends in HID theft has proven difficult because statistics often are hard to come by, due to a lack of a nationwide system to properly track stolen parts. Local police departments usually are the best sources for crime numbers. In Coral Gables, where virtually every anti-theft method available has been used, Hudak says HID thefts are on the decline — for now. He warns that situation could change quickly. “This is a crime that ebbs and flows,” Hudak says. “It could pick back up at any time.”

That’s bad news for Florida residents and, potentially, any owner of an HID-equipped vehicle parked anywhere in the United States. 

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